November 17, 2017

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Acclaimed Author Judith St. George Dies at 84

Photo credit: Signet

Photo by Signet.

Judith St. George, author of more than 40 fiction and nonfiction works, including the Caldecott-winning picture book So You Want to Be President? (Philomel, 2000), died on June 10 at age 84.

The author’s love of American history and mystery were evident from her literary output, which included historical fiction, nonfiction works of history, and mysteries.

St. George reinvigorated tried-and-true figures such as George Washington and Lewis and Clark, along with topics such as Mount Rushmore. With the witty So You Want to Be President?, she paired her accessible, down-to-earth writing with David Small’s exaggerated political cartoon–style images, making the concept of the presidency relatable to a young audience.

Similarly, Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln (Philomel, 2008) humanized the dignified, larger-than-life president, depicting him as a child and underscoring the importance of his family, particularly his stepmother, in fostering his later success.

St. George’s books have earned a number of awards. Panama Canal: Gateway to the World (1989), Haunted (1980, both Putnam), and So You Want to Be President? were named Notable Books by the Association for Library Service to Children, and The Halloween Pumpkin Smasher (Putnam, 1978) was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America.

Born in Westfield, NJ, 1931, St. George enjoyed an idyllic childhood, in large part due to the loving environment of her family. She was extremely close to her grandparents, and the stories that her maternal grandfather, a former sea captain, told her would find their way into her later writing.

St. George, whose maiden name was Alexander, entered Smith College in Northampton, MA, studying English and writing and editing for the Campus Cat, the college’s humor magazine. Two years after graduating, she married David St. George, who was then studying to be an Episcopal minister. For the first year of their marriage, the two lived at the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA, which was the site of George Washington’s headquarters for the first year of the American Revolution; that experience ignited the author’s lifelong love of history.

St. George and her husband moved to Oregon and later to New Jersey. For years, she devoted herself to raising their four children, but when their youngest child was three, St. George began to write. In 1970, she published her first book, Turncoat Winter, Rebel Spring (Chilton, 1970), about a 14-year-old Patriot who grapples with turning in a British spy who saved him.

St. George was a thorough and committed researcher, often visiting the places she wrote about, including as the Panama Canal. “Judy was an explorer—perhaps because her grandfather, a seaman in the old sense who sailed ships across the seven seas, shared his stories with her from the time she was a young child,” said her friend Patricia Lee Gauch, former editorial director of Philomel. “When she selected a biographical subject, the adventuring courage of that subject was key. I…was lucky enough to edit So You Want to Be President, a witty exclamation point to her long and prestigious career.”

In addition to writing, St. George ran workshops, storytimes, and reading programs for children. She was also a New Jersey delegate to the White House Conference on Library and Informational Services and to the Council of State Libraries in the Northeast.

“Judith St. George was an incredible author and friend who spoke her mind, shared her laughter and dug deep for stories, real and imagined, said her longtime editor Margaret Frith, former president and publisher of the Putnam & Grosset Group. “She was as comfortable with mysteries and novels about young people growing up as she was revealing the dangers encountered in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Mount Rushmore, and the Panama Canal.”

“Judy once said, ‘I want my readers to care as much about the outcome of historical events as if they were reading today’s headlines,’” Frith added. “She accomplished exactly that in the riveting, true adventures she took us on.’”

The author is survived by her husband, David St. George; her children, Peter, James, Philip, and Sarah St. George; and five grandchildren.

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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Comments

  1. Madalyn says:

    How old was she? Headline says 81, first paragraph says 84.