February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

At Memorial, Friends, Family, and a Wolf Recognize Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George. Photo by Rocco Staino.

Friends, admirers, and a white wolf gathered earlier this month to pay tribute to Newbery-winning author and naturalist Jean Craighead George, who died on May 15 at the age of 92.

Speakers noted the many sides of this renowned author: fearless individual, animal lover, staunch Democrat, ardent women’s rights advocate, and opponent to war.

Children, librarians, and publishers were very much in evidence during the celebration, held at the Robert E. Bell Middle School in Chappaqua, NY, which George’s children attended, and where George herself often spoke over the years.

“Jean was always eager to meet young readers,” recalled Chappaqua Library director Pam Thornton. No question was too trivial for the author, Thornton said. “She always spent time with each child, whom she treated with respect.”

George’s longtime editors, Katherine Tegen of HarperCollins and Lucia Monfried of Dutton, both recalled adventures with George during many American Library Association conferences. Monfried fondly remembered visiting the New Orleans aquarium during one conference and spoke of George’s concern for the aquarium’s inhabitants following Hurricane Katrina.

A white wolf, visiting from the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY, at the Memorial. Photo by Rocco Staino.

Despite a 42-year age difference between Tegen and George, Tegen considered the author a friend who encouraged her to try new things—such as sneaking away from a conference in Kentucky to go to the races at Churchill Downs.

The authors and illustrators in attendance included Seymour Simon, Tor Seidler, Jean Van Leeuwen, Barbara Dana, and Wendell Minor.

Simon called George “a giant,” comparing her science writing to that of environmentalists Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin, 1962) and Millicent Selsam, author of over 100 science books for children.

Seidler recalled being introduced to George, along with legendary children’s book editor Charlotte Zolotow, by William C. Morris, the children’s literature innovator after whom the Morris Award is named. Following that meeting, Seidler and George became fast friends.

Amy Kellman, retired head of children’s services at the Carnegie Library, traveled from Pittsburgh to speak to the 200 attendees about her friendship with George over the years.

But perhaps the most fitting guest at the event was a white wolf, visiting from the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. George’s Chappaqua home was a veritable menagerie that attracted neighborhood children, and George herself often visited the Wolf Conservation Center with her frequent collaborator, illustrator Wendell Minor.

Their last book together, The Eagles Are Back (Dial), is due for release in March 2013. Like Julie of the Wolves (Harper, 1972), which earned George her 1973 Newbery Medal, it is about wolves.

The ceremony closed with Barbara Dana singing a song based on one composed by George and her son Craig.

Donations in Jean Craighead George’s memory may be made to the Chappaqua Library, the Wolf Conservation Center, and Teatown Lake Reservation.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.