March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

In Memoriam 2016

Many beloved and talented authors, illustrators, and other champions in the world of children’s literature passed away this year. Their work has enriched our lives and our collections, and it has brought joy to countless children (and grown-ups). While the loss is great, our gratitude for and admiration of their lives is great as well.

School Library Journal regrets any omissions. Please add to our list in the comments section.

January 15–Francisco X. Alarcón, 61. A noted Chicano poet who began writing for children in 1997 with Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems (Children’s Book Press). Alarcón was the recipient of two Pura Belpré Honor Awards, for Laughing Tomatoes and Iguanas in the Snow (Children’s Book Press).


Harper Lee

February 19–Harper Lee, 89. The author of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird (Lippincott) won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize. The novel is widely taught in U.S. classrooms despite its most recent ranking as 21 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most challenged books.

AUTHOR PHOTO Louise Rennison (BW)

Louise Rennison

February 29–Louise Rennison, 64. Her character Georgia Nicolson first appeared in 1999 with Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (HarperCollins). The British author of more than 20 books for teens was awarded the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2010.

March 21–Gloria Houston, 75. The author of the Christmas classic The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (Dial) also wrote tributes to teachers and librarians, such as My Great Aunt Arizona (Harper) and Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile (HarperCollins).

James Cross Giblin

James Cross Giblin

April 7–Harry Mazer, 90. The author of 22 novels including The Island Keeper (Delacorte), Heroes Don’t Run (Scholastic), and Snow Bound (Dell) also coauthored three books with his wife, Norma Fox Mazer, including The Solid Gold Kid (Delacorte). He is also the author of the “Boys at War” series.

April 10–James Cross Giblin, 82. The author of over 20 books for children including Chimney Sweeps: Yesterday and Today (Crowell) was the winner of the 1983 National Book Award. His book The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (Clarion) won the 2003 Robert F. Sibert Medal.

May 28–Michael McCurdy, 74. The acclaimed artist used wood engravings and scratchboard illustrations in many books. Among them are Howard Norman’s The Owl-Scatterer (Atlantic Monthly Press) and Ann Whitford Paul’s The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork (Harcourt), both named Best Illustrated Books by The New York Times.

June 6–Rhoda Blumberg, 98. The author’s many award-winning nonfiction titles include Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard), which was named a 1985 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner and a 1986 Newbery Honor Book.

June 15–Lois Duncan, 82. The prolific author’s many classic suspense novels included Killing Mr. Griffin (Little Brown) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (Little Brown).

July 15–Helen Bailey, 51. The British author was best known for her teen fiction series about a girl named Electra. Her first “Electra Brown” book was Life at the Shallow End (Hodder).

July 18–Ruth Gordon, 83. The longtime school librarian was active in many professional organizations. Her advice to book reviewers includes her famous tip: saying “I loved that book!” is a conversation stopper. Her frank comments on listservs earned her the online nickname “Big Grandma.” She was also a published author of folktales and poetry collections.

August 13–Joyce Carol Thomas, 79. The author of more than 30 books for children and teens, Thomas earned numerous awards, including a Coretta Scott King Author Award and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

August 20–Morton Schindel, 98. The founder of Weston Woods Studios, provider of audiovisual materials adapted from award-winning children’s books, was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short for his adaption of William Steig’s Doctor De Soto (FSG) in 1985. He was awarded the Regina Medal in 1979.

August 31–Brian Wildsmith, 86. While a creator of more than 80 titles, the British illustrator’s first solo work, an alphabet book entitled ABC (Oxford) won a Kate Greenaway Medal in 1961.

Anna Dewdney

Anna Dewdney

September 3–Anna Dewdney, 50. The creator of the “Llama Llama” books, which has over 10 titles, requested that in lieu of a funeral service, her friends, family, and admirers read to a child. The first title in the preschool series was Llama Llama Red Pajama (Viking).

September 12–Barbara Seuling, 79. She both wrote and illustrated her first picture book, The Teeny Tiny Woman: An Old-English Ghost Story (Viking). Also, Seuling wrote an early chapter book series. The first title was Oh No, It’s Robert! (Cricket).

October 31–Natalie Babbitt, 84. Her classic novel Tuck Everlasting (FSG) was made into a film and recently brought to Broadway as a musical. The book celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 with an event at Symphony Space in New York City.

Natalie Babbitt at Symphony Space

Natalie Babbitt at Symphony Space

November 2–Jan Slepian, 95. She co-authored several books (with Ann Seidler) in the “Listen-Hear” series. Her book The Alfred Summer (Macmillan) featured two young disabled characters and was a finalist for the 1981 National Book Award and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book.

November 7–Yumi Heo, 52. The Korean-born author and illustrator of more than 30 books was best known for her illustrations in Rachel Vail’s Sometimes I’m Bombaloo (Scholastic), Ten Days and Nine Nights: An Adoption Story (Schwartz & Wade), and Lenore Look’s Polka Dot Penguin Pottery (Schwartz & Wade).

December 24–Richard Adams, 96. The British author’s very first book was Watership Down (Macmillan). The allegorical tale of a small band of rabbits has sold 50 million copies in 18 languages and became a staple in high school English classes.


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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.



  1. Many years ago, onthe CCBC listserve, Ruth Gordon pointed out that quidditch was a legit sport. I’ve never forgotten that. She was a pistol.

    • Thank you Rocco,

      Might I also add?
      Joyce Carol Thomas (May 25, 1938-August 13, 2016)
      Children’s author Joyce Carol Thomas, known for her National Book Award and Coretta Scott King Honor- winning titles, died in August at age 78 in California. Thomas, who also worked as a playwright and educator, sought to represent the lives of African Americans in
      a way that was accurate and relatable for children. Marked by Fire, Thomas’s first novel for young adults, received the National Book Award after it’s publication in 1982. Other award-winning titles include illustrated poetry books for children The Blacker the Berry and Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, as well as Bright Shadow and I have Heard of a Land.

      Morton Schindel, founder of Weston Woods Studios, the leading provider of audiovisual materials adapted from award-winning children’s books, died peacefully Saturday, August 20, 2016 at age 98.
      In his career, he produced more than 300 motion pictures and 450 recordings that are found in school and library collections worldwide. His films have been translated into more than 20 languages. During his tenure at Weston Woods, the company received an Academy Award nomination for best animated short in 1984 for Doctor DeSoto, based on the children’s book Doctor Desoto by William Steig, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video in 1996 for Owen, based on Owen by Kevin Henkes.
      “Morton Schindel not only founded the art form and business of creating films based on outstanding children’s books, he also helped generations of teachers and librarians understand how they could reach more children with these great stories through the medium of film, video and television,” said Richard Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic.

    • oralia Garza de Cortes says:

      And of the very last day of 2016 we lost Judith Ortiz Cofer, winner of the 1st Pura Belpre Author Award in1996 for An Island Like You: Stories of El Barrio.

  2. So sad.

  3. Connie Rockman says:

    Ruth Gordon’s online identity of “Big Grandma” was one she happily adopted herself. It was a direct homage to the character of Big Grandma in Hilary McKay’s Exiles trilogy. Ruth felt a special affinity for any character – literary or otherwise – who spoke her mind with good common sense and did not suffer fools gladly. For those of us who encountered Ruth at conferences and/or worked beside her on ALA committees, she was a force to be reckoned with and a colleague who will always be sorely missed. She was an original in every way, and I am richer for having known her.

  4. Marcia Leonard says:

    Others we should honor include picture book illustrator Jack E. Davis; first illustrator of the Paddington books, Peggy Fortnum; science fiction author Nicholas Fisk; author and publishing exec Jackie Carter, who long promoted racial diversity in children’s books; and Larry Romans, a major supporter of ALA’s GLBT Round Table and of the Stonewall Book Awards.