March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Kid Lit World Mourns Three Stars

Over the course of nine days, we’ve had to say goodbye to three eminent figures in children’s literature. Noted artist Dahlov Ipcar died at her home in Maine on February 10; Dick Bruna, the Dutch creator of the “Miffy” books died in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on February 16; and Newbery Award–winner Nancy Willard passed away in Poughkeepsie, NY, on February 19.

Iconic Illustrator

dahlovipcar_adjDahlov Ipcar, who was 99, is recalled as an artist who in 1945 illustrated her first children book, The Little Fisherman (Scott), which was written by Margaret Wise Brown. It was a story of deep-sea fishing that illustrated the idea of big vs. little. It was originally published by W.R. Scott and was reissued in 2008 by Islandport Press. Ipcar went on to illustrate a total of 44 books, including Hard Scrabble Harvest (Doubleday, 1976), My Wonderful Christmas Tree (Gannett, 1986), and Calico Jungle (Knopf, 1965). In recent years, many of her books have been reissued. In 2015 School Library Journal said of a reissue of Black and White (Islandport) that “Ipcar interweaves black and white in an effortless, celebratory way.”

In 2001, she received the Katahdin Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Maine Library Association, and in 2010, she was awarded the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s prestigious President’s Award for her outstanding contribution to arts and letters.

Miffy’s “father”

Dick-Bruna-in-his-studioDick Bruna is best known for a simply drawn white female rabbit known in English as Miffy. Of his 200 books, 30 featured the bunny, and the books have been translated into 50 languages. “He’s the most translated author in the Netherlands, except for Anne Frank,” said Agnes Vogt, a children’s book specialist at the Dutch Foundation for Literature, “and in that sense he’s one of the most important, not only illustrators, but authors that the Netherlands has ever had.”

The first Miffy book appeared in 1955; the trim size of six inches by six inches made it ideal for young children’s hands. In 2003, NYC & Company, the official visitors and tourist organization for New York City, used Miffy, and the title Miffy Loves New York City (Big Tent, 2003), as part of a marketing campaign. The Rijksmuseum marked the 60th anniversary of Miffy’s creation with an exhibit in 2015. Bruna was 89.

Newbery Medalist

WillardNancy Willard had the honor of winning the 1982 Newbery Medal for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn (Harcourt, 1981), the first book of poetry to achieve that distinction. Subtitled Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, it also garnered a Caldecott Honor for Alice and Martin Provensen, who were Willard’s Hudson Valley, NY, neighbors. The book uses lyrical as well as nonsense verse to tell of events at an enchanted inn.

In her teenage years, her poem “A Child’s Star” was published in the Horn Book, and her illustrations were used on the Horn Book Christmas cards. Following news of Willard’s death, Margaret McDowell, librarian at New York’s Sherburne-Earlville Central School District, posted that The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake (Harcourt, 1990) was one of her favorites to read to students.

Willard, who never learned to drive, was known in Poughkeepsie as “the lady on the bike,” doing her errands on her touring bicycle. She was 80.

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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.