June 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tributes Pour In for Richard Peck

There was an outpouring of love and sadness from the children’s publishing community when word spread Thursday morning that author Richard Peck had died at age 84. The two-time Newbery Medal winner from Decatur, IL, leaves behind a beloved canon of books for young readers, including A Year Down Yonder, A Long Way from Chicago, The Best Man, and The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail.

Peck at SLJ’s 2016 Day of Dialog. Photo ©Tori Soper

He won the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award and spoke with Roger Sutton about YA novels, adolescent peer groups, and what kids see in his books.

During his speech to accept the award, he said, “Writers write in all the voices we can find, except our own. We strain to hear young voices inaudible to their own parents, voices they fear to raise within hearing of their powerful peers.”

Peck spoke of the influences that made him a writer in his keynote address at SLJ’s 2016 Day of Dialogue in Chicago.

“I marched into kindergarten on the day Hitler marched into Poland, but I was better prepared than he,” Peck said in his address. “I’d had a mother who read to me and that’s why I’m here today.”

He went on to credit his fourth grade teacher with his successful career, as well.

“I am a writer because of a teacher, any writer will tell you that,” he said. “Her name was Mrs. Cole and she taught fourth grade in the Decatur system. She taught a class of 42 students in a school swollen by World War II, and I can’t ever remember her standing up from her desk, except for once when she came up behind me. There was no librarian at Dennis School, but there was Mrs. Cole, and she handed me a book and said, ‘Here, you might try this.’ Notice the verb. There was challenge in that word.”

The book was Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“I’m here this morning because in fourth grade I could read a 19th century novel cover to cover, not because I was gifted, but because my teachers had the full authority of their classrooms.”

A memorial service will be held at the New York Society Library on a date to be announced, according to the obituary posted on Peck’s official author Facebook page. A private military burial will be held at Graceland Cemetery in Decatur, it said.

Peck had a way with words—in his writing and his speeches. His loss is felt in publishing houses, libraries, schools, and the rooms where writers work to create books that engage and entertain young readers.

Here is what some who had met him, worked with him, or were impacted by him (or all of the above), had to say:

:

He was a phenomenal writer. What a wit! I had the honor of being on a panel with him at Books of Wonder, & everyone on it was an amazing author, but I wanted us all to shut up please so we could keep listening to Richard Peck.

RIP Richard Peck. He was a good one.
A conversation I had once with Richard Peck:
Such sad news. RIP, Richard Peck. I remember loving his books as a kid–and then studying them as an aspiring author, trying to figure out how to write myself. What an amazing legacy.

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Kara Yorio About Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Alfred Menna says:

    Rest In Peace Mr. Peck!

  2. Marcia Brandt says:

    A very personal thank you to our late friend, Mr. Peck: My father did not read for pleasure. He did not understand my reading obsession as a child, nor my continued immersion in books as a Teacher Librarian. But once my father, at the age of 54, finally discovered the joy of reading I recommended Richard Peck’s “Long Way from Chicago” and “Year Down Yonder”. Dad absolutely loved them both. When I sent him “Fair Weather”, Dad phoned me and said, “I think this is the best Richard Peck book ever.” And I said, “Dad, I can’t believe we are having this conversation. You and me… talking books.”

  3. Amy Williams says:

    I met Richard’s sister Cheryl in Springfield, IL at a library conference in 2004. She noticed I was from a small town east of Decatur called Cerro Gordo and after introductions she told me the story of her and Richard coming to visit their grandma Peck in Cerro Gordo. The books A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder are based on Richard and Cheryl Peck’s visits in Cerro Gordo. In 2005 Cerro Gordo celebrated 150 years and Richard and Cheryl visited and signed books for all who came. It was amazing to meet him and to know that it was all because I happened to meet his sister at a library conference. I taught library in Cerro Gordo for several years and I made sure my fifth graders studied his life, books, and connection to Cerro Gordo. I’m saddened to hear of his death and will cherish his books even more now.

  4. Jaye Murray says:

    Richard was my writing “father figure” who midwifed my novel and said the most encouraging words to me of anyone in my life.
    My book was dedicted to Richard where he is alao quoted from his novel Father Figure: “The door’s open and we shoukd be able to walk straight through it into the last days without having to count them. What can stop us now?”

  5. I live in Manhattan and on several occasions I ran into Richard Peck on the streets. It was always a thrill. Sometimes we would even have a brief chat. Today when I was walking near his neighborhood it struck me that these surprise sightings will be no more. I felt a deep sense of missing. I didn’t know him well, but I loved his books and enjoyed his talks at writers conferences. Wit. Talent. Impact. He had it all. RIP Mr. Peck.

  6. Maureen says:

    I wrote to Mr. Peck when I was 12 years old back in 1985 and he wrote back. I was so delighted! I wrote to him a few times after and he always responded and also sent me a copy, autographed of course, of Don’t Look and it Won’t Hurt as my older sister and I were dealing with similar issues as in the book. I still have the book and all his letters. I have always thought of him with great fondness and appreciation for his kindness to me when I needed it most. God bless him and keep him and may he be in perfect peace until we all meet again.

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