Giants of Children’s Lit Gone in 2021- Part 2

Today I continue my three part tribute to the amazing children's book authors and illustrators that passed away this year.

Whenever we interview for new children’s librarians we always ask the candidates who are some of their favorite picture book illustrators. Almost all of them say Eric Carle. We lost Eric Carle on May 23 this year. Carle's work showed us that simple shapes, bright colors, and textures can create illustrations that appeal to young children and are also sophisticated art.  I was fortunate to see Carle’s original artwork on exhibit in Nashville a couple of years ago. The colors were amazing, even more vibrant in person. One of the most fun things we’ve done at STPL in the past was creating and performing a puppet show about several of Eric Carle’s insect characters from his “Very” books. The Very Clumsy Click Beetle, opens a new window made for great slapstick! Library patrons who were kids in the Aughties might remember that amateurish but rollicking fun show.

Another author/illustrator that we lost this year is Lois Ehlert, just four days after Eric Carle. Like Carle, Lois Ehlert worked in a similar style of paper collage, used bright colors, and made books for very young children. Every spring when I was a practicing children’s librarian I would read Ehlert’s Planting A Rainbow, opens a new window for my annual “garden” storytime. I loved pointing to the images of all of the different flowers and reading the names for the kids, like tiger lily and delphinium. Not only are the collage illustrations in Ehlert’s books beautiful, inviting, and fun to look at, but there are many opportunities for vocabulary and concept building.

I also shared Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, opens a new window a lot as well as many other of Eric Carle’s books in story time. Children are always intrigued by the blue horse and the purple cat in Brown Bear. Carle didn’t write Brown Bear, Bill Martin Jr. did. Interestingly, Bill Martin Jr. also wrote the text for one of Lois Ehlert’s best known and loved books, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, opens a new window. Ehlert and Carle are related in yet another way. Both have excellent books for very young children about the life stages of butterflies- the gorgeous and fact-filled Waiting for Wings, opens a new window and everyone’s favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, opens a new window. You can learn more about Eric Carle at the Eric Carle Museum’s website here or check out his picture autobiography, The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse, opens a new window, that we have at STPL. Read Lois Ehlert’s obituary on the Publisher’s Weekly website here, opens a new window and watch a video interview with her on the Reading Rocket’s website here.

And finally, just last month we lost five time Coretta Scott King Award, opens a new window and Caldecott Medal, opens a new window winning illustrator Jerry Pinckney. Pinckney’s watercolor illustrations are lush, full of details and expression. His work spans six decades. He worked with many authors including the African American folklorist Julius Lester (The Tales of Uncle Remus, opens a new window and John Henry, opens a new window) and with Robert San Souci (The Talking Eggs, opens a new window is a gorgeous telling and illustration of the Creole folktale.) Pinckney went on to illustrate his own retelling of a plethora of folktales, fables, and fairy tales. The most gorgeous, not just in my opinion, is The Lion & the Mouse, opens a new window. This book won him the Caldecott.

His daughter in law, author and editor Andrea Davis Pinckney, wrote on her Facebook page, “A global virtual event is being planned for early 2022. … My “father-in-love” (as he preferred to be called) was a man of dignity, grace, and abundant kindness. He embodied  unconditional love, finding beauty and value in every creature. If you want to extend the gifts Jerry Pinkney brought to this world, please connect with a child today. Get a book. Read together. Pay special attention to the young people who are on the fringes, the ones who struggle, the non-readers, the kids whose lights may not be shining as brightly, but whose gifts can be discovered when we take the time to listen and learn from them. That’s what Jerry Pinkney brought to all of us.” Author Jason Reynolds wrote a beautiful tribute to Pinkney in Time Magazine, which you can read here, opens a new window.