Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Tribute to Maya Angelou and Some of the Other Children's Book Friends We Have Lost: May-January 2014

The Grace to Mourn

Maya Angelou

The acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer, has died at the age of 86, May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, NC.

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, April 4th, 1928. Angelou has had a varied career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and, interestingly enough, as Hollywood's first female black director, but is most famous as a writer, playwright, and poet.

Angelou’s most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), deals with her early years in Long Beach, St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas, where she lived with her paternal grandmother. In this memoir, Angelou bravely describes how she was first cuddled then molested by her mother's boyfriend when she was just seven years old. When the man was murdered by her uncles for this crime, Angelou felt responsible, and stopped talking. She remained mute for five years, but during this quiet time, she developed a love for great literature by black authors as well as world classics. When Angelou was twelve and a half years old, her teacher, Mrs. Flowers, finally got her to speak again. Mrs. Flowers, as Angelou recalled in her children’s book Mrs. Flowers: A Moment of Friendship (1986), emphasized the importance of the spoken word, taught the importance of education, and instilled in her a love of poetry. Angelou graduated at the top of her eighth-grade class. 

During the early 1990s, Angelou wrote other books for children, including Life Doesn't Frighten Me (1993), which also featured the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me (1994), and Kofi and His Magic (1996), both collaborations with the photographer Margaret Courtney-Clark. 

from  Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

“Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou. Published by Random House, Inc.

source: The Poetry Foundation

I speak to the Black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition — about what we can endure, dream, fail at and survive.

Maya Angelou

It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive.

 Maya Angelou

Morning Grace

If today I follow death,
go down its trackless wastes,
salt my tongue on hardened tears
for my precious dear time’s waste
along that promised cave in a headlong
Will you
to mourn for

from Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, 1994, Random House, Inc.


Farley Mowat 

Iconic Canadian author, environmentalist and activist Farley Mowat has died at age 92 on May 6 2014 in Port Hope, Ontario.
Farley Mowat was born in Belleville, Ontario, in 1921, the son of a librarian, and grew up in Belleville, Richmond Hill, Trenton, Windsor, Saskatoon and Toronto. At the age of 13 the budding environmentalist founded a newsletter, Nature Lore, and wrote a weekly column on birds for the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.
He served in the Second World War from 1940 to 1945, taking part in the invasion of Sicily and later mainland Italy before working as an intelligence officer in the Netherlands in 1945.
Through his writing about nature and animals, he became an ardent environmentalist.
For the last 25 years he’s been the international chair of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

His best-known book is Never Cry Wolf, 1963. One of his admirers said, “NEVER CRY WOLF has been attacked as being more fable than fact, and this may be true. Mowat has often said that he prefers not to let facts get in the way of the truth, and there is no question that he wanted his readers to come to love these generally benighted creatures.”

and written especially for children:




John Rowe Townsend

The English novelist, critic, and academician, John Rowe Townsend passed away Monday March 24, 2014 at the age of 91. He was the winner of the 1970 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for his novel The Intruder.  
With his wife, Jill Paton Walsh, he was instrumental in the early years of Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature, and, later, the founding of Children's Literature New England (a nonprofit educational organization that promotes awareness of the significance of literature in the lives of children).

He was born on May 22, 1922 in Leeds, United Kingdom.

        --based on a tribute by Roger Sutton, Horn Book magazine


Phyllis Krasilovsky
Phyllis Krasilovsky, an author of books for young children illustrated by artists including Barbara Cooney, Trina Schart Hyman, and Peter Spier, died on February 26 in Redding, Connecticut at the age of 87. The cause of death was complications from a stroke, as reported in the New York Times. 
Born Phyllis Manning in Brooklyn on August 28, 1926 to Richard and Florence Manning, Krasilovsky attended James Madison High School and Brooklyn College.
One of her most popular titles, The Cow Who Fell in the Canal (Doubleday, 1957) almost wasn’t published,according to Peter Spier, who illustrated the book. Spier described meeting with Peggy Lesser, then an editor at Doubleday, to discuss Spier’s first picture book. On Lesser’s desk was a manuscript entitled Anarina, the Dutch Cow, by Krasilovsky, which the editor had already rejected. Spier, who was Dutch, persuaded Lesser to let him take a look at the manuscript. He renamed the cow “Hendrika,” gave the book its current title, and set the story in Broek, Holland, incorporating  many familiar names and places from his childhood. After publication, the book was translated into many languages and is still very popular in the Netherlands, according to Spier.
     from School Library Journal by Rocco Staino


1986, by Pat Diska

Erik Blegvad
Erik Blegvad, a prolific children’s book artist renowned for illustrations whose fine-grained propriety could barely conceal the deep subversive wit at their core, died on Jan. 14 in London. He was 90. 

Erik Blegvad was born in Copenhagen on March 3, 1923. As a youth, planning a career as an airplane mechanic, he apprenticed in a machine shop. He left the shop after the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, when it began doing work for the Nazis. 

Mr. Blegvad, who had always liked to draw, entered the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts. Though he described himself as having been a poor student there, he was allowed to graduate — a function, he later said, of his having spent several days in a Nazi prison for distributing Danish resistance literature.

“There was a rumor that the only reason I graduated was because I had been arrested by the Gestapo and that the school did not want to see somebody who had been arrested also fail his exams,” Mr. Blegvad said in an interview quoted in the reference work Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults.

After Germany’s defeat, Mr. Blegvad served in what is now the Royal Danish Air Force, later assisting the British as a German-to-English translator in occupied Germany. Afterward, working as a commercial illustrator in Paris, he met Lenore Hochman, an American art student there; they were married from 1950 until her death in 2008.

Mr. Blegvad, who moved with his wife to the United States in 1951 and contributed illustrations to American magazines, maintained a home in Wardsboro, Vt., for many years.

        from Erik Blegvad's obituary in The New York Times by Margalit Fox

“This Little Pig-a-Wig and Other Rhymes About Pigs” (1978), which, with text chosen by Lenore Blegvad, was named one of the best illustrated children’s books of the year by The New York Times Book Review.


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