We are saddened to learn that Caldecott medal-winning author Margaret Hodges died on December 13, 2005, at the age of 94.
Sarah Margaret Moore Hodges, known professionally as Margaret Hodges, was born on July 26, 1911, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her mother died six months after she was born, so Margaret was raised by her father and an older cousin. Margaret learned the art of storytelling from her father and a Sunday school teacher, Eleanor Kirby. She began writing at an early age, selling a poem to St. Nicholas magazine when she was quite young.
Margaret, called Peggy by her friends, was educated at Tudor Hall, a prep school in Indianapolis. It was here that she met Fletcher Hodges, a Harvard man, to whom she became engaged in 1928. She studied English at Vassar College and acted in their theater productions. The Stanislavsky Method was relatively new at the time and Margaret learned to empathize with her characters. This would serve her richly in her storytelling and writing. Fletcher and Margaret married in 1932 after Margaret graduated from Vassar. Fletcher took a job cataloguing the works of Stephen Foster and eventually became the curator of the Stephen Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh, a position which he held for 50 years.
In Pittsburgh, Margaret volunteered at the Carnegie Library. In storytelling sessions, she retold Arthurian legends for the library’s young patrons. She wrote scripts for several radio programs, which eventually led to “Tell Me a Story,” a nationally broadcast radio program originating from Pittsburgh’s WQED. Margaret’s work at the library was inspiring to her and in 1958 she earned her master of library science from Carnegie Institute of Technology. She worked at the library until 1964, when she left to join Head Start as the Story Specialist for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Mrs. Hodges also began teaching courses for the Library Science program at the University of Pittsburgh, from which she retired as professor emeritus in 1978.
One of her enduring legacies will be the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room at the University of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Hodges studied folklore and storytelling with Elizabeth Nesbitt during her master’s program in library science. Mrs. Hodges established the Room in 1976 to honor her former teacher. Today, the Room is a repository for more than 14,000 books, manuscripts, and original illustrations.
She was a preservationist through and through, finding beauty and joy in the old stories, retelling them for new generations. Although she wrote her own stories, she was perhaps most appreciated for the many folk stories, legends, and myths to which she brought fresh life. She published her first book, One Little Drum, with Follett Publishing in 1958. For the next 16 years, she published many books about boys, drawing on her own experiences and those of her sons.
Mr. and Mrs. Hodges began to travel abroad in 1968 and Margaret collected the stories that she would later publish. Greek, Norse, Irish, Scottish, English, Roman, they all intrigued her. She kept company with other folklorists, among them Kate Briggs, the British storyteller who co-founded Holiday House. Margaret admired, and was inspired by, famous story collectors such as Merriam Sherwood, Lafcadio Hearn, and Joseph Campbell.
In this richly textured life, it seems almost a footnote to add that Margaret Hodges’ book, St. George and the Dragon, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, received the Caldecott Award in 1984.
There are still three Margaret Hodges’ books awaiting publication. Dick Whittington and His Cat, a new retelling of this time-honored story, will be published by Holiday House this spring. Moses will be published by Harcourt in the fall of 2006 and The Wee Christmas Cabin will be published by Holiday House in 2007.
She is survived by her husband Fletcher, 99, and her three sons. Contributions are suggested to the Margaret Hodges Scholarship Fund, School of Information Sciences, 135 N. Bellefield Ave., Pittsburgh 15260 or the Nesbitt Room, University of Pittsburgh Library System, Pittsburgh 15260.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1920, John Langstaff lived a life of music. He studied at the Juilliard School, beginning his career as a concert baritone. He made several folk recordings for George Martin, the Beatles’ eventual producer. He is most famous for “A Christmas Masque of Traditional Revels,” first performed in New York in 1957. The Revels was a Hallmark Hall of Fame Special in 1966. In 1971, Langstaff brought his Revels to Harvard University and it has been performed there each year. Today, there are 11 Revels companies performing in cities throughout the United States. Langstaff felt strongly about community and participation in music, that music brings us together, no matter how diverse we are. The Revels incorporate the traditions of many cultures and encourage the audience to sing along.
Mr. Langstaff taught music to children for more than 20 years, considering it vitally important to spread his love of music. “I never saw anyone enthuse children so easily. He could make any kid sing, and he never dumbed-down the material. He had an innate understanding of what kids like,” said Patrick Swanson, artistic director of the Revels.
In the children’s literature field, he is best known as the author of the 1955 Caldecott-winning Frog Went A-Courtin’, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky (Harcourt). He adapted many traditional songs as picture books, including Over in the Meadow, retold myths, including Saint George and the Dragon, and worked with Ashley Bryan on two collections of African American spirituals, one of them being What a Morning!
Langstaff hosted two children’s television series, “Making Music” on the BBC and “Children Explore Books” on NBC.
John Langstaff suffered a stroke on December 13th while visiting his daughter in Switzerland. He is survived by his wife Nancy, five children, and many grandchildren.
Stan Berenstain passed away on Saturday, November 26th, 2005. Together with Jan Berenstain, and lately their sons Leo and Michael, they were the authors of more than 200 books about The Berenstain Bears.
Mr. Berenstain was born on September 29, 1923, so he was 82 years young when he died. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School. The Berenstains met at a Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art drawing class in 1941. Each liked the way the other drew, but they soon discovered that they also liked the theater, going to museums, reading, and sports. World War II interrupted their growing friendship. Stan went into the Army, where he was assigned to be a medical illustrator at an Army plastic surgery center in Indiana. Jan worked drawing engineering plans for military aircraft manufacturers. Shortly after Stan was discharged from the Army, the two friends married. For about one year, they submitted cartoons to national magazines before they broke into the big time: Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and McCalls. In 1961, their friend Theodor Giesel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss, persuaded them to try illustrating children’s books. Their first book, The Big Honey Hunt, was published by Random House in 1962.
They were parents and big fans of reading and literacy, so their books naturally focused on raising children, family life, and the challenges of childhood. With their sons, Leo and Michael, they have created a lasting legacy of books, television programs, movies, and learning tools.
Stan and Jan Berenstain’s autobiography, Down a Sunny Dirt Road, was published by Random House in 2002. The family resided in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for much of their married life.
Catherine Woolley, who also wrote under the name Jane Thayer, passed away on Saturday, July 30, 2005, at her home in Truro, Massachusetts. You may remember her for her Ginnie and Geneva series. She was the author of 87 books for children. Her first was I Like Trains, published in 1944, and her last was Writing for Children, published in 1989.
Born in Chicago, Ms. Woolley grew up in Passaic, New Jersey. She graduated from Barnard College and the University of California in Los Angeles, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1927. Her father, Edward Mott Wooley, was a newspaperman in the late 1800s.
Ms. Woolley worked in public relations in New York until the 1930s when she moved back to live with her parents in Passaic during the Great Depression. She lived in Passaic until she was 60, then she moved to Cape Cod. In Truro, the reading room at the public library is named after Ms. Woolley. She was an active participant in charitable, government, and library functions for many years.
Her books are fondly remembered by many. She wrote books about Ginnie, Geneva, Libby, and Cathy. Her Gus the Ghost series was immensely popular. In the 1980s, Ruby-Spears Productions created four half-hour animated specials for ABC based on her book, The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy. “She was a very strong lady. ‘She worked tirelessly for children. She was a real child advocate,” said Meg Royka, director of the Truro Public Library.
Ms. Woolley died at the age of 100. Her niece, Betsy Drinkwater, said that Ms. Woolley, a lifelong Democrat, wanted to live long enough to vote in the 2004 election. She accomplished that goal.
Her papers and writings are in the archives of the University of Oregon. Memorial donations may be made to the Catherine Woolley Children’s Room, Truro Public Library, P.O. Box 357, North Truro, MA 02652.
We are sad to inform you that James Haskins has died at the age of 63 in his home in Manhattan.
Back in 1967, this school teacher kept a journal of his experiences in a school in Harlem, noting that the decrepit building, the poverty level of the children, and the bureaucracy created an environment which diminished the children and made it all but impossible for them to learn. Published in 1969 as Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher, the book opened the eyes of many. Ronald Gross of The New York Times Book Review wrote, “the saddest book on education I have ever read … By its truthfulness alone does it command our concern. The book is like a weapon—cold, bunt, painful.”
Observation led him to believe that African American children had a harder time learning without books that raised their self-esteem. “If my teachers had followed the curriculum,” he said, “I would have grown up thinking that blacks had never done anything in the history of the world except be slaves. I knew exactly what I wanted to write—books about current events, black history, and important black peole so that students could understand the larger world around them. Books written on a level that students could understand.”
He went on to publish more than 100 books, many for children and a few for adults. The Story of Stevie Wonder won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1976. Three of his books received a Coretta Scott King honor. Black Music in America, published in 1989, and The March on Washington, published in 1994, received the Carter G. Woodson award for young adult nonfiction.
Born in Demopolis, Alabama in 1941, Mr. Haskins grew up in Boston and received his degrees from Georgetown University and the University of New Mexico. A professor of English at the University of Florida in Gainesville since 1977, he was on sabbatical in Manhattan when he passed away.