Last night I received a phone call from Jules Danielson of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog and one of my co-writers on a book for Candlewick. We’d been working on it for a couple years now with our fellow blogger, Peter Sieruta of Collecting Children’s Books and had turned our edits in not too long ago. Saturday night phone calls were not a normal thing for us, though, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Whatever it was, I didn’t expect this. Jules informed me that on Facebook she had just learned that Peter, our friend and co-writer, has passed away.
The details are still being released at this time, but what I can say is that this loss is beyond devastating. I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never experienced a friend’s death. Peter is the first. He worked cataloging children’s books for Wayne State University and his life was dedicated to the history, the cultural import, and the criticism of children’s literature. That’s the dry explanation. The heart of the matter is that he loved kids books. Loved them more than anyone else I know. Some of us talk about dedicating our lives to them. Peter actually did it and with his death there is absolutely no one to fill his shoes. Peter didn’t just know the history of children’s literature, he made it accessible to the masses. When I discovered his blog Collecting Children’s Books all those years ago it was like stumbling on a veritable goldmine. His writing wasn’t just smart. It was funny, infinitely witty, and easily put my own to shame. Nobody knew as much as he did or was as good at conveying that info in such an engaging way.
Peter, Jules and I had a book contract with Candlewick to create a book about the true stories behind your favorite children’s books and I believe Jules joins me in saying that of the three of us Peter left us in the dust. His passages came to us like they’d been in books for years yet he never seemed to show any much deserved pride in them. He was such a professional, modest to a fault, zero ego, always willing to help us out when we were feeling stuck. It is intolerable to lose him.
Author Helen Frost recently shared one memory of Peter with me. If you have others you’d like to share, please consider posting them here or on Jules’ blog where she has offered up her own memories of Peter. Said Helen:
“I met him in person a couple of months ago, at a book launch for STEP GENTLY OUT. It was hard for him to make himself socialize to that extent–he posted about that on facebook–but once he got there, we had such a lovely evening in a little room at the back of the Bookbeat bookstore. He sat in a chair and conversed with me, Kathe Koja, Sarah Miller, Rick Lieder, and my husband for over an hour, as others came in and out, and Rick and I signed books–surprising himself, I think, by how comfortable he became after a few minutes. I treasure that memory. He asked me if I’d like to see his book collection–so sweetly asked, and I said I’d love to.”
You can see that amazing children’s literary collection here.
And here’s the video he took of his Newbery books:
- Monica Edinger has written her own tribute post where she links to some of his best pieces. Worth reading, every last one.
- The Blue -Hearted Bookworm has an amazing tribute of her own.
Goodbye, Peter. I think you were my friend. I was yours.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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