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John Rowe Townsend

photo courtesy of Gregory Maguire

photo courtesy of Gregory Maguire

We are sad to hear from Gregory Maguire that English novelist, critic, and great, great friend to the Horn Book John Rowe Townsend passed away Monday night at the age of 91. Winner of the 1970 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for The Intruder, John published books and many articles with us and, with his wife Jill Paton Walsh, 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. He will be missed.

At the link, John and Jill remember Paul and Ethel.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Very nice tribute here. I’ve always meant to read THE INTRUDER; perhaps now I have added motivation. R.I.P.

  2. KT Horning says:

    I will always remember John’s resonant speaking voice, and how his tongue seemed to curl around consonants. His criticism, too. He once said of Virginia Hamilton: “There is a difference in the furniture of her writing mind…” Such a perfect description.

  3. Gregory Maguire says:

    I think “great great friend to the Horn Book” is accurate. In addition, John had a generosity of spirit and opinion toward American and Canadian colleagues and friends (writers, teachers, librarians, and the siblings, spouses, and children of such) that spoke volumes not just about his character but also about his age and life experience. Many English people are dubious about the elephantine influence of the United States in so many fields, and develop a curmudgeonly attitude toward Americans; but John—like other British people in their 90s—remembered when the US came into World War II, and the sacrifice of blood spent in the defense of western Europe. He was no apologist for shifting political ideologies expressed from decade to decade in the States, but he boldly refused to pipe down about his high regard for the people he knew and loved as citizens of the US even when it became chic in England to be dismissive. I know that, as I lived there in the 90s, and I repeatedly saw evidence of his staunch affection for the best of our North American cultures, regardless of whomever might be on the attack. We have lost a dear, dear friend and an unassuming gentleman and quiet scholar. And a fine writer to boot.

  4. Sarah Ellis says:

    As a critic JRT was thoughtful, appreciative, informed witty and original. I always looked forward to his take on books new and old and to his warm and genial presence in any gathering.

  5. He was a lovely man and a warm-hearted friend, and he had more quotations in his head than anybody I’ve ever known. They ranged from Shakespeare to music-hall songs, often via astonishing poets one might never have heard of before, and they came out of a lifetime of devotion not just to literature but to words. And of course that’s where John’s remarkable talents as critic and writer were rooted as well. It was a long and wonderfully productive life that gave a great deal to the world of children’s books, but oh dear, we shall miss him.

  6. Listening to JRT speak was an intellectual pleasure. He was generous, appreciative and challenging, all at the same time. I learned so much from him and will always remember that sparkle in his eye when he listened to others. He loved words and books and the people who created them.

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