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Vera B. Williams (1927–2015)

chair for my motherWe were saddened to hear about the death last week of legendary children’s book author and illustrator Vera B. Williams. It’s a loss to our field; she was, truly, unique. Her groundbreaking picture books celebrated children and family and communities — all kinds of children, all kinds of families, and all kinds of communities. Both A Chair for My Mother and “More More More,” Said the Baby were Caldecott honor books (in 1983 and 1991, respectively), and they stand out among their fellows for their contemporary, unglossy settings, their sense of inclusiveness, and the forefronting of the loving relationships they portray.

cherries-and-cherry-pitsWilliams was also a two-time Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner — for A Chair for My Mother in 1983 and Scooter in 1994 — and was a three-time BGHB Honor Award recipient (for Cherries and Cherry Pits in 1987; Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea, written by Williams and co-illustrated with daughter Jennifer Williams in 1988; and Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart in 2002). Again — who can forget Bidemmi’s face shining out of the exuberantly colorful pages of Cherries and Cherry Pits; or the unforgettable sisters (unforgettable in both the poetry and the pictures) in Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart, one of the first children’s books to portray a family coping with the absence of a parent in prison.

williams_moremoremoreIn 2001 she wrote about “Childhood, Stories, and Politics” for The Horn Book Magazine. Here are a few salient quotes from that brief but important contribution: “I began to create my books just at a period when children’s books were becoming somewhat more open and more accurate about the range of family life in America, about color and class and ethnicity, about what girl characters could do and be.” And, “it is of solemn import to tell stories that involve us in the energies, talents, and great-heartedness of children and other not-so-powerful people.”

williams_coverIn 1992 she did a series of lovely covers for us. As with so much of her work it’s an image that looks reality right in the eye, messy laundry basket and breast-fed baby and all, and filled with love, closeness, and “not-so-powerful people.” Click here to read Horn Book Magazine reviews of select books by Williams.

And when it came time for Horn Bookers to talk about their favorites, Ms. Williams got even more love:

My favorite BGHB winner, reviewer edition: Robin Smith’s choice

The ones that got away: Leonard and I choose Vera B.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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Comments

  1. Hi Martha,
    I work at a public library up in Sullivan County, NY – in Monticello now, but for years worked at a branch library in Narrowsburg, NY where Vera was a regular patron. Vera – and her work – have been inspirational to me. We’re in the process of creating ‘Vera’s Story Garden’ outside the library in Monticello – the County seat – and hope that the space will someday be designated a ‘Literary Landmark’. If you like I can send you a photo of the beautiful life-size mosaic chair that was created for the garden in the likeness of Rosa’s chair in the Rosa series of books. You will love it! We also did a Story Walk along Broadway using ‘A Chair for My Mother’ that was very well received. We are now working on the signage for the garden – and we’ve got an unsightly retaining wall just alongside the garden that I’m working with a few art students at the high school and their mentor to create a mural that also does justice to Vera’s Story Garden nearby. If you like, when everything is in place, I will send you photos. Thank you for sharing your spot on words about Vera – both her work and her spirit – and I would be interested in finding out if any original copies of that Horn Book Magazine issue Vera did all those years ago still exist. .

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