If Only You Knew Kitty Donohoe

I want the children’s literature world to know about Kitty Donohoe. She passed away just a few months after publication of her debut picture book, How to Ride a Dragonfly (Anne Schwartz Books, 2023), a magical outdoor adventure with Alice-like changes in size that drive the narrative. Her death is a great loss not just to her friends and family, but to children’s literature -- and it is unlikely that you, dear reader, have heard of her. 

When my husband and I moved into a small West Los Angeles condo building twelve years ago we were extremely lucky to discover among our neighbors the perfect new friends: Kitty and her husband, Homi Hormasji. Kitty and I shared a longstanding love of children’s books -– I was a Judaica librarian and adjunct professor of children’s literature, and she was an elementary school teacher who was working to get published. Homi and my husband were both talented photographers. Kitty and Homi had only been married for two years and still seemed like newlyweds, they were so happy together. The four of us became close friends. 

Mary Catherine, known as Kitty, came from a large, close-knit Catholic family. She grew up in Yosemite, where her Irish ancestors had settled and her parents ran a restaurant. Having Yosemite as her backyard inspired young Kitty to love nature, daydream, and write stories.  

I was impressed to learn of Kitty’s dedicated apprenticeship to becoming a children’s author. During the school year she worked flat-out as a highly accomplished elementary school teacher for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. But every summer she went to New York for professional development, attending the Reading and Writing Project institute, a Teachers College program at Columbia University that included top-level editors and a strong network of colleagues. In Los Angeles she was a longtime active member of the local SCBWI chapter. On Saturdays she met with her writing group. In short, she did everything right. 

So it was no surprise that her first book, a second-person narrative with a slyly funny voice and wry, summery illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf, was published by a major children’s publisher to positive reviews and, I expect, sales. In the Horn Book, Grace McKinney Beermann described it as a “whimsical how-to” and appreciated the story’s “fanciful tone” in both text and illustrations (rev. 9/23). The book’s May 27 launch at Children’s Book World, our award-winning neighborhood independent bookstore, was a huge success. The place was packed, the book sold out, and Kitty was in her element, expertly reading her book aloud to a group of her second graders sitting on the carpet and to the adult well-wishers crowded behind them. Seldom have I been in a place so bursting with joy. People from every part of Kitty’s life had come: family, friends, fellow teachers, authors, current and former students...I think she told me even her doctor was there! Small children came bearing bouquets. Her fans (including me) bought multiple copies of the book to give as gifts. Kitty presided, radiant, the picture of health and happiness, realizing her dream of becoming a published children’s author. 

Just over two weeks later, on the very day she retired from her thirty-five-year career as a beloved elementary school teacher, she got a call from her gynecologist. Kitty learned that she had uterine cancer. After an emergency hysterectomy we thought, well, that’s that -- the cancer would be gone and she could carry on with daily life. But it wasn’t gone. It had metastasized to Kitty’s lungs. After that it was one surgery and chemo treatment after another, but the cancer -- from the start characterized as “aggressive” --  could not be vanquished. Instead of a seamless transition into her long-planned second career, Kitty was fighting for her life, Homi at her side. The dream had become a nightmare. 

On Friday, September 22 at noon Homi texted us from the hospital to let us know that Kitty had been transferred to palliative care and that we could visit. We planned to go the next day. But a few hours later he called to say that Kitty was gone. She was sixty-three years old. The tragedy and unfairness of it all were hard to fathom. Even now, a few months later, it seems unreal. 

Kitty sparkled as a teacher and author, friend and neighbor -- truly someone who lit up a room when she entered. She was kind and joyful and had a great sense of fun. No pushover, she knew how to manage a room whether it was full of rambunctious second graders or misbehaving adults. She would undoubtedly have published many more books if she’d survived. You would have known her name. I invite you to watch this half-hour interview with her friend, Brein Lopez, manager of Children’s Book World, to meet the Kitty that we knew and loved and are heartbroken to have lost. May her memory be a blessing. 


Annette Y. Goldsmith

Dr. Annette Y. Goldsmith teaches graduate children’s literature and librarianship courses online for the iSchools at Kent State University and the University of Washington. She lives in Los Angeles where she is Librarian at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. 

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Angie Snow

You wrote a beautiful description of Kitty and her professional life. You did not need to disclose the history of her illness and timeline to her death.

Posted : Nov 22, 2023 08:08

Fran McVeigh

Annette,This is so beautiful. You captured the heart and soul of Kitty! It still seems surreal that she's not on the other end of my messages. She had so many more stories to share!

Posted : Nov 22, 2023 06:47

marc aronson

What a lovely and fitting tribute to Kitty, her life, her work, and your friendship.

Posted : Nov 22, 2023 06:04



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