Remembering Marc Simont

Anne Hoppe, editor of Marc Simont’s 2002 Caldecott Honor Book The Stray Dog, spoke at the memorial held for the acclaimed illustrator in Old Cornwall, Connecticut, on August 24, 2013. We are honored to share her remarks with our readers. For more from The Horn Book about Monsieur Simont, click here.

Marc Simont Marc Simont at his drawing board in November, 2003.

I’ve been a children’s book editor for twenty years. That can feel like a long time — until I remember that, by the time I met him, well over a decade ago, Marc Simont had been a children’s book illustrator for sixty years. Six decades of wonderful books, and of art that left me speechless with its insight and perfection. In point of fact, before I met Marc, he was the only author or illustrator in the entire world whose work I revered so much that I’d actually said aloud, “I could never work with him.” The thought was too overwhelming — too intimidating, given the accomplishment, grace, and good humor of his beautiful art.

I couldn’t know how fundamentally grounded Marc was, though perhaps I should have been able to intuit from his art that its creator was articulate, thoughtful, and thoroughly delightful good company. And in hindsight, perhaps I should have sensed that this art could only be created by a considerate, empathetic man who once expressed his maxim as, “The motivating factor in children’s books is children themselves.” Marc knew his audience, and, moreover, he cared about it, be the audience a child reader or a person with whom he was conversing.

But back then, I held his work in such awe, I could not imagine ever offering so much as a modest editorial opinion to him. Happily, though, when his book The Stray Dog came along, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to work on a project with my great hero.

Because Marc is, was, and always will be my hero. First for the enduring and affecting artwork he made for children, but also for his ability to look life in the eye, boil it down, and capture the essence of a person or situation in a single drawing or caption.

I think of conversations with Marc — often he would sketch an idea or an approach or an example as we talked, integrating the art so seamlessly into the flow of words that it would surprise me to remember that reaching for a pencil is not automatic for me as well, and that expressing myself through a few well-placed lines isn’t part of my own vocabulary. I can’t draw at all, and Marc would make me forget that. He did what only the greatest of artists can do: he made it look easy…and then he took it further, and he made it — drawing as communication — look natural.

Marc’s art is accessible and engaging, just like Marc himself. His art invites people in, allowing us to see reflections of our own selves — and sometimes, particularly in his deft political work, forcing us to recognize ourselves as well.

It remains one of my highest honors, professionally and personally, to have had the chance to work on The Stray Dog. It is a perfect picture book, and a framed (and signed) poster for it hangs in a place of pride over my desk. But even that honor is small compared to having known Marc and Bee, even from the distance between a West Cornwall home and a Manhattan publishing house. It was a privilege to spend time with Marc and always a special joy when I could find some flimsy business excuse to pick up the phone and say hello to Marc, or to Bee, or, if I got really lucky, to both of them.

The Stray Dog published fifty years after the first book Marc had both written and illustrated, and when the American Library Association awarded it a Caldecott Honor in 2002, I wrote this to Marc:
I am so pleased for you. Your particular genius is evident on each spread, and it is tremendously satisfying to see that learnéd — and unpredictable — bunch known as the Caldecott committee recognize how truly special — and specially unique — your mastery of the picture book form is.

I want you to know that the committee’s decision to honor The Stray Dog has made an endless number of people happy — and not just here at your publishing house, either. In the children’s book community there is widespread admiration and affection for your work and for this book. From publishing professionals across an array of houses, to librarians, to booksellers, to your fellow authors and illustrators, seeing your book honored makes people feel good. Honest, Marc, even the people who normally feel jealous if their books aren’t chosen are entirely happy about The Stray Dog. I know this because they all keep telling me, and I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices that it is so.

Yours is true talent, not relying on gimmick or fad, and the success of your book, with its gentle thoughtfulness, genuine emotion, and graceful intelligence, is an affirmation across the field for everyone who values good books. We all feel validated by the book’s reception — you truly deserve the honor, and we take satisfaction from seeing your work prosper.

Artists work in isolation. One man, a drawing board, pencils, paint, one piece of paper, one image unfolding into another. The work is formed by a single, specific vision and travels from that single pair of hands out, into a much larger world where it touches the lives of strangers.

Marc remains first in my heart of all illustrators, and I am grateful that his joyous and wise books will go on touching the lives of strangers far and wide. He once said, “If five artists illustrated the same manuscript, you’d end up with five different stories.” An illustrator brings his full self to his work, sharing a vision that is uniquely his own.

We will miss him very much, but there are countless people who never talked with him in person who will continue to meet Marc on the page, seeing the world through his eyes, encountering and embracing the warm humanity and the special grace of our dear friend for years and decades to come.

Anne Hoppe
Anne Hoppe is senior executive editor at Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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