As it inevitably must on occasion, the children’s literature world shrank a little bit recently, on June 23, when Robin Smith passed away far too young. Correction: it shrank a lot.
A second-grade teacher at Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, she was also: a longtime, savvy reviewer for Kirkus, BookPage, and the Horn Book; the original convener of the Calling Caldecott blog, which engages in smart, vigorous discussion of Caldecott-eligible books each fall, leading up to a mock Caldecott vote online; a regular session leader and speaker at Children’s Literature New England and other conferences; a passionate advocate for great books on such committees as the Geisel, the Caldecott, and the Coretta Scott King.
I think of all these roles the one she cherished most was second-grade teacher, as she applied her decades of expertise with 8- and 9-year-olds to all the rest, and more than her expertise, she applied her love for her students. In the children’s literature world, we sometimes talk about book people and child people as if they are two different types—and often they are—but Robin was the perfect intersection of both.
Robin was personally known to a lot of our readers, and they know that if she was personally known to you, she was your friend. As she did with her second-graders, she embraced people who cared about children and books and children’s books. She didn’t care if you were brand-new to the industry or if you were one of its lions: she treated you with equal respect and affection, and she cared about you for your sake, not what you might do for her.
Her generosity, enthusiasm, and dedication have nurtured readers, writers, and professionals young and old, and her reviews and articles have enriched those she wasn’t able to touch personally.
Our world is smaller by the size of one second-grade teacher, and that’s a mighty big hole.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.