The worlds of children’s literature and librarianship lost one of their most ferocious voices when Dr. Ruth Gordon passed away on Sunday, July 18, at the age of 83. Over her 60-year career she made her voice heard as a classroom teacher, librarian, director of libraries, educator of librarians, book-award committee member and chair, editor—and book reviewer. I was fortunate enough to work with her as a reviewer for Kirkus for the last several years, until she capped her pen this past winter.
I had known of Ruth for years before I began working with her, as she was not shy about making her opinions known in the various forums available to her online. Her trenchant remarks told me she was a no-nonsense idealist who was not inclined to suffer fools gladly. I was nervous: what if she thought me a fool? I underestimated her generosity of spirit. Ruth welcomed both me and my editorial hand, and I took great pleasure in our relationship. When she learned of my need to move from manual typing to voice-to-text software, she closed every email with, “And how are your PAWS?? Yrs, Dr. Woof.”
But Ruth was no softy. She demanded the best for the children whose books she was reviewing. Early on in our relationship, she excoriated a chapter book’s writing as “dependent on…forms of ‘to get’ instead of strong, chewy verbs—lazy and inexcusable writing in a book meant for developing readers.” I quickly examined my own writing and have been doing my best to find “strong, chewy verbs” ever since.
Almost as much as her incisive reviewing, I treasured her always funny, sometimes splenetic communications about everything she saw going wrong with the world. Somehow, knowing Ruth was watching out made news of political corruption and ineptitude a little bit easier to take.
Thanks, Dr. Woof. I’ll miss you.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.