This past weekend, the children’s lit world received the sad and startling news that author, reviewer and blogger Peter D. Sieruta (Collecting Children’s Books) had suddenly passed away in his home. Peter was a true children’s lit scholar with an infectious passion for children’s books, particularly young adult literature.
Since 2009, Peter, Betsy Bird (A Fuse #8 Production) and I have been researching and writing a book scheduled to see publication next year from Candlewick Press. It’s been an adjustment, to say the least, for all of us involved to wrap our heads around this. Manuscript conversations without Peter will feel all wrong for us surely. But carry on we must, particularly given that Peter’s solid writing and engaging stories made their way into the manuscript and that he was so eager to see the book’s publication.
As a thoughtful author friend e-mailed me after she heard about Peter’s passing, doing the work of writing with another soul is intimate and requires great trust and patience. For us—and others who have worked with Peter in the past, including many people formerly and currently at The Horn Book—this is a unique and poignant type of loss.
Also experiencing a great loss are the many readers of his blog. It was there that this otherwise generally reclusive and very private man reached out to an audience of fellow children’s lit enthusiasts to share his passion for books and entertain with the well-researched stories—both obscure and otherwise—behind older and contemporary children’s and YA novels.
Friends and acquaintances will miss his Facebook status updates, mini-memoirs about his family, and playful stories about his pie-baking experiments and attempts to learn watercolor painting. One of my favorite recent status updates was his attempt to paint a woman’s face: “This morning's test painting: Let's see, the pupils of her eyes are square, her lips are about two inches left of her nose, and her chin is as big as a dinner plate. Also, she kind of looks like a man to me. (Painting can be a drag!)…”
And, not least, Peter leaves behind a brother and parents, whom I know he loved dearly and are surely still reeling from his sudden passing.
Betsy and I have each written tributes to our co-author at our sites (here and here, respectively). Today, we want to share his own words, a portion of our manuscript which we had decided back in March wouldn’t make it in the final cut of our book. A longer version of this also once appeared in a 2008 blog post at Peter’s site. “It was sort of the post,” Betsy told me, “that gave me the idea that we could all write a book together. He had this way of combining personality, his own stories, and great authors and illustrators together in ways that I continue to envy.
So, here—for his friends, colleagues, parents and especially for his brother—are Peter’s own words:
For people who share the same DNA and grew up in the same house, my brother and I couldn't be more different—especially when it comes to books and reading.
When we were very young, our mother used to read aloud to us. If, at some point, I needed a bathroom break, I'd say, “Don't read anymore till I get back!” Halfway down the hall, I'd turn around, worried that I would somehow miss the story, and remind her: “Don't start again without me!”
My brother, on the other hand, would get up and say, “I'll be right back. You can keep reading without me” and wander off to the bathroom...then into the kitchen for a snack...stop to look out the window, then into his bedroom to play with his Lite-Brite set, and listen to a record, all the while occasionally yelling back, “Keep reading. I can still hear you!”
Still, for all our differences, we usually come through for each other when times are tough. Like the time Robert Cormier came to town.
Robert Cormier, whose brilliant and controversial novels had changed the landscape of young adult fiction, was one of my personal heroes—but his bookstore appearance was scheduled for a weekday afternoon, and I had just begun my first full-time job and couldn't possibly get the day off work.
Happily, my brother volunteered to take my books to the store and have them signed...for the small price of five dollars.
The big day arrived. I advised my brother to get there extra early because “Robert Cormier is a very famous author, and I'm sure the book signing will be very crowded!”
My brother arrived early, but he was the only one there. When he walked into the store with a couple Cormier books in his hand, the store manager was so relieved that someone had shown up that she almost hugged him. “Now Mr. Cormier isn't here just yet, but if you just wait patiently, he should be here very soon. Till then, why don't you just browse for a few minutes.”
Browsing in a bookstore. Yeah, my brother was going to love that.
Soon there was a small fuss at the back of the store and the manager came running over to my brother. “He's here! He's here! We're serving him a light lunch in the back room, but then Mr. Cormier will be right out to sign your books!” She dragged my brother to a chair and pushed him into it: “Now you just sit here and think of all the questions you'd like to ask him.”
Soon she was escorting Mr. Cormier from the back room and pushed him into a chair facing my brother. Robert Cormier smiled and shook my brother's hand. The bookstore manager came around behind my brother and put her hands on his shoulders. “This young man has been waiting to meet you for over an hour. I think he must be your biggest fan in the world! Tell Mr. Cormier how much you like his books,” she said, squeezing her fingers into his shoulders and becoming more and more desperate with each word: “Tell him which one you like the best. Go on: Tell him!”
Mr. Cormier looked at my brother quizzically and my brother responded, “Actually... actually...I've never read any of them. I'm just here to get my brother's books signed.”
No wonder I never came through on the $5 I promised him.
We miss you, Peter. Thank you for being a part of the book. We can't wait to share your stories and passion again.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.