Children’s book illustrator Marc Simont, whose signature fluid-lined works graced close to 100 books and received the Caldecott Medal and two Caldecott Honors, died on July 13 at his home in Cornwall, Conn. He was 97.
Simont was born in 1915 in Paris to parents who hailed from Catalonia in northern Spain. His parents relocated several times and Simont spent his early years in Paris, Barcelona, and New York, where the family eventually settled when Simont was 11. His father, an artist and an illustrator for weekly French newspaper L’Illustration, encouraged Simont to draw from a young age. He went on to formally study art in Paris and at the National Academy of Design in New York City in the mid 1930s. Fellow Academy student Robert McCloskey became a close friend and roommate of Simont’s and in a bit of children’s book lore, Simont was lauded for his tolerance of the family of ducklings kept in their apartment bathtub while McCloskey worked on his 1942 Caldecott-winning Make Way for Ducklings.
Simont supported himself with advertising work and portrait-making before publishing his inaugural children’s book illustrations in 1939. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946 and married Sara Dalton in 1945; the couple had one son, Marc; both survive him.
His first Caldecott Honor came in 1950 for The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss (Harper), which celebrates the arrival of spring. He would receive the 1957 Caldecott Medal for arboreal ode A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry (Harper), and another Caldecott Honor in 2002 for The Stray Dog (HarperCollins), about a picnicking family charmed by a playful pup. Simont wrote several other picture books, among them The Goose That Almost Got Cooked (Scholastic), about a Canada goose’s narrow escape from a farmer’s dinner table. His other illustrated works include The 13 Clocks by James Thurber (Simon & Schuster) in which an evil duke believes he has stopped time, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord (HarperCollins), about a Chinese girl adjusting to her new Brooklyn home, The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin (HarperCollins), featuring musicians’ preparations for a symphony performance, and multiple volumes of the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, starring a boy detective and his dog (Coward, McCann; Random House).
Some of his longtime publishing colleagues and friends at HarperCollins shared remembrances of Simont. “Marc was one of the most talented authors and artists I have ever worked with, and I still think The Stray Dog is one of the all-time perfect picture books,” said editor-in-chief Kate Jackson. “I remember him coming into my office with art in a big manila envelope, taking it out and reading me the story as I looked at the art, and I remember thinking, ‘This does not need anything other than for us to print it’ – it was that beautiful right from the start.” Senior executive editor Toni Markiet noted that Simont “knew the best places to eat in Italy, don’t ask me how. We followed his instructions to the letter in Venice (only an artist could have drawn the directions to get to this little out-of-the-way trattoria in a far-off calle) to one of the best meals in the world in the company of all the workmen in the area. Nice memories.” She called him “a titan in our world and a true, true gentleman and artist.”