Children’s author Bill Wallace died on January 30 at his home in Chickasa, Okla., after a battle with cancer. He was 64.

His more than 30 books for children have been honored with 22 child-voted state awards. In addition, Bill received Oklahoma’s Arrell M. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

In 1980 Holiday House published Wallace’s first book, A Dog Called Kitty, which was discovered in a pile of unsolicited manuscripts. The book, which tells the story of the relationship between a boy and a stray dog, went on to win three state awards: the Texas Bluebonnet, the Oklahoma Sequoyah, and the Nebraska Sower. “I had the good fortune of being Bill’s friend as well as his publisher,” said John Briggs, Holiday House’s president.

Wallace had an audience for his stories long before publication, however. Before he turned to writing fulltime, he was a physical education instructor, a classroom teacher, and the principal for the same school he had attended as a child in Oklahoma. He began writing stories to quiet down his fourth-graders after recess. When he noticed that they listened and behaved, he kept writing and his students encouraged him to have “real books” made of his manuscripts.