Else Holmelund Minarik, the acclaimed children’s book author best known for her Little Bear books for early readers, died on July 12 at her home in Sunset Beach, N.C., of complications from a recent heart attack. She was 91.

Minarik was born September 13, 1920 in Denmark, and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 4. At that young age, Else’s mother helped her learn English by taking her to the playground and translating what the children there were saying. By 1940, Elsa had married Walter Minarik; she earned a B.A. from Queens College in 1942.

During the early 1940s Minarik worked as reporter for the Daily Sentinel of Rome, N.Y., and later, responding to a shortage of teachers created by WWII, she began teaching first grade in a public school in Commack, Long Island.

Minarik had said that her daughter Brooke, a precocious early reader, initially inspired her to try her hand at writing stories for children. Minarik had observed a dearth of easy-to-read books on the market for Brooke, so she penned some of her own, which she also introduced to her young students. She submitted some of those stories, about a bear who acts like a preschooler, to Ursula Nordstrom at Harper and Row. Nordstrom found in Minarik’s “Little Bear” manuscript the ideal title to launch her company’s I Can Read series, and asked Maurice Sendak to illustrate it. Little Bear was published in 1957; the author-illustrator duo then partnered on the book No Fighting, No Biting! and went on to collaborate on several more Little Bear titles, including Little Bear’s Visit, which was a Caldecott Honor book in 1962.

Minarik eventually wrote more than 40 children’s books, the most recent being Little Bear and the Marco Polo, illustrated by Dorothy Doubleday, which came out in 2010. Little Bear was also adapted into an animated television show that aired on Nickelodeon beginning in the mid-1990s.