Author-illustrator Marcia Brown, the much-lauded recipient of three Caldecott Medals and six Caldecott Honors, among other accolades, died on April 28 at her home in Laguna Hills, Calif., following complications of congestive heart failure. She was 96.
Brown was born in Rochester, New York in 1918. As a child, she loved to read and draw, interests strongly encouraged by her parents, and passions that would both inform her education and lead her to a children’s book career. Brown completed summer studies at the Woodstock School of Painting in 1938 and 1939 before earning her B.A. from New York College for Teachers (now State University of New York at Albany) in 1940. After her college graduation, Brown taught high school English and drama for three years in Cornwall, N.Y. She then moved to New York City where she held an assistant position in the Central Children’s Room at the New York Public Library, and where she pursued further study at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University. Later, she sought additional instruction in Chinese calligraphy and painting at Zhejiang Academy and Fine Arts in Hangzhou, China.
Brown’s first picture book, The Little Carousel, was published by Scribner in 1946 and over the years her body of work grew to include more than 25 volumes. The first of Brown’s six Caldecott Honors came for her second title, Stone Soup, published in 1947. The three Caldecott Medals awarded to Brown were for Cinderella (Scribner, 1954), Once a Mouse (Scribner, 1961), and Shadow (Scribner, 1983). Brown was especially fond of illustrating and retelling fairy and folktales, a form that is a cornerstone of her oeuvre. She traveled extensively, including to Africa, Jamaica, Italy, and China, and often incorporated elements of other cultures into her work, either via story or art. Among the various art mediums she used in her books are woodblocks, crayon-and-ink, collage, and photography.
Author and children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, who included Brown in his book A Caldecott Celebration as well as in the New York Public Library exhibition he curated in 2013, offered this story of working with her. “I first met Marcia Brown when I interviewed her by phone in the late 1990s for A Caldecott Celebration. I recall being struck at the time by how young she sounded and how devoted she was to her art. By then she was no longer illustrating children’s books, but had been studying Chinese brush painting, and painting for her own pleasure. Then in 2013, when I was preparing the New York Public Library exhibition, “The ABC of It,” I came across a piece of original art by Marcia in an uncatalogued flatfile in an underground storage area [at the library]. The picture reminded me of those she had done for her 1949 picture book Henry-Fisherman. But when I looked at the book, the illustration I had found was not among them. I asked a mutual friend if Marcia had email, and when he said yes I wrote to her, attaching a jpeg of the art. A few days later I had my answer. Marcia recalled for me that she had taken the finished art for Henry-Fisherman to Scribner, her publisher, one morning, and that she and her editor Alice Dalgliesh had decided that the illustration I was asking about was ‘too strong’ for the rest of the book, that it interrupted the flow of the story. That afternoon, she brought the picture they had set aside to the New York Public Library, where she worked part-time, and made a gift of it. Marcia was 92 or 93 when she recalled all this, as clearly as if it had just happened.”
Brown is survived by her longtime companion and editor Janet Loranger.