Award-winning children’s author Judith St. George, widely known for her many titles drawing on events and figures of American history, died in her home in Bloomfield, Conn., on June 10. She was 84.
St. George was born on February 26, 1931 in Westfield, N.J, and experienced what she called an “idyllic” childhood despite the Great Depression, and where she enjoyed outdoor pursuits and excelled at sports at a young age.
Always an avid reader, St. George’s first recollection of writing, she said in the autobiography she provided for Something About the Author, was when she penned a play for her sixth-grade class in 1941. She completed her high school education at boarding school, which she noted was an unhappy time. But in 1948, she entered Smith College and praised her four years there as “wonderful and fulfilling.” At Smith, she edited and also wrote for the college humor magazine, Campus Cat, and graduated with a B.A. in 1952. St. George lived in Cambridge, Mass. for two years following college before marrying David St. George, an Episcopal minister, in 1954.
The St. Georges later moved to Oregon and New Jersey for David’s ministry opportunities and their family grew to include four children. When the youngest child was about three years old, St. George felt an urge to stretch her creative wings beyond being a stay-at-home mom. Living in the historic Longfellow House (an early headquarters for George Washington during the Revolutionary War) while she and her husband had been in Cambridge, and then living in an area of New Jersey where Washington and his troops had wintered, compelled St. George to do some research on the war – and sparked her lifelong passion for American history.
Armed with information, St. George wrote her first published children’s book, Turncoat Winter, Rebel Spring (Chilton, 1970) on her college typewriter. By 1975 her title The Girl with Spunk, about the early women’s rights movement, was published by Putnam and she began to publish her work prolifically for the next three decades. Her book So You Want to Be President?, a look at the ins and outs of the U.S. presidency, was illustrated by David Small and won the 2001 Caldecott Medal.
St. George went on to create more than 40 children’s books, and continued to write into her 80s, though she admitted that writing was always a challenge for her. “All I know is that I want my readers to care as much about the outcome of historical events as if they were reading today’s headlines,” she wrote in her autobiography.
Margaret Frith, former president of the Putnam & Grosset Group, told PW, “Judith St. George was an incredible author and a good friend who spoke her mind, shared her laughter and dug deep for stories, real and imagined. She was as comfortable with mysteries and novels as she was with revealing the dangers of building the Brooklyn Bridge or Mount Rushmore.”
Longtime friend Patricia Lee Gauch, who edited So You Want to Be President? and two other books by St. George while editorial director of Philomel, said, “Judy St. George was one of a kind. Astute, funny, a great lover of life, these qualities were so present in her work. It led her into writing books that were both original, like So You Want to Be President?, and wonderfully spirited, like The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built, the biography on John Roebling, the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge."