Acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator Jill McElmurry, best known for her work on the Little Blue Truck picture book series, died of breast cancer on August 3, at her home in Taos, N.M. She was 62 years old.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Taos, McElmurry belonged to a family of artists. Her grandfather, Mario Larrinaga, was a painter and Gallery A co-founder. As a child, McElmurry accompanied her parents to local art openings, and her own artistic style was influenced in part by the landscape of New Mexico. Her family moved from Taos to Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1968, but McElmurry would return later as an adult.
After studying at SUNY Purchase and at the School of Visual Arts in New York, McElmurry worked for two decades as an editorial illustrator. She created art for magazines, book covers, posters, and other design projects in the U.S. and Germany before pursuing work as a children’s book author and illustrator. In 2000, McElmurry published her first book, Mad About Plaid (HarperCollins), the surreal story of a girl who inadvertently turns her entire neighborhood plaid.
In all, McElmurry illustrated more than 20 picture books, of which she also wrote four. Her most widely known collaboration was with author Alice Schertle on the bestselling Little Blue Truck series. The read-aloud favorite has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into 10 languages. A new title in the series, Little Blue Truck’s Springtime, will be published by HMH in January 2018.
McElmurry’s work received starred reviews and numerous accolades, including the ASPCA Henry Bergh Humane Heroes Award and the California Library Association’s Beatty Award. Her books were named Booklist Editor’s Choice, Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and Sydney Taylor Notable Books, and were also selected for several state reading lists.
McElmurry’s longtime agent Marcia Wernick recalled, “Jill was dedicated to getting it right. She wasn’t afraid to stick to her guns when she thought she had delivered the best illustration she could, but she was always willing to work with publishers to make changes to improve the books she worked on. She was a brilliant artist with a unique sensibility. It is one of my great honors to work with her and see her get the recognition she so deserved.”
Catherine Onder, senior v-p and publisher at HMH Books for Young Readers, said, “Jill brought joy and goodwill to countless children through her gorgeous illustrations. It’s impossible not to be moved by the exuberance and heart in each of her books.”