Paul B. Janeczko, longtime teacher and lauded poet and anthologist best known for his poetry anthologies for children, died February 19 following an illness. He was 73.
Paul Bryan Janeczko was born July 27, 1945 in Passaic, N.J., the second of five children of Frank John and Verna Janeczko. As a kid, Janeczko was an admitted baseball fanatic, collecting and trading baseball cards on the school playground, and playing pick-up games on the grammar school field across from his childhood home in Wood-Ridge, N.J.
In his autobiographical essay for the Something About the Author series, Janeczko noted that in his early years he would rather do anything else than be in a classroom or read a book. “I didn’t like school. I did as little homework as possible. I participated in class only under duress from the nuns,” he recalled. It was his mother who challenged him to expand his reading beyond the backs of baseball cards and the daily sports page. He credits her with turning him into a reader and writer by initially suggesting he “do a little reading” for 15 minutes after supper instead of playing outside, and handing him a Hardy Boys book. The enforced habit soon took, and Janeczko became an avid reader of mysteries and crime stories.
Despite his acquired taste for reading, Janeczko says he did not enjoy high school—at two different Catholic institutions—and was a quiet student throughout his time there. Those experiences later shaped his novel Bridges to Cross (Macmillan, 1986), about a boy whose mother forces him to attend a Catholic high school when he’d rather be at the local public school.
In 1963, Janeczko began his studies at St. Francis College in Maine, with the goal of becoming a high school teacher different from the ones he had. Inspired by some of his new college friends, he made the change to English major and graduated in 1967. He continued his literature studies at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, where he worked as a graduate assistant for a year before leaving the formal program to become a teacher at a Catholic school nearby. Of his years in Cleveland, Janeczko wrote, “It was during this time that I started to give some serious thought to writing.” He began with attempts at writing fiction, then changed course to write YA book reviews and articles for professional journals.
Janeczko finished his master’s degree in 1970 and in 1972 and moved with his wife to Massachusetts, to begin teaching at a public high school north of Boston. When he realized that the poetry anthology he was teaching from was not holding his students’ interest, he created an anthology of his own to use in his classes. That early effort turned into the collection The Crystal Image, which was published by Dell in 1977. Janeczko explained in his autobiography that he found his way to Dell when he had sent a sample selection of poems to Jerry Weiss, a consultant for the publisher whom he had met by chance at a convention.
Also in 1977, following his divorce, Janeczko moved back to Maine to accept a teaching job at a small school near Portland. By 1980 he had met Nadine Edris, a social worker and photographer whom he married in 1985. In 1990, Janeczko retired from teaching after 22 years, and he and Nadine welcomed daughter Emma that same year.
From the 1980s through the early 2000s, Janeczko was a prolific compiler for such well-loved anthologies as Pocket Poems: Selected for a Journey (Bradbury, 1985), I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems and His Poems Collected in Pairs (S&S, 1996), and A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, illus. by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, 2005). His anthologies and his original works have spanned both lighter and more serious fare, including volumes focused on love, friendship, and baseball, as well as titles like Worlds Afire (Candlewick, 2004), a series of 29 poems that chronicle the experiences of those affected by a fire that devastated the Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944 in Hartford, Conn., killing 167 people and injuring many others. He continued to write, compile, and review poetry—including recommendations for audio recordings of poetry—until his death.
Liz Bicknell, executive v-p and editorial director at Candlewick Press, with whom Janeczko published numerous books (several of which will appear posthumously), paid tribute to the author: “Paul Janeczko—or PBJ, as we affectionately call him in-house—is really synonymous with Candlewick’s poetry list. From his first anthology with us in 1999 to his forthcoming collection The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems [March], he made poetry joyful and resonant. He could be daring, as in A Poke in the I, or intensely moving, as in his two verse novels Requiem and Worlds Afire. He loved to teach and he loved to share the pleasure of poetry, and after knowing him for only a few months of the 23 years we worked together, he became a dear friend. He taught me the fine art of collecting and grouping poems, about permissions; he introduced me to numerous other poets, including J. Patrick Lewis, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Liz Rosenberg; he made me into a poetry editor. I will miss him enormously, and my only solace is that I have two more books under contract that I will endeavor to finish as beautifully as he would have.”