Editor Frances Foster, whose celebrated tutelage of numerous award-winning authors and illustrators earned her placement in the top echelon of children’s book industry luminaries, died on Sunday, June 8. She was 83. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where Foster led her eponymous imprint beginning in 1995, announced her retirement last year, following a long illness.
Foster (née Frances Starbuck) first stepped into publishing in the early 1950s when she was hired as assistant to Alice Dalgliesh, the founding editor of the children’s book department at Scribner’s. For a stretch of time while her children were young, Foster did freelance editing. She then took an editorial position at Knopf in the early 1970s where she worked with such talents as Roald Dahl, Leo Lionni, Philip Pullman, and Peter Sís. Upon moving to FSG, Foster continued to develop a stellar roster and in 1999, Holes by Louis Sachar, which she had edited, won the Newbery Medal, and also took home the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, edging out two other titles edited by Foster, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos and The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods by Ann Cameron. Capping off that season’s awards sweep, Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sís won a Caldecott Honor.
Upon her retirement last summer, PW asked several of Foster’s colleagues and authors to pay tribute to her and her more than 55 years in the industry. Author Kate Banks, who also worked as Foster’s assistant at Knopf in the mid-’80s, noted: “As an editor and as a person Frances nurtured her authors, encouraging and respecting their expression and voice, without ever sacrificing honesty or integrity. She loved her work and she made it fun for those around her with her playful spirit, sly grin, and mischievous blue eyes. In short she embodied all the best and most noble qualities we want to meet in the most satisfying books for children, and so much of what is important to children in that often turbulent journey from childhood to adulthood. I think this will be her legacy.”
Other industry friends are offering remembrances as well. Among them is Sterling Lord Literistic agent George Nicholson, who shared: “I wanted to say what a splendid, nuanced editor Frances Foster was and how deeply her writers were grateful and respected her loyalty and intellectual flintiness. If Frances did not love every work, she always showed her capacity to understand a work’s core integrity when evaluating it. She had her sorrows professionally but she proved dauntless and valiant in her final years and months. I salute her as one of the peerless ones.”
In lieu of a funeral, a memorial service will be planned for late summer or early fall. The family requests that any donations in her memory go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, Mass. 01002, or www.carlemuseum.org/give.