Caldecott Medal–winning author-illustrator Ed Young, best known for his reinterpretations of folktales and legends from his native China, and evocative illustrations rendered in a range of mediums, died September 29 in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. He was 91.

Ed Tse-chun Young was born November 28, 1931 in the coal-mining town of Tianjin, China. He grew up with four siblings in Shanghai where their father was dean of engineering at St. John’s University. As a boy, Young was fond of making up stories and was already exhibiting a talent for drawing.

Young immigrated to the U.S. on a student visa in 1951 at age 19, and attended City College in San Francisco and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, initially studying architecture before switching to art. In 1957, he graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and soon after, he moved to New York City to launch a career in advertising, and also began additional art study at Pratt Institute. In his free time, he enjoyed sketching animals at the Central Park Zoo and at other sites around the city.

When Young sought a more expressive direction for his art outside of advertising, a friend suggested he pursue children’s book illustration. Legendary Harper & Row editor Ursula Nordstrom encouraged Young on this new career path and offered him a contract to illustrate The Mean Mouse and Other Stories by Janice M. Udry, which was published in 1962. That debut led to many other books, written by a variety of authors.

Young received the first of his two Caldecott Honor awards in 1968 for Jane Yolen’s The Emperor and the Kite (World Publishing). In 1978, he began writing his own texts, mostly retellings and adaptations of folk and fairy tales inspired by his Chinese culture and the philosophy of Chinese painting, as well as by his love for animals and the natural world. Young’s Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (Philomel) won the 1990 Caldecott Medal. And in 1993, his Seven Blind Mice (Philomel) was named a Caldecott Honor book.

Whether illustrating his own words or someone else’s, Young continually looked for a new challenge in his work. To that end, he experimented with an array of mediums including pencil, ink, pastels, paints, cut- and torn-paper collage, and found objects. He sometimes hid symbols and puzzles in his artwork for readers to find. “Before I am involved with a project I must be moved, and as I try something exciting, I grow,” he wrote on his website. “It is my purpose to stimulate growth in the reader as an active participant as well. I feel the story has to be exciting, and a moving experience for a child.”

In all, he created more than 100 books for young readers and among his many other accolades were two nominations for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the Eric Carle Museum and the Society of Illustrators. At different times over his career, he taught art at the Pratt Institute, Yale University, Naropa Institute, and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The Chinese martial art and health discipline of t’ai chi ch’uan “had profound influence upon my way of thinking and on the things I do,” Young said in a 1968 Something About the Author profile. Young had learned t’ai chi ch’uan in 1964 from a master who was newly arrived in New York City. By 1967, Young had begun to teach the discipline and became director of the Shr Jung T’ai Chi Ch’uan School in New York’s Chinatown. He continued as a t’ai chi ch’uan instructor for more than 40 years in Hastings-on-Hudson.

Patricia Lee Gauch, former editorial director of Philomel Books and editor of Lon Po Po and numerous other titles, paid tribute this way: “All the world was Ed’s paint box: a scrap of wrapping paper, a brown paper bag, a discarded piece of metal. Nothing was ever ‘found’ for Ed, every thing, every scrap, was something to be repurposed for art’s sake. Side by side with him in his studio, amid his scraps, bags, throwaways, I began to see art everywhere and in everything. But it wasn’t art alone; Ed’s ideas were attached to his art of whatever texture and story. They spun out from him, embracing humanity itself as he tried, valiantly, stubbornly, to attract children’s attention to the power of goodness and what was natural.”

Alvina Ling, v-p and editor-in-chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, offered this remembrance: “My first opportunity to work with the brilliant Ed Young was on the picture book Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibsten. It was a profound experience. Ed’s wife Filomena was sick during the creation of the art for Wabi Sabi, and during the chaos of her illness and eventual death, the completed original art somehow went missing—every artist and editor’s nightmare! When Ed reemerged to work on the project and discovered that the art was missing—stolen, perhaps— he took it in stride and said, ‘I’ll do the art again. And I can only promise you that it will be better.’ Well, the finished art was indeed better. Wabi Sabi went on to win a New York Times best illustrated award and became a New York Times bestseller. Ed and I worked on four more books together, from the lighthearted and silly Nighttime Ninja written by Barbara DaCosta, to a book about his childhood growing up in wartime Shanghai called The House Baba Built. Another was based on a poem he wrote for his children to reassure them after the death of their mother. Should You Be a River was a book about unconditional love, and we all can take some solace from the words he wrote—Ed is still with us all.”

Victoria Rock, founding children’s publisher and executive publishing director at Chronicle Books, fondly recalled: “I first met Ed when I was an assistant working for his longtime editor Ann Beneduce. Even as a rookie, I quickly saw that Ed was an Artist, with a capital A, and also a lovely person. Years later, when it was my great pleasure to work with him on Beyond the Great Mountains (Chronicle, 2005), he told me that he had used some scraps of paper that he had saved from books he had worked on with Ann, as a secret nod to our mutual connection. In that little moment, you see both the artist and the human.”

And Neal Porter, v-p and publisher of his eponymous imprint at Holiday House, shared a favorite anecdote: “I was lucky to have worked with Ed on three books in the mid-2000s; I wish there could have been more. Spending time with him gave me a re-education in the art and craft of picture book making. One notable exception occurred after I made one of my regular trips to Hastings to retrieve finished artwork, done in his typical collage style. When I returned home and examined the art, I realized that many bits of collage had shaken loose in transit and fallen to the bottom of the envelope, leaving me in the unenviable position of trying to determine where they were meant to go. In time we figured it out, and that was true of working with Ed. No matter what the challenges were, we always figured it out.”