Award-winning, versatile, and prolific children’s author Eve Bunting died on October 1 in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 94.
She was born on December 1928 in Maghera, a small town in County Derry, Northern Ireland, to parents Sloan and Mary Bolton. The Boltons ran the busy and well-respected local post office/shop selling produce and grocery items. Through their shop, the family also provided a lending library for the town, filled with books and poetry. Eve’s parents often asked her to recite poems and biblical verses, a practice that helped her develop a facility with language, rhythm, and rhyme that served her well throughout her life as both a writer and a public speaker.
When Bunting was nine years old, she was sent to boarding school at Methodist College in Belfast. In her autobiography for Something About the Author, Bunting recalled that the school had no radios, so students served up their own entertainment. “Perhaps it was there, in the telling of tall tales after ‘lights out,’ that I got my first taste of storytelling,” she wrote. “It was certainly there that I developed my lifelong love of books and reading.”
Bunting graduated from Methodist College in 1945 at 18 and enrolled at Queen’s University Belfast. It was during her two years of studies there that she met Edward Davison Bunting, who became her husband in 1951, and to whom she was married for 63 years before his death in 2014. Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Scotland and started a family. In 1960, the Buntings and their three young children immigrated to the United States, first living in San Francisco, and then settling in Pasadena.
Bunting was in her 40s and still raising her children when she decided to take a Writing for Publications class at the local junior college in Pasadena. “That was the first step to the new career,” she wrote in her autobiography. In 1971, Bunting was 43 when her first book, The Two Giants, illustrated by Eric Von Schmidt (Ginn), a tale of how Irish giant Finn McCool outsmarted Scottish giant Culcullan, was published. From that point, Bunting published multiple titles per year with several publishers, across a range of subjects, and formats from picture books to early readers and chapter books to young adult novels.
Though she wrote about other cultures and countries, she often drew inspiration from the lore and geography of her homeland, as well as her childhood experiences there, for her stories. Her historical novel SOS Titanic (Harcourt, 1996), follows 15-year-old Barry O’Neill, sailing from Ireland to New York City on the ill-fated ship. The Banshee, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2009), is a ghost story set in Ireland, and in Ballywhinney Girl, also illustrated by McCully (Clarion, 2012), a girl and her grandfather find a mummified corpse in one of Ireland’s peat bogs.
“Once I got started, I couldn’t stop,” Bunting said in a 2010 interview with Reading Rockets, explaining what she told children who asked why she had written so many books. “Mostly I write picture books, because that’s my favorite genre to write,” she added. “I love to write picture books for the older child that can also be read and used by adults and teachers in classrooms.”
In that vein, she wrote numerous picture book texts that address serious themes. Among those are The Wall, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Clarion, 1990), about a father and son traveling to the Vietnam Memorial to find the grandfather’s name; Fly Away Home, illustrated by Himler (Clarion, 1991), about a homeless father and son living in a Chicago airport terminal; and Smoky Night, illustrated by David Diaz (Harcourt, 1994), in which a boy and his mother witness the riots in Los Angeles, which won the 1995 Caldecott Medal. She noted that her more complicated works contained “hope for the future” even if they may not have a happily-ever-after ending.
In all, Bunting created more than 250 books for young people. Her numerous accolades and honors include the Kerlan Award, the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery (Coffin on a Case, Harper, 1991), and the Regina Medal (1997), given by the Catholic Library Association.
Jeannette Larson, who edited many of Bunting’s books at Harcourt Children’s Books, offered these words of tribute: “Eve’s 250+ books are evidence of her curiosity and ability to write about any subject, including difficult ones. That courage and range is a gift to any editor—but what also made her a dream author was her unfailing kindness, humility, and warm humor. Even when we were working through a creative problem or disagreeing—gently—about a story, she always made me feel as though I was her favorite person—and I suspect just about everyone felt that way around Eve. That open-hearted empathy is surely a big part of why her books have been so enduring.”