Prolific children’s book author Kate Banks, known for prose praised as lyrical, clever, and graceful, died February 24 in Switzerland, surrounded by her family, and following a long illness. She was 64.

Kate Banks was born February 13, 1960, in Farmington, Maine, to parents who were educators and avid readers, and grew up with her three siblings largely in Bangor and Brewer. In an autobiographical essay for Something About the Author, Banks wrote, “The memories from my childhood that I cherish most have to do with time outdoors engaging with nature.... My family had a home on the Maine coast, and growing up we spent weekends and summers there, surrounded by the smells, sounds and sights of the sea, which left an indelible imprint on my senses.”

Writing was also a part of Banks’s life from very early on. “This is something I always wanted to do, I didn’t trip into it,” she told Eleonora Saravalle in an interview for the blog Okay, But What Do You Do? “I collected children’s books when I was little. I had a real passion for it. And I loved to write, and I knew as much as I wanted to do something that had to do with writing.”

Banks attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts and received a B.A. in history in 1982. During her freshman year, Banks’s father was killed in a shooting, a devastating event that had a lifelong impact on her entire family. “Many of my novels for older readers have dealt with death,” she wrote in SATA, “and I suppose that represents my attempts to come to terms with love and loss of that magnitude.”

Following graduation, Banks moved to New York City to pursue a master’s degree in history at Columbia University, where she focused on childhood and children’s books from America’s early colonial period. Columbia was also where Banks met Pierluigi Mezzomo, a native Italian MBA graduate student who would later become her husband.

Banks put her education into action when she landed a job at Knopf Books for Young Readers in 1984 as assistant to legendary children’s book editor Frances Foster. Banks was working for Foster when the idea for her first book came to her as she traveled across Europe with then-boyfriend Mezzomo. Her vivid dream “about a lion (rather than a bear) that didn’t want his soup” took form during the remainder of the trip and she showed the manuscript to Foster upon her return. The result was Alphabet Soup, illustrated by Peter Sís (Knopf, 1988). From that point, Foster and Banks formed an author-editor partnership that lasted until Foster’s death in 2014, with Banks following Foster from Knopf to FSG, when Foster began her eponymous imprint there in 1995.

By 1990, Banks had married Mezzomo and the couple had moved to Rome where their two sons, Peter and Max, were later born. Banks cited her early years in the Italian capital as the point at which she seriously set about writing for children. After she attended a gallery exhibition of still-life painter Georg Hallensleben’s work in the city, she sought him out as a collaborator for her story-in-progress, Baboon, for French publisher Gallimard, which was later published in translation by Scholastic. The duo went on to publish more than 10 picture books together, including The Night Worker (FSG/Foster, 2000), about a boy accompanying his father to his construction work site one night, which won the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book; and Close Your Eyes (FSG/Foster, 2002), a New York Times Best Illustrated Book selection.

Among the other illustrators Banks collaborated with for multiple titles are Tomek Bogacki, Lauren Castillo, Gabi Swiatkowska, and Boris Kulikov. Kulikov and Banks partnered on Max’s Words (FSG/Foster, 2006) and three other tales about Max and his older brothers, which Banks told SATA were inspired by her own sons.

In 1996, Banks and her family moved to the south of France where she continued a steady creative pace enjoying her days writing books in her study in their villa. But in 2002 she suffered an unexpected career setback as the onset of a debilitating illness and a botched medical treatment left her in severe chronic pain. During her recovery, Banks discovered energy medicine and hypnotherapy and was inspired to train in both disciplines, becoming a practicing hypnotherapist and regression therapist.

Banks never stopped writing throughout her challenges. During the pandemic she again found herself taking refuge in the natural world around her and felt compelled to turn her hand more intently toward poetry. The resulting volume, Into the Ether, in which she reflects on various periods of her life, will be published posthumously by Regal House in October.

In all, Banks created a broad oeuvre of more than 50 books for young readers for several publishing houses, ranging from board books and picture books to middle grade and young adult novels.

Banks’s agent, Rick Margolis of Rising Bear Literary Agency, offered these words of tribute: “Kate was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. She was kind, compassionate, humble, and incredibly smart and perceptive. And she was also great fun to work with.

When I’d ask Kate what she was up to, she’d say, with a small smile in her voice, ‘Oh, you know me; I’m always working on something.’ ” And then like a magician plucking a bouquet of roses out of thin air, she’d send me these amazing manuscripts that seemed to flow from a deep, authentic place within her—stories filled with an innate understanding of children’s hopes and dreams and fears and struggles, stories that offered kids encouragement and assured them that there was a place in this often difficult world waiting for each of them.”

Kate Fletcher, editorial director at Candlewick Press, shared this remembrance: “It was a pleasure to work with Kate, whose writing for children ranged from delightful and playful to poignant and poetic. She said that her last book with us, The Winter Bird, about an injured nightingale who must learn to survive the winter when it cannot migrate, was one of her favorites, and its message of seeking community in difficult times feels especially resonant in this moment. I will miss wondering what story Kate will think of next, though I’m so happy to know her work and legacy will live on in all the wonderful stories she’s left for us.”

And Kate O’Sullivan, executive editor at Clarion Books, who edited Banks’s final picture book, Lost and Found (Clarion, 2022), said: “While I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Kate in person, I so enjoyed my overseas correspondence with her as we worked on her wonderful picture book. Her emails were always full of news re: her garden in France, and when we were trying to find the right illustrator for her manuscript, we spent a lot of time talking about who could best capture the warmth and personality of her woodland crew. Kate always had such thoughtful observations about it—I like to imagine this was because she had visits from similar critters in her garden. It made me think that she could have doubled as an excellent art director. In her writing and in her feedback, her touch was always light and light-filled. I imagine she brought this gift to everyone in her life, and I feel lucky that we get to remember this through her gentle storytelling.”