Picture book author Florence Minor, best known for numerous collaborations with her husband, illustrator Wendell Minor, died on May 21 in Washington, Conn., after a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 74.

Minor was born Florence Friedmann in the Bronx, N.Y., on October 22, 1949. She graduated from Hunter College with a B.S. in sociology and went on to study at NYU Film School before landing a position as a documentary film editor for ABC News.

Florence married illustrator Wendell Minor in 1978 and soon became an invaluable sounding board for her husband as he increasingly gained recognition for his book jackets, and beginning in 1986, for his children’s book illustrations.

By 1990, the Minors had fallen in love with rural Washington, Conn. following a visit and decided to leave New York City and settle there. Florence left ABC and the following year, Wendell suggested, “Why don’t you work for me?” he recalled. “She said she didn’t want to work for me, so I asked, ‘Why don’t you work with me,’ and she liked that phrasing a lot better.” Florence became the Minor Art studio’s business manager and “took care of everything,” Wendell told PW, an arrangement that allowed him to paint for 12–14 hours a day. “She was very artistically talented,” he said. “As a film editor, she was one of the best, and that talent translated to picture books. She was my perpetual art director and art critic; nothing left the studio until Florence signed off on it.”

Though she worked largely behind the scenes on Wendell’s projects, Florence made her own entrée into the children’s book arena when she served as co-editor for Wendell Minor: Art for the Written Word: Twenty-Five Years of Book Cover Art (Harcourt, 1995). Then, around 2004, Katherine Tegen, who had recently launched her own imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books, paired the Minors as a true author-illustrator team for their first picture book collaboration, Christmas Tree! (Harper/Tegen, 2005). In a 2017 interview for author James Preller’s blog Minor offered a peek into the creative process on that inaugural project: “ [We worked] on our first book together on the ferry to Nantucket to celebrate our anniversary!”

Of their five picture book collaborations, If You Were a Penguin (Harper/Tegen, 2009) became the most celebrated when it was selected for Pennsylvania’s “One Book, Every Young Child” program in 2009. The Minors toured the state in support of the title and Florence found the experience extremely rewarding. At one elementary school, the couple personally passed out books to the children, and Florence recalled the response. “As I handed [one boy] his book he looked at me and said, ‘You mean this is my book to keep? I don’t have to return it?’ It was the first book he had ever owned, and seeing the joy on his face is what this is all about.”

Katherine Tegen, former VP and publisher of Katherine Tegen Books at HarperCollins, offered this tribute. “I was fortunate to work with Florence on some of her first books for children. Florence loved the writing and revising process and she was a joy to work with. Smart and funny, she created poetic read-aloud texts filled with clever rhymes. If You Were a Penguin, with gorgeous artwork by the versatile genius Wendell Minor, remains a favorite title of my career. Florence, always thoughtful, wrote beautiful handwritten notes and sent lovely gifts every Christmas. She was a special person and I will miss her dearly.”

Christy Ottaviano, VP and publisher of Christy Ottaviano Books at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, said, “I have had the good fortune to work with Wendell and Florence Minor for over 20 years. As any editor who works with Wendell knows, if you acquire a book with Wendell, you are acquiring a book with Florence too—they were an incredible partnership, working hand in hand, often finishing each other’s sentences. In the dozen books Wendell and I have published together, Florence was a special part of each one, and a cheerleader for not only Wendell but for me as his editor and publisher. Her kindness, warmth, talent, and passion infused everything she was a part of, and everyone she touched. I feel lucky to have known her and to have worked together with her over the years. She was a truly beautiful person inside and out.”

Wendell Minor’s longtime agent, Rubin Pfeffer, provided this remembrance. “Through 40 years, be it book jackets or children’s book illustrations, Florence was Wendell’s muse, inspiration, researcher, and support. She was the objective thinker and doer and marketer that let Wendell live his dreams and passions, becoming one of the greatest, most venerated illustrators of his generation. Every piece of Wendell’s artwork has Florence’s love and care brushed throughout.”

And Wendell Minor shared, “I couldn’t ask for a better marriage, or a better friend and confidant. She was my soulmate, my art director. She was my everything.”