Prolific author Patricia Hermes, creator of more than 50 books for children and young adults, died on July 11 at her home in Phoenix. She was 82.
Hermes was born in Queens, New York in 1936, the third of four children of Fred and Jessie (Gould) Martin. As a child, Hermes enjoyed playing outdoors and was considered a tomboy, but had also already developed a passion for literature. “I loved to write and was an avid reader when I was a kid,” she told Something About the Author, “just buried in books.” Hermes found herself devoting even more time and attention to these quieter pursuits when she contracted rheumatic fever and was prescribed several months of bed rest. She developed an early love of music as well, playing classical piano and then, several years later, singing in the choir at St. John’s University, where she majored in speech and English and from which she earned a B.A. in 1957.
During her time at St. John’s, Hermes met her husband of 28 years, Matthew Hermes, whom she married shortly after graduation. They later divorced. Hermes taught school briefly before the couple moved to Delaware and began raising their family, which would grow to include six children. As her children grew older, Hermes returned to her teaching career. It wasn’t until she took a nonfiction for adults course at the New School for Social Research taught by the late Russell Freedman, Newbery Medal-winning author of children’s biographies, that she became interested in pursuing a professional writing career. “I took some things I wrote in the course and sent them out to publishers and to my utter amazement, people started buying them,” she told SATA. “You get hooked pretty quickly that way.”
According to Hermes’s daughter, Jennifer Hermes Nastu, she was so devoted to her New School writing class over the years, especially the long-running Workshop in Writing for Children taught by Margaret "Bunny" Gabel, that even when she lived out of state (in Virginia) she would fly to New York at least once a month to be there. “Spending time at class, as well as meeting with publishers and agents, kept Pat’s love affair with the city strong—she never stopped identifying herself as a New Yorker,” Nastu said.
Those early professional successes included articles in national parenting magazines as well as an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, which caught the attention of a literary agent, who asked if Hermes had ever considered writing for young readers. Intrigued by the idea, Hermes promptly wrote What If They Knew (Harcourt, 1980), a middle grade novel about a girl with epilepsy—something she had suffered from in childhood—starting at a new school. Thus began her career as a children’s book author.
Hermes’s body of work went on to include more middle grade and YA novels, chapter books, nonfiction for teens and adults, and several picture books. Many of her titles featured children dealing with such serious issues as death or illness. “Most of the subjects in my books come, in some small way at least, from my own background,” she said in an autobiographical essay for SATA, noting that the loss of an infant daughter in part informed her writing about a child dying in Nobody’s Fault? (Harcourt, 1981). “These are feelings I believe a child can identify with because children have strong feelings,” she said. “They know about death and separation and loneliness.”
In the early 2000s, she wrote a number of entries in the My America line of diary-format historical fiction titles for Scholastic, and most recently created a chapter book series following the adventures and misadventures of Emma O’Fallon and her siblings in the Emma Dilemma series for Marshall Cavendish.
Hermes enjoyed doing school and library visits throughout her career and spent much of her vacation time traveling the world. After living for many years in Connecticut, Hermes had moved to Arizona later in her life to be closer to family, and, according to her daughter, when Hermes relocated to the Southwest, she “immediately built a large community of new friends.”
Nastu recalled that “Pat was the neighborhood mother whose doors—including the refrigerator—were always open; our friends streamed in and out of the house throughout the years. The dinner table usually included at least one additional child. Extra leaves were added to the table as necessary, extra spaghetti thrown in the pot, extra pitchers of milk—constantly spilled, the perpetrator never scolded—on the table. Pat was a second mother to many, and as condolences for her loss pour in, all have said what great childhood memories they have of ‘Mom.’ ”
Further reflecting on her mother’s life, Nastu added, “Busy days often ended with Pat checking the mirror to be sure her hair was brushed and her makeup perfect. Then she’d fix a Beefeater martini on the rocks with a twist and settle herself on her porch, surrounded by flowers, enjoying herself with family or friends, or with a good book, and with music—always music. Pat was also known for her goofy sense of humor, giggling about things that, sometimes, nobody but she understood. The comment that graced her senior portrait in her college yearbook stated, ‘Laughs at her own jokes.’ She could entertain—or annoy—those around her by, for example, speaking only with words that began with the letter ‘K’ or engaging in pun duels with anyone who dared to match wits.”
A memorial service is being planned for a later date.