In Memory: George Ancona

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

George Ancona, prolific author, photographer, and art director died on Jan. 1 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 91.

Obituary: George Ancona from Publishers Weekly by Shannon Maughan. Peek: “Mexican American children’s book author, photographer, and filmmaker George Ancona, widely acclaimed for his crisp slice-of-life photoessays introducing children to new experiences or cultures, or depicting laborers doing the everyday work in a community….”

George Ancona, 1929-2021: Photographer, Author Wrote Over 100 Children’s Books from Santa Fe New Mexican by Jennifer Levin: “A son of immigrants. A father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Successful advertising art director at A-list agencies. Award-winning photographer, documentary cinematographer, and later, author of over 100 children’s books.”

Born on Dec. 4, 1929, to Mexican immigrants, Ancona grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He began his career in design as a sign painter for Coney Island amusement park. High school graphic arts teacher, Leon Friend, encouraged Ancona. Also, during high school, Ancona took classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and later studied drawing, sculpture, fresco mural painting at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico.

Throughout his professional life, Ancona worked as a staff designer and art director for magazines such as Esquire and Seventeen as well as worked on the promotions team at the New York Times. He published his photographs in magazine such as Children’s Vogue and he shot documentaries for Sesame Street.

Ancona’s work as a photographer introduced him to children’s publishing after illustrating Barbara Brenner’s work—A Snake-Lover’s Diary (Young Scott Books, 1970), Faces (Dutton, 1970), and Bodies (Dutton, 1973). Ancona began to collaborate with other authors, and eventually, Brenner’s editor suggested he write his own text. In 1974, Dutton published Monsters on Wheels, Ancona’s first book as author-illustrator.

Ancona continued to write and illustrate his work, producing multiple works each year into the 2000s. When his family relocated from New York City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, he began to focus his work for children on Latinx culture as he explored his own heritage. His books Barrio: José’s Neighborhood (Harcourt, 1998), Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead (Lothrop, 1993), and ¡Olé! Flamenco (Lee and Low, 2011) were all named a Pura Belpré Honor Books.

From his website, Ancona said: “…as a photographer I can participate in people’s lives…producing something that can be shared and has a life of it’s own.” With more than 100 works to his name, he has produced much to share.

As news of his death broke, the children’s book community reacted: Harold Underdown, Lee & Low Books, Charlesbridge Books, Jamestown Reads.

Cynsational Notes

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.