In Memory: Author Kate Banks & Author-Illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher

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By Gayleen Rabakukk

Author Kate Banks

“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,” from Publishers Weekly.

In her biography for Regal House Publishing, Banks wrote about the natural world shaping her desire to create. “I knew I wanted to be a writer from an early age, and I could often be found with a book in hand, tucked in the nook of a tree or lying in a field.” Her love of nature shines through in many of her titles. She had a masters degree in history from Columbia University with her studies focusing on childhood and children’s book in early colonial America. She worked at Knopf Books for young readers as editor Frances Foster’s assistant.

Banks’ first book, Alphabet Soup, illustrated by Peter Sis was published by Knopf in 1988. Her author-editor relationship continued after Foster moved to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where Foster began her own imprint in 1995. Banks published more than 30 picture books with the Frances Foster imprint, including The Night Worker, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben (Frances Foster, 2000/ Square Fish, 2007), which won the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. Her collaborator for that book, Georg Hallensleben was an artist she met in Rome after her family moved there in 1990. Banks and Hallenslenben created more than 10 picture books together, according to Publishers Weekly.

In addition to picture books, Banks also wrote in other genres and age categories, including eight novels for young adults. Kirkus Reviews offered high praise for Dillon Dillon (Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002), “The flow of language is as smooth as calm water, the imagery graceful. As meticulous as loons preening their fathers, Banks has crafted a poignant quest for understanding by an unforgettable character whose name shaped his destiny, one that will reverberate in readers’ minds like a loon’s trill. Extraordinary.”

Banks’ most recent picture book was Lost and Found, illustrated by Galia Bernstein (Clarion Books, 2022) and she has an adult poetry collection forthcoming, Into the Ether (Regal House Publishing, October 14, 2024). According to Publishers Weekly, Banks created more than 50 books for young readers, spanning all age categories from board books to young adult.

Author Illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher

“Leonard Everett Fisher lived multiple lives in his 99 years. He illustrated more than 250 children’s books, served in World War II, won a final Pulitzer Prize of its kind, became a dean of a college, had his artwork in museums and was featured in a documentary – and that’s just scratching the surface of his accomplishments,” wrote Kayla Mutchler for the CT Insider. Fisher died March 2 in Westport, Conn. at the age of 99.

Publishers Weekly reported Fisher’s interest in art began at a very early age as he attempted to use India ink to complete one of his father’s unfinished watercolors. His parents encouraged his interest and created him a mini studio in a front hall closet. Art classes and trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art followed. He graduated high school in January 1941 at age 16, then briefly studied art at Brooklyn College. He became a U.S. Army reservist in December 1942, then requested active duty.

His art skills led him to classified training as a cartographer, drawing battle and navigational maps. His miliary service was included in the 2018 PBS documentary GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II. Following the war, Fisher became dean of the Whitney School of Art in New Haven, Conn. He had his first solo exhibition in Manhattan in 1952. The following year he met a book designer who pointed him toward children’s literature.

Fisher’s first book illustration project was The Exploits of Xenophon, written by Geoffrey Household (Random House, 1955\ Purple House Press, 2023). Soon after he published titles with Henry Holt, Holiday House and Franklin Watts, as well as illustrating educational materials for SRA Reading Laboratories, according to Publishers Weekly. In 1961 he became an author-illustrator with the publication of Pumpers, Boilers, Hooks and Ladders: A Book of Fire Engines (Dial, 1961).

In the 1970s, Fisher created a series of U.S. postage stamps focusing on American history and crafts. He helped found the Westport-Weston Arts Council that evolved into the Museum of Contemporary Art Westport and served three terms as president of the Westport Public Library. From 2000 to 2010, he served on a committee that presented the Rabbit Hill Festival of Children’s Literature at the library, creating art exhibits to accompany each program. In August 2020, Fisher made an Artists in Residences video for The Westport Library’s YouTube channel. He shared his studio, his works in progress and talks about writing and illustrating children’s books at the 20 minute mark when he introduces paintings from Cyclops (Holiday House, 1991), a book he both wrote and illustrated.

“These are acrylic paintings. I did about 700 of these paintings over a period of I don’t know how many years. Maybe 30 years of painting picture books,” Fisher said. “I think of myself as a craftsman and I let other people judge the art,” Fisher said. His work for Don Quixote and the Windmills, along with several other paintings are part of the collection of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

In the 2000s, Fisher collaborated with Eric A. Kimmel on several titles for Holiday House, including Don Quixote and the Windmills. Kimmel told Shannon Maughan of Publishers Weekly that he knew Fisher long before they ever met in person because Fisher was one of his favorite authors in elementary school. When he was asked to write the text for Don Quixote he wondered why Fisher didn’t want to author the book as well. “Len said, ‘I’m done with writing. I don’t want to write. I want to paint. You write the story. I know you’ll do a good job.’ …Throughout the ups and downs of the publishing industry, we remained fast friends. Rest in peace, Len. You were a fine writer, a great artist, and a treasured friend,” Shannon Maughan wrote for Publishers Weekly.

Fisher illustrated more than 250 books for young people, and also wrote 88 of those. His awards include the Regina Medal, given by the Catholic Library Association, and the Kerlan Award, from the University of Minnesota, both in recognition of his distinguished contributions to children’s literature.

Cynsational Notes

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma. She has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and two regional interest books for adults.

She serves as board member for Lago Vista’s Friends of the Library and also leads a book club for young readers at the library. She’s active in Austin SCBWI and has taught creative writing workshops for the Austin Public Library Foundation. She loves inspiring curiosity in young readers through stories of hope and adventure. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.