Marc Simont, Classic Children’s Book Illustrator, Dies at 97
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: July 16, 2013
Marc Simont, an acclaimed illustrator whose work, embodying both airy lightness and crackling energy, graced some of the foremost titles in children’s literature, died on Saturday at his home in Cornwall, Conn. He was 97.
Cynthia Hochswender for The Lakeville Journal
His son, Marc, confirmed the death.
Mr. Simont (pronounced sih-MONT) received the Caldecott Medal, considered the Pulitzer Prize of children’s book illustration, in 1957 for “A Tree Is Nice,” written by Janice May Udry and published in 1956.
His art for that book, a prose poem about the beauty of trees, is a distillation of his characteristic style: painterly, with rich, jewel-like colors; spare, without a wasted line, yet detailed enough to capture an entire world in microcosm; and imbued with a lacy delicacy that recalls the paintings of Raoul Dufy.
Over more than half a century, Mr. Simont illustrated nearly 100 books, his work paired with texts by some of the world’s best-known writers for young people, including Margaret Wise Brown, Karla Kuskin, Faith McNulty and Charlotte Zolotow.
With Ms. Kuskin, he collaborated on two picture books now considered classics: “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed” (1982), which depicts the minute preconcert preparations of the members of a symphony orchestra, and “The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed” (1986), which does likewise, postgame, for the members of a football team.
Mr. Simont also illustrated about a dozen titles he wrote himself, including “The Goose That Almost Got Cooked” (1997), the tale of a narrow gastronomic escape.
His art accompanied texts by adult authors as well, including the sportswriter Red Smith, with whom he collaborated on “How to Get to First Base: A Picture Book of Baseball” (1952), and James Thurber, whose fantasy novella “The 13 Clocks” he illustrated in 1950. (Thurber, a renowned illustrator himself, was by then nearly blind and could not do the artwork.)
Marc Simont was born in Paris to Catalan parents on Nov. 23, 1915; his father, José, was an artist for the French newspaper L’Illustration.
The family was peripatetic: Marc was reared in Paris, Barcelona and the New York area, where they settled when he was about 11. As a young man he studied art in Paris before returning to New York to train at the National Academy of Design.
As he moved about the city, Mr. Simont carried a sketchbook to capture its denizens on paper until the day that one denizen, incensed, stomped across a subway car and ripped the page from his hands. He learned to sketch furtively, which doubtless contributed to his pared-down yet intimate style.
Mr. Simont began illustrating children’s books in the late 1930s, and became known for his ability to adapt that style to a vast array of subjects, from the sprightly fauna of “The Happy Day,” by Ruth Krauss (1949), to the deadly earnest Brooklyn Dodger games in Bette Bao Lord’s “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” (1984), about a Chinese girl’s adjustment to postwar American life.
His career was bracketed by two Caldecott Honor Books, as the runners-up for the medal are designated: “The Happy Day” and “The Stray Dog,” based on a story by Reiko Sassa, published in 2001.
Other books he illustrated include many titles in Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s Nate the Great series, about a boy detective, and two more by Thurber, “The Wonderful O” (1957) and a 1990 edition of “Many Moons,” originally published in 1943 with illustrations by Louis Slobodkin.
Mr. Simont’s survivors include his wife, the former Sara Dalton, known as Bee, whom he married in 1945; his son, Marc Dalton Simont, known as Doc; and a sister, Geneviève Simont Ireland.
A longtime contributor of editorial cartoons to The Lakeville Journal, a community newspaper in Connecticut, Mr. Simont was honored in 2007 with the Grambs Aronson Award for Cartooning With a Conscience, presented by Hunter College in New York.
Even before he received the Caldecott Medal, Mr. Simont contributed valiantly to the success of another Caldecott winner, Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings,” published in 1941. The time was the late 1930s, and the place was Manhattan, where he and Mr. McCloskey, friends from the design academy, were roommates.
Wanting to study ducklings deeply for his book-in-progress, Mr. McCloskey acquired a flock and brought it home. For some months to come, with Mr. Simont’s sympathetic assent, the ducks lived in the bathtub of their Greenwich Village apartment.