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MOTHER BEAR AND ME - ELSE HOLMELUND MINARIK

Posted by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Lee Bennett Hopkins
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on Saturday, 14 July 2012 in My Journal

Else Holmelund Minarik died Thursday, July l2, at the age of 91. We met in the late 1960's when I was doing BOOKS ARE BY PEOPLE (Citation Press, 1969).  Maurice Sendak made the connection.

Being extremely shy and very guarded about her private life, I was shocked when she decided to meet to have lunch.  After many questions which she didn't answer I finally asked, "Why did you come to meet me?" (I was in my last twenties and was impatient with her).  She answered: "Only because you're a friend of Maurice's and I didn't want to disappoint him!"

Her first book, LITTLE BEAR (HarperCollins) appeared in 1957,first in the I CAN READ series under the editorial direction of Ursula Nordstrom.  LITTLE BEAR was illustrated by Maurice.  The book was sparked by her teaching first graders and their 'need to read something of substance'. The book was dedicated to her first husband, Walter and her only daughter, Brooke, who died before her.

During our lunch at a rather tony Italian restaurant she opened up to me, talked about life in her beloved New Hampshire -- working in an apple orchard with old varieties of trees -- grimes and golden apples, pied quails' eggs.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1968, Else sent me a note that began:

Dear Lee:

A nest of quail eggs will be delivered to you by a young friend, Al Jaeger...".

Several days later an unexpected, quite shy young man rang my apartment doorbell handing me a box.  "This is from Else," he said and quickly departed.

I looked up Al Jaeger, a renown New Hampshire sculptor.  I wonder if he is the same young man who delivered my gift, the one who painted a mural on Else's stairway that 'wakes everyone up enormously' as she wrote.

She was quite proud when LITTLE BEAR was translated into a Spanish edition, OSITO (1969) translated by  Pura Belpre, children's specialist at the New York Public Library.

I treasure our correspondence, especially the letter signed "Mother Bear".

Another legend passes on.

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