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Barbara Cooney; Children’s Author

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Children’s author and illustrator Barbara Cooney, whose works received a National Book Award and two Caldecott Medals, has died. She was 83.

Cooney’s career, mostly as an illustrator, spanned 60 years and 110 books, including “Basket Moon” published last September. Cooney, whose home and studio, Hermit’s Wood, was in the coastal town of Damariscotta, died Friday at Maine Medical Center after a long illness.

“She was a star of children’s publishing throughout the United States, and I doubt that there is a school library or public library in which she is not represented,” said Tim Moses, spokesman for her publisher, Viking Children’s Books. “We’re going to miss her very much.”

Cooney’s first book was published in 1940. She won the Caldecott Medal, the highest U.S. honor for a children’s book illustrator, in 1959 for “Chanticleer and the Fox.” The book was Cooney’s adaptation of a story from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”

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Her illustrations for Donald Hall’s “Ox-Cart Man” garnered another Caldecott in 1980. “Miss Rumphius,” published in 1982, was designated one of the New York Times’ 10 best illustrated books of the year and received the next year’s National Book Award for children’s picture books. Her alma mater, Smith College, also awarded her a medal for her life’s work.

The Brooklyn-born Cooney was familiar with Maine from childhood visits to her grandmother, and moved there 17 years ago. Many of her books focused on the culture, history and society of Maine.

Three years ago, impatient for her adopted town to raise funds for a new library, she donated $850,000 and challenged Damariscotta to raise the rest. Although most of her philanthropy was done quietly, Cooney announced that gift to encourage others to support local libraries across the country.

Her generosity prompted Maine Gov. Angus King to name Cooney an official state treasure and declare Barbara Cooney Day in 1996.

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Cooney had worked until nearly the end of her life, and told the Horn Book magazine only a few years ago: “I’ve done my best work, been the happiest with it, the last 12 years. That’s very encouraging.”

Divorced after a brief marriage to author Guy Murchie, Cooney is survived by her second husband, Dr. Charles Talbot Porter, four children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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