Marc Simont dies at 97; award-winning children’s book artist

(Laurie Gaboardi, AP)

Marc Simont, an award-winning children’s book illustrator whose drawings and watercolors brought poignancy and gentle wit to works by such well-known authors as Margaret Wise Brown, Ruth Krauss and James Thurber, died July 13 at his home in Cornwall, Conn., after a short illness. He was 97.

His death was confirmed by his son, Marc Dalton (“Doc”) Simont.

A French-born artist who immigrated to America as a child, Simont illustrated more than 100 books, including “A Tree Is Nice” (1955) by Janice May Udry, which won a Caldecott Medal, one of the highest honors in children’s literature.

Also an author, he both wrote and illustrated several books, including “The Stray Dog” (2000), an amusing tale based on a story by Reiko Sassa about a dog that wanders into a family picnic.


Marc Simont: The obituary of children’s book author and illustrator Marc Simont in the July 22 LATExtra section said that a book he illustrated, “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson,” was published in 2003. Its first edition was published in 1984.

That book brought Simont, at 87, his second Caldecott Honor, the award given to runners-up for the Caldecott Medal. He had received his first Honor award a half-century earlier for Krauss’ “The Happy Day” (1949).

“So many people have said to me, ‘I did my first book with Marc Simont.’ He had so many titles with so many editors and publishers,” said Kate Jackson, editor-in chief at HarperCollins, which published “The Stray Dog” in 2000. “He was a beloved member of the children’s book world.”

Simont’s longest collaboration was with author Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, whose popular boy-detective series “Nate the Great” bore Simont’s stamp for more than 20 years. His illustrations were so entwined with the stories that his successor’s work on later “Nate” books was billed as “in the style of Marc Simont.”

“He was king of the hill” among children’s book illustrators, Sharmat said in a recent interview. “He put himself into everything. His pictures were funny and sweet at the same time.”

Born in Paris on Nov. 23, 1915, Simont spent his childhood in France and Spain before moving to the United States in 1927. During a long illness he taught himself to write and draw by copying a Spanish picture book called “El Ginesello.” He studied art at the Academie Julian and the Academie Ranson in Paris and the National Academy of Design in New York but considered his father, an artist for L’Illustration magazine, his most important teacher.

In New York he shared an apartment with another art student, Robert McCloskey, who would go on to write and illustrate the children’s classic “Make Way for Ducklings.” When McCloskey brought home a small flock of baby mallards to use as models, Simont pulled the short straw and wound up with the creatures sharing his bedroom, an experience he never forgot. “Ducks,” he recalled in McCloskey’s 2003 obituary in the New York Times, “start quacking at the break of day, very loudly and emphatically.”

Simont illustrated his first book in 1939: “The Pirate of Chatham Square: A Story of Old New York” by Emma G. Sterne. During World War II, he applied his skills as an artist in the Army, producing drawings of rifles and other visual aids.

After the war his career quickly took off again. He made soft charcoal pictures of animals emerging from a cold winter for Krauss” “Happy Day” and meditative watercolors for Udry’s “A Tree Is Nice.”


He illustrated several books that explored special worlds, including “How to Get to First Base” (1952), a baseball primer written by famed sportswriter Red Smith, and two books by Karla Kuskin: “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed” (1982), an inside look at an orchestra preparing for a performance, and “The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed” (1986), a hilarious peek inside a football team’s locker room after a big game.

His later works included “No More Monsters for Me” (1987) by Peggy Parish and “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” (2003) by Bette Bao Lord.

In addition to his son, Simont is survived by his wife of 68 years, the former Sara (“Bee”) Dalton, and a sister, Genevieve Simont Ireland.

Since the late 1940s Simont lived in Cornwall, where one of his neighbors was Thurber, the New Yorker magazine humorist and cartoonist. Simont, who drew with a loose line reminiscent of New Yorker cartoons, illustrated Thurber’s fantasy novel “The 13 Clocks” (1951) and “The Wonderful ‘O’” (1957), a twist on fairy tales.


Thurber had gone blind by the time he asked his friend to tackle “13 Clocks,” so he made Simont describe each illustration for him. The process was manageable until Simont got to his rendering of a mysterious character named Golux, who according to Thurber’s story “wore an indescribable hat.”

Simont couldn’t find the right words to explain the odd hat he had created. To his relief, this seemed to please the author.

“He said, ‘OK, good,’” Simont recalled in an interview with Thurber biographer Burton Bernstein. “Still, I had nightmares of Thurber suddenly regaining his sight, seeing my pictures, and saying ‘I made a horrible mistake!’”