Last night we were saddened to hear of the death of Jean Little, a beloved and distinguished member of the Canadian children’s literary community. Born in Taiwan in 1932 to Canadian doctors who were serving as missionaries, Jean was legally blind from birth. After obtaining a B.A. in English Language & Literature from the University of Toronto, she taught briefly before her first novel, Mine for Keeps, was published in 1962 and she went on to publish over fifty works including picture books, novels, memoir, short fiction, and poetry.
Jean was notably one of the first Canadian authors to write candidly about children living with disability. She also wrote about the immigrant experience in Canada, adoption and the foster care system, often drawing on her own family’s experiences. No matter what genre or form she chose to write in, Jean’s work celebrates the resilience of children and the strength of the human spirit.
Jean’s awards and honours were numerous, including the Ruth Schwartz Award, the Governor General’s Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award, and the Horn Book Honor Award. She was a member of the Order of Canada, a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and was nominated multiple times for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. In addition to her significant literary impact on generations of readers, Jean was one of the founding Members of CANSCAIP, an organization that fosters support and professional relationships among Canadian creators of children’s content. She is often cited by contemporary Canadian authors as an inspiration, and those who knew her remember her devotion to children, animals, and her very dry wit.
Join us in honouring Jean’s memory by getting lost in one of her many beautifully written books and share your memories of her with us on Twitter.
Once Upon a Golden Apple: 25th Anniversary Edition
By Jean Little and Maggie de Vries
Illustrated by Phoebe Gilman
26 Pages | Ages 0-3
ISBN 9780670070077 | Puffin Canada
A brand-new board book edition, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this fractured fairy tale bedtime story. In this hilarious fractured fairy tale romp, everything goes awry. Goldilocks lives with the seven dwarfs, a princess kisses Humpty Dumpty, and she and the prince rescue the Wicked Witch of the West! Can all this mischief get sorted out so that everyone lives happily ever after? Jean Little and Maggie de Vries’s playful text and Phoebe Gilman’s magical illustrations make this twisted classic a delight to share with new generations of readers.
Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird: Puffin Classics Edition
By Jean Little
264 Pages | Ages 8-12
ISBN 9780143187875 | Puffin Canada
Jeremy is not having a good summer. His best friends have moved away, and he has to stay at the cottage with only his little sister Sarah and his Aunt Margery. His parents have remained in the city so his father can have an operation.
When Jeremy finally sees him again, he finds out that his father has cancer and isn’t going to get better. Suddenly, Jeremy’s life has completely changed. But then he finds an unlikely friend in Tess, who knows what it’s like to lose someone. As his friendship with her grows, through good times and bad, Jeremy discovers that his father has left him something that will live forever…
Stand in the Wind
By Jean Little
256 Pages | Ages 8-12
ISBN 9780143167600 | Puffin Canada
At a beach cottage, two sets of sisters who have never met before must spend a few days together without their parents. It looks as if it’s going to be the longest holiday ever, until Martha discovers something about Christine that changes everything.
“I stand in the wind and eat peanut brittle.”
Somebody Else’s Summer
By Jean Little
192 Pages | Ages 8-12
ISBN 9780143016434 | Puffin Canada
On a flight from Vancouver to Toronto, two girls meet, forming an unlikely friendship. Tall, athletic Samantha is going to spend the summer with a family friend while her father is in South America. Alexis, a shy girl who likes books, is being sent to a horse farm to learn how to ride while her mother and stepfather are travelling in Australia.
By the time their flight lands in Toronto, the girls have hatched their plots. They’re going to trade places for the summer. After all, the people they’re going to visit have never met them, and their parents are far away and hard to contact. But will they manage to pull it off? For how long? And with what consequences?
Tributes to Jean have been pouring in from fellow Canadians since the news broke. She will be deeply missed.
“An acclaimed, multi-award-winning author, she was smart, funny and frank, someone I so enjoyed talking to when I had the chance. She is a legend in Canadian children’s literature circles, and all of us at Penguin Random House Canada feel lucky to have been able to be her publisher and thankful that she was able to write for as long as she did.”— Lynne Missen, Publishing Director, Fiction, Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers
“When I was young, and so nerdy, and always reading books in the library during recess, I was obsessed with her. I found her number in the phone book and called her, and we kept talking every few months for 2 or 3 years I think. She always remembered me and she was always happy to chat. I think it might have been the first time I realized authors were people and not Hollywood celebs.” — Zoe Maslow, Editor, Doubleday Canada
“Jean Little taught me so much about compassion and kindness and showed me lives very different than my own. I thought I was reading stories but I was learning to how to be a person.” — Kate Rennie, Indigo Sales Manager
“I remember walking by her house and getting a little thrill as a little kid.” — Justin Sorbara-Hosker, District Sales Manager
“I loved all of Jean Little’s books and her spiky but good intentioned heroines. The moment I remember the most is my grade five teacher coming up and touching my shoulder during Math, because I was so engrossed in From Anna I hadn’t realized that reading time was over.” — Vikki VanSickle, Director, Marketing & Publicity, Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers
A great loss for children’s literature. She leaves behind a wonderful library and a legacy of kindness. https://t.co/VEByqM0bcc
— Wesley King (@WesleyTKing) April 7, 2020
Jean was awesome in so many ways. Loved reading her books, occasionally interviewing her, and being heckled BY her at @CANSCAIP meetings. A true loss https://t.co/wihJuBa0nr
— Kevin Sylvester (@kevinarts) April 7, 2020
A Canadian legend passed away today. #JeanLittle. https://t.co/QfLBqAaWGu
— 🌕 Paul Harbridge 🏒📖 (@PaulHarbridge) April 7, 2020
Such sad news. A Canadian icon. https://t.co/oKc1WRQKhO
— Eric Walters (@EricRWalters) April 6, 2020
thank you, Jean, for more than 50 books and a million curmudgeonly dollops of humor and truth
— Marthe Jocelyn (@scissorhouse) April 7, 2020