Obituary: Marc Simont / Classic children's book illustrator made art for more than 100 texts

Nov. 23, 1915 - July 13, 2013

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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 July 13 at his home in Cornwall, Conn.

He was 97.

His son, Marc, confirmed the death.

Mr. Simont 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 Kuskin, who died in 2009, 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 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 Nov. 23, 1915; his father, Jose, was an artist for the French newspaper L'Illustration.

The family was peripatetic: Marc was reared in Paris, Barcelona and the New York City 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.

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.

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