Jan Wahl, 87, children's author (Sendak/Gorey/Rockwell collaborationist)
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That Derek
2019-02-09 15:36:19 UTC

Jan Wahl (1931-2019)

Children’s writer, with a ‘gentleness,’ just finished book

Mark Zaborney
Blade Staff Writer

Jan Wahl, whose award-winning books for children were read and read again, silently and aloud, starting with his first in 1964, Pleasant Fieldmouse, died Tuesday in Heartland at ProMedica Flower Hospital. He was 87.

Mr. Wahl, most recently of Sylvania Township, had prostate cancer, his brother Michael Wahl said.

That first published work featured illustrations by Maurice Sendak, already acclaimed for the 1963 book, Where the Wild Things Are.

“I began at the top. It didn’t stay that way,” Mr. Wahl told The Blade in 2006. “But I did have a lovely, lovely beginning with a very fine artist.”

More than 100 of Mr. Wahl’s books were published, most of them written for young readers. Other illustrators included Norman Rockwell, Edward Gorey, Lee Lorenz, and Toledo’s Wil Clay.

“For me, when reading his work, his words also painted an illustration of the book itself,” said Benjamin Sapp, director of the Mazza Museum at the University of Findlay, which features art from children’s picture books. Mr. Wahl made presentations through the years at the Mazza museum about his own books. He also could speak with affection about other authors of children’s literature.

“The idea that he was in our own state of Ohio — just a wealth of knowledge and information,” Mr. Sapp said. “I just love his body of work and the creation he shared with those who love children’s literature.”

Mr. Wahl, who grew up in the Westmoreland neighborhood of central Toledo, continued to write. Scheduled for release Tuesday is Hedy and Her Amazing Invention, illustrated by Morgana Wallace, about Hollywood film star Hedy Lamarr and her off-screen technological innovations.

Mr. Wahl was supposed to read from the book at 2 p.m. March 2 in the Toledo Museum of Art, preceded at noon by a children’s collage and instrument-making event.

The program will continue, but “will become a celebration of his writing, and especially his new book,” said Scott Boberg, the museum’s manager of programs. “His books are amazing, and there are people around the world who have really enjoyed and loved his writing and enjoyed the work of artists who illustrated his books.

“While it’s sad news he is no longer with us,” Mr. Boberg said, “we want to celebrate what he has given to the world.”

Mr. Wahl was recipient of the Redbook Award, Parents’ Choice Literary Award, an Ohioana Book Award, among other honors.

He wrote, though, that his proudest moment was on the steps of the Field Natural History Museum when President Clinton read to him pages from The Fieldmouse and the Dinosaur Named Sue on the day the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen Sue was unveiled at that Chicago venue.

He was working toward a republication of his 1969 book, How the Children Stopped the Wars, his friend, Mary Dawson said.

“He felt that if you could send a message out, perhaps it made a difference. He had a message of gentleness as much as anything,” Ms. Dawson said.

His brother said: “He wanted to remain in his childhood, in his way.”

Mr. Wahl was known for writing and rewriting, using an old typewriter. He avoided anything computer-related. His latest book took three years to write, Ms. Dawson said.

“He thought every word was important,” she said.

Most books began with a title.

“That’s the seed from which the thing sprouts,” Mr. Wahl told The Blade. “Sometimes I have to live with a title for a while.”

His favorites included Humphrey’s Bear and Furious Flycycle, his brother said.

He was born April 1, 1931, in Columbus to Nina Marie Boyer Wahl and Russell Wahl, who was a physician. He was the oldest of what would be six Wahl boys. He was a 1949 graduate of DeVilbiss High School. He played piano well enough to share a radio program with a local singer later prominent on the pop charts, Teresa Brewer.

He was a 1953 graduate of Cornell University, after which he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and had a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. He worked with director Carl Theodor Dreyer on the film Ordet. The author Isak Dinesen, best known for Out of Africa, hired him as a secretary, “but fired me one day for misspelling two words,” he told The Blade in 1968.

He formerly lived in New York, where Norman Mailer was a neighbor, and in Mexico.

He was known as a film historian and in recent years gave presentations at Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater. He was 18 years old when his collection of silent, foreign, and rare films caught the attention of Toledo Times critic Ruth Elgutter.

For his contributions to children’s literature, he received an honorary doctorate from BGSU in 1996.

Surviving are his brothers, Michael, Douglas, and Robert.

The March 2 event at the Toledo Museum of Art will serve as a celebration of his life, his brother Michael said.

The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Museum of Art.

First Published February 1, 2019, 12:00am
2019-02-09 19:03:14 UTC
Just so you know, I DID post the news a while back...


And here's the NY Times obit:


First half:

By Daniel E. Slotnik Feb. 8, 2019

Jan Wahl, a children’s author known for his nimble prose whose work over many decades was illustrated by eminent artists like Maurice Sendak, Norman Rockwell and Edward Gorey, died on Jan. 29 at a hospice facility near his home in Toledo, Ohio. He was 87.

His brother Rob said the cause was complications of metastatic cancer.

Mr. Wahl was an extraordinarily prolific author who published more than 100 books, many of which found favor with children and parents alike. His collaborating with leading book artists was one measure of the esteem with which his work was held; they can be notably selective about what children’s book authors they’ll work with.

His career began in 1964 with “Pleasant Fieldmouse,” a series of pastoral fables featuring anthropomorphic animals drawn by Mr. Sendak, who had published his classic “Where the Wild Things Are” the year before. Several of Mr. Wahl’s later books featured his field mouse protagonist, although none of the sequels were illustrated by Mr. Sendak.

Many of his books were lighthearted. In “Push Kitty” (1968) — illustrated by Garth Williams, known for his work on E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” — a girl dresses her disgruntled cat as a baby, then shows the cat off in a stroller.

Others took on serious issues like warfare, which Mr. Wahl addressed in “How the Children Stopped the Wars” (1969), about children who parade onto a battlefield to demand peace.

All of his books were characterized by lucid writing, which he said he honed constantly. In “Lorenzo Bear & Company” (1971), the story of a bear determined to travel to the moon, illustrated by the Chilean cartoonist Fernando Krahl, he wrote:

“Lorenzo Bear one shiny evening gazed hard at the silver full moon above. ‘If man can get there, animal can too!’ he claimed. Therefore he decided he would build the first animal rocket.”...



(includes long, categorized booklist)


...Wahl quickly developed a reputation for playful, empowering narratives with intriguing characters. Over time, his works demonstrated mastery of a wide variety of topics and styles. He gave many readings and presentations of his books as well as lecturing on writing. Hedy and Her Amazing Invention (2019); the story of actress Hedy Lamarr's co-invention of what is now known as Frequency-hopping spread spectrum is his latest publication.

Included among his other exploits was spending several months working with noted filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer during the filming of Ordet (The Word); the story of which Wahl recounted in the book Carl Theodore Dreyer and Ordet. Later he was the personal secretary to Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) as she worked on what became Last Tales[1]. He was also involved with Keith Lampe in the early days of the Yippies. In addition, he befriended actress Louise Brooks and some of his correspondence with Brooks was collected in the volume Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks. While in Mexico, he was an on-set script doctor (uncredited) for The Wrath of God (1972) starring Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth during its filming. Later, he was also an early consultant on what became Fraggle Rock.[citation needed]

In addition, Wahl was well known as a film historian and collector of films and film history related artifacts and gave lectures and presentations for numerous venues over many years. On March 15, 1996, Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio awarded Wahl the honorary degree Doctor of Letters in recognition of his continuing work in children's literature and in the history of film.[1] Around that time he began presenting introductory lectures for the Sunday Classic Film Series at the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater and Gallery at BGSU, with over one-hundred-fifty presentations to his credit there through the Spring Semester of 2018 when the series ended. Most of the programs consisted of films from his private collection...

2019-02-09 20:03:53 UTC
Btw, "Cobweb Castle" was where, as a kid, I first heard the expression "I will give her a piece of my mind."

Of course, I had to have it explained that that was a threat!