On behalf of The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, I would like to share our sorrow concerning the passing of beloved children’s book author and storyteller, Patricia McKissack. Pat, and her husband Fred, were longstanding board members of the NCBLA. They were also cherished friends, enlivening every meeting and event they participated in, sharing vital information and keen observations with grace, wisdom, and infectious laughter. The promotion of diversity in children’s books has been a major priority for the NCBLA for over twenty years; Pat and Fred McKissack were our guiding lights, expanding our universe in multiple directions. Pat, and Fred, educated our ignorance without ever making us feel stupid.
Pat was a gifted storyteller, her natural abilities enhanced by objective narrative skills. With dramatic flair and impeccable timing, she enchanted children and adults, weaving timeless tales. Pat and Fred together were unstoppable. They not only had great presence, their voices were strong and memorable. Fred’s voice wrapped you up in a good, wool blanket; Pat’s was a warm summer breeze blowing through the pines. Together they intersected practicality with romance, complementing each other. One of my favorite memories of Pat and Fred was at the Nashville Book Festival when we were promoting the NCBLA publication Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. In Our White House, Jane Yolen wrote a poem—“The White House First Residents: An Imagined Conversation Between John and Abigail Adams”— based on the historical letters of John and Abigail Adams. I asked Pat and Fred if they would consider reading the poem aloud at the presentation, a loving husband and wife reading a poem about another loving husband and wife. They were delighted to do so, and, of course, did a remarkable job. Every time I read that poem now, years later, I hear it in their distinct timbres.
On a personal note, I shall greatly miss phone conversations with Pat. I am a world class talker, but Pat far surpassed me, and I learned to schedule an hour for our conversations. Pat would update me on her sons and their families and march right into a lively discussion of politics, history, and current events. Inevitably, Fred would take the phone from Pat and in his warm baritone, agree or disagree with his wife’s comments, expanding on the conversation he had obviously been eavesdropping on—then Pat would take ownership of the phone once again, responding to Fred’s every comment! We laughed a lot, cried a little, and no matter what political upheaval worried us, Pat always ended the conversation on a note of hope and optimism—things could and would get better, her life was proof of that.
Thank you for your many gifts Patricia McKissack, we shall miss you, as will millions of children and families throughout our nation and the world who delighted in your stories and books.
Mary Brigid Barrett
The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance