Is there anything worse than tracking down an author or artist you love, and finding (via google) that wow, they are still alive, they are living in the place you will soon be visiting, perhaps you can arrange a meeting... only to find out that no, in fact, they have died - and so recently?
I am very sad to discover that author Julia Cunningham died this past February. I am glad she lived to the age of ninety-two.
I wish I could've met her.
Over the years, I have searched for info on her, but never found much till now. Her books, which I devoured around the age of twelve, seemed to go out of print. I was never able to track any down in used bookstores in my neighbourhood.
Now, of course, Alibris is fully-fledged, and copies of her books abound. "Dorp Dead" was re-issued by Harper Collins in 2001, but I never saw it here.
I don't remember much about "Dorp Dead". It is now referred to as a turning point in children's literature; the beginning of "gritty realism" in writing for children and adolescents. I'm sure I read it, but it did not make as much of an impact on me as "Burnish Me Bright" and "Flight of the Sparrow".
The obit and remembrances on the link above (from the Santa Barbara Independent) are very moving. There is a very nice fund set up for donations to be made in her honour to:
(The) Storyteller Children’s Center in Santa Barbara(which)provides NAEYC-approved, tuition-free early childhood education and care for homeless and at-risk children... Funds will establish Miss Cunningham’s Corner – a reading area where parents and children can enjoy books together, complete with a rocking chair, soft pillows and special books arranged on Patrick's Bookshelf.
Her love of France (which one of the eulogies mentions) shines through in "Flight of the Sparrow" and is probably responsible for provoking my ongoing Francophilia. (It also contained one of my earliest nerd-girl lit-character crushes for the urchin "leader" - a cigarette-smoking Parisian delinquent named "Mago", if I remember correctly.)
If you pass by her books - used or reissued - have a read. You will not regret it.
I owe a belated thank you to Mrs. Ranieri, wherever you are, for introducing me to the writing of Julia Cunningham.