Ju­dith St. Ge­orge, 84, au­thored dozens of chil­dren’s books about U.S. history.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY EMILY LANGER emily.langer@wash­post.com

Ju­dith St. Ge­orge, a chil­dren’s writer who gave gen­er­a­tions of young­sters a sense of the past with dozens of books about U.S. history from the coun­try’s found­ing to re­cent times, died June 10 at a hos­pi­tal in Farm­ing­ton, Conn. She was 84.

The cause was com­pli­ca­tions from de­men­tia, said her hus­band, the Rev. David St. Ge­orge.

School li­braries and bed­room book­shelves are full of vol­umes that in­tro­duce young read­ers to the world around them. Daily rit­u­als from brush­ing teeth to count­ing sheep, the an­i­mal king­dom from al­li­ga­tors to ze­bras, or­di­nary and ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­cov­er­ies in the odyssey called grow­ing up — all of these are found in pic­ture books and chap­ter books.

Mrs. St. Ge­orge en­larged another genre of chil­dren’s literature, the one that re­veals to young peo­ple the lives that came be­fore theirs and that per­haps even their par­ents and grand­par­ents do not know about. Many of her books, some 40 in all, were works of history or his­tor­i­cal fic­tion.

“All I know,” she once re­marked, “is that I want my read­ers to care as much about the out­come of his­tor­i­cal events as if they were read­ing to­day’s head­lines.”

Her first book, inspired in part by her ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing among the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War sites of New Eng­land, was “Turn­coat Win­ter, Rebel Spring” (1970), the story of a teenage pa­triot who must de­cide whether to turn in a friend as a Bri­tish spy.

Her early fe­male pro­tag­o­nists in­cluded Josie, a 14-year-old girl in 1848 who cor­rects a male in his arith­metic and winds up at the land­mark women’s rights con­ven­tion held that year in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The book, “The Girl with Spunk,” was pub­lished in 1975, by which time many of Mrs. St. Ge­orge’s more pre­co­cious read­ers might have over­heard such names as Betty Friedan and Glo­ria Steinem.

Mrs. St. Ge­orge’s bi­ogra­phies in­cluded “The Duel” (2009), an ac­count of the lives of Alexan­der Hamil­ton and Aaron Burr that il­lu­mi­nated not only their ri­valry but also their sim­i­lar­i­ties (they were both or­phaned). Another dou­ble bi­og­ra­phy, “John and Abi­gail Adams” (2001), pre­sented a his­tor­i­cal love story for the read­ing set still train­ing for the pages of David McCullough and ful­l­length PBS spe­cials on such sub­ject­mat­ter.

Her other books about White House oc­cu­pants in­cluded “You’re on Your Way, Teddy Roo­sevelt” (2004), “Make Your Mark, Franklin Roo­sevelt” (2007) and “Stand Tall, Abe Lin­coln” (2008), which fo­cused on the fu­ture 16th pres­i­dent’s lov­ing re­la­tion­ship with his step­mother, who had helped raise him on the fron­tier and nur­tured his love of read­ing.

Mrs. St. Ge­orge col­lab­o­rated with a num­ber of il­lus­tra­tors, most promi­nently David Small in “So You Want to Be an In­ven­tor?” (2002), “So You Want to Be an Ex­plorer?” (2005) and “So You Want to Be Pres­i­dent?” (2000), which won the Calde­cott Medal for distin­guished il­lus­tra­tions.

The vol­ume for po­lit­i­cal as­pi­rants supplied the sorts of tid­bits — ac­count­ings of Theodore Roo­sevelt’s pets and Wil­liam Howard Taft’s weight — that give chil­dren a ker­nel of knowl­edge to trum­pet and en­tice them to­ward fu­ture learn­ing.

She also touched on larger themes about the pres­i­dency.

“If you want to be pres­i­dent — and stay pres­i­dent — be hon­est,” Mrs. St. Ge­orge wrote. “Demo­crat Bill Clin­ton was im­peached for ly­ing un­der oath,” she noted, with­out be­la­bor­ing about what. “Repub­li­can Richard Nixon’s staff broke into Demo­cratic head­quar­ters to steal cam­paign se­crets. He cov­ered up the crime and then lied about it. (That was the end of Richard Nixon as pres­i­dent!)”

She later ex­plained her in­tent in writ­ing the book.

“I felt it was im­por­tant to let kids know that pres­i­dents have two sides,” she said in an in­ter­view pub­lished on the Web site Teacher Vi­sion. “In­one sense, they are larger than life, but in another sense, they are also very hu­man. And although our Pres­i­dents have ranged from ter­ri­ble to fair to great, for the most part they have tried to do their best in the world’s most de­mand­ing job.”

Ju­dith Alexan­der was born in West­field, N. J., on Feb. 26, 1931. In an es­say for the Some­thing about the Au­thor au­to­bi­og­ra­phy se­ries, she de­scribed her­self as “ter­ri­bly shy” and a “wor­rier” as a girl but also as the ben­e­fi­ciary of a lov­ing fam­ily that en­cour­aged her in read­ing and other pur­suits.

A 1952 English grad­u­ate of Smith Col­lege in Northamp­ton, Mass., she be­gan writ­ing on her old col­lege type­writer and en­dured nine re­jec­tions be­fore pub­lish­ing her first book.

In ad­di­tion to her hus­band of 61 years, of Bloom­field, Conn., sur­vivors in­clude four chil­dren, Peter St. Ge­orge of Palm Beach, Fla., James St. Ge­orge of An­chor­age, Philip St. Ge­orge of Ea­gle River, Alaska, and Sarah Anne St. Ge­orge of Ever­green, Colo.; and five grand­chil­dren.

Mrs. St. Ge­orge in­tro­duced read­ers to Amer­i­can In­dian history in books about Crazy Horse, Sit­ting Bull and Saca­gawea. Other vol­umes re­counted the lives of He­len Keller, who over­came deaf­ness and blind­ness to be­come a cel­e­brated ex­am­ple of per­se­ver­ance, and Betsy Ross, seam­stress of the early U.S. flag.

The au­thor de­scribed do­ing ex­ten­sive re­search for her books, among them “The Panama Canal: Gate­way to the World” (1989), for which she made the cross­ing through the canal, and “The Brook­lyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn’t Be Built,” re­leased in 1982 in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the bridge’s cen­ten­nial.

Mrs. St. Ge­orge also ven­tured into mys­tery. In “Haunted” (1980), she wrote about a teenager hous­esit­ting at the site of a sin­is­ter mur­der-sui­cide and a cat who sheds white fur af­ter deaths. Some­times her mys­ter­ies crossed into history, such as in “The Ghost, the White House, and Me” (2007), in which the Lin­coln Bed­room fig­ures promi­nently.

“I want my read­ers to be aware that history is an ever-rolling stream and that the past can’t be sep­a­rated from the present,” Mrs. St. Ge­orge said. “Above all, I want the peo­ple in my books to come alive for my read­ers the way they come alive for me.”


Many of Ju­dith St. Ge­orge’s books were works of history.

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