Janet Lunn, the beloved children’s author whose historically rich novels and non-fiction inspired many writers to follow in her footsteps, died this week at the age of 88.
Lunn was the author of 18 books for young readers, including The Hollow Tree, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1998, and The Story of Canada (co-authored with Christopher Moore), which won a Mr. Christie’s Book Award in 1993.
Born in Dallas, Texas, on December 28, 1928, Lunn (née Swoboda) grew up in New Jersey; Norwich, Vermont; and Rye, New York. The second of four children born to German-American parents, Lunn and her siblings had a bucolic childhood spent rambling around the countryside, imagining the lives of the pioneers who had built their circa 1792 home. This world of make-believe and Lunn’s love of reading paved the way for her career as an author, informing her historical narratives built on impeccable research.
In order to attend Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Lunn moved to Ottawa as a teen so she could complete Grade 13. There she fell in love with Canada. At Queen’s, she fell in love again, this time with a young man named Richard, whom she went on to marry and have five children with. The family moved to Toronto in 1955, where Lunn began writing stories and sending them out to children’s magazines. It wasn’t until 1968 that her dream of becoming an author came to fruition, however, with the publication of Double Spell.
Over the course of her 50-year career as an author, Lunn received numerous honours and awards, including the Canadian Authors Association’s Vicki Metcalf Award for Body of Work, and The Writer’s Trust of Canada’s Matt Cohen Award in Celebration of a Writing Life. A past-chair of TWUC, Lunn was also appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2005 and a Member of the Order of Canada the following year.
In a press release from TWUC announcing Lunn’s passing, friend and collaborator Christopher Moore expressed what many in the kidlit community felt about the author: “I thought of Janet Lunn as a model of what a Canadian writer should be. She was righteous and full of imagination and empathy, and brave as a lion. She became an inspiration and mentor to many other writers, for kids and for adults,” said Moore. “She had to write; it was central to her existence.”