Acclaimed author Jan Mark dies at 62

Jan Mark, the prominent children's author and critic, died at her Oxford home last weekend. Her sudden death at the age of 62 from a meningitis-related condition has left a gap in the world of children's books.

Mrs Mark's first book for children, Thunder and Lightnings, won the Carnegie Medal in 1975 and was followed by at least 80 more books for children.

These ranged from picture book texts to trailblazing, intellectually demanding novels for teenagers via retellings of the Old Testament and a book about rats (creatures that she believed were outrageously misrepresented in most children's books) for the "Oxford Reds" series.

Her latest novel, Turbulence, published by Hodder Children's Books, is awaiting review in The TES and Riding Tycho, published by Macmillan last year, attracted critical acclaim.

She was a passionate crusader for quality in children's books, a frequent visitor to schools and a keen supporter of The TES's Write Away competition and, recently, the Kids' Lit Quiz.

In her reviews for The TES over the past two decades, she has been an incisive critic with a particularly sharp eye on standards in fiction for children learning to read.

Jan Mark taught art and English at Southfields school, Gravesend, Kent from 1965 to 1971 after graduating from Canterbury college of art. Thunder and Lightnings, was published in 1976, and won the PenguinGuardian competition for an unpublished writer as well as the Carnegie Medal.

Margaret Meek, emeritus professor of London university's institute of education, last year published an appreciation of Jan Mark's fiction (in Coming of Age in Children's Literature, Continuum). She said: "I first met her on the day that first book won the Carnegie, and spent a wonderful evening with her.

"It was clear from then that she was very acute about how children think, as well as having a wonderful voice and being able to conjure up amazing worlds.

"Then recently while I was writing about her, we went to see the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery, and she told me always to look around the edge of a painting to see what's going on. It's like that in her books, all the peripheral characters are important."

A tribute to Jan Mark will appear in Friday magazine next week.

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