Remembering Judy Brown, 1954–2013

JudyBrown2013Judy Brown, longtime member and friend of the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable, died September 1, 2013 after a life spent inspiring students, colleagues, friends and readers. Her passionate commitment to the field of Children’s Literature was evident in her teaching of children’s literature courses in the English Department, her supervision of theses for students in the MA in Children’s Literature Program, her reviews of children’s books for Canadian Literature, her talks about children’s literature in the community at large, and her advocacy of social and legal rights for children.  One of her ways of supporting Roundtable was to encourage her students to get out to events, to discover more about writing for children than they could experience in class. She also encouraged them to support initiatives to bring children’s literature scholars to Vancouver.  Her children’s literature students wrote to Green College to support a campus visit of renowned scholar and critic Jack Zipes. All of them. Why? She first introduced them to his work and let them decide.  Those students and many other supporters across campus made a convincing case, and we at Roundtable benefitted when he spoke at a VCLR Breakfast in 2010.

Judy combined being an exceptionally generous, kind, and warm person, especially patient and caring with  students, with being that  tough-minded and critically demanding prof and advisor that students admired and loved. Her classes were always full. Waiting lists were long.  Her outstanding work as a teacher was recognized at UBC with the Killam Teaching Prize (2003-04) and nationally with a 2007 3M National Teaching Fellowship.  She was recognized with a Margaret Fulton Award (1999-00) for her work with and for students, not only through her teaching but for her mentorship.  While Judy was modest about her own prizes, she took delight in awards, prizes and scholarships won by her own students: for children’s literature, that was the Ronald Jobe Children’s Literature Scholarship.

JB3Since 2005, Judy served as an associate editor at Canadian Literature. There, she was generous with advice and support for student interns.  She also wrote reviews for the journal, and for those of you who didn’t know Judy directly, I’d like to “introduce” you to Judy through those reviews.

Here’s the beginning of one on a reference work in the field, by Jack Zipes:  The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales   (in Canadian Literature 181 Summer, 2004).

Reference books have a certain reputation for gathering dust. Shelved among dictionaries and handbooks, consulted every so often in preparation for a lecture or in the early stages of a writing project, such books are not so much consumed by readers as they are selectively sampled by them. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, however, is no dust-gathering reference work for occasional perusal; it is a book calculated both to stimulate and sustain a reader’s appetite for ever more information about the fairy tale—a genre simple in form but complex in effect and influence, a genre with staying power.

The Companion is as close to being a page turner as a reference work can be. Certainly it features standard entries on the collectors, writers, and illustrators whose names are synonymous with the European fairy tales of centuries past. And certainly it features background on and plot summaries of canonical European and North American fairy tales. But there is more….”

The promisjb2e in “But there is more…” characterizes Judy’s views on books and the life of the mind.  She was always encouraging readers and students to look for more and to give more to their reading.  “Reading,” she would say, “is not a passive experience.”

She reviewed Deborah Ellis’ trilogy, observing that Mud City is “compelling writing for children in the West who need to know about those children in the East who have never known a year of peace in their war-ravaged lives.”

And in a review of Parvana’s Journey

“As adults reading about war, we are conditioned to look for geopolitical details, for heroes to admire, for enemies to blame, and most of all for outcomes. We take comfort in finding factions to praise and blame. Deborah Ellis denies adult readers this kind of grim gratification. For her child characters, all is chaos, and there is no comfort to be found in the facts, the maps, the logistics, the punditry.”

She makes clear that kids’ books are not just for kids:

“Parvana’s Journey is a book for older children serious about understanding the world they will inherit. But adults should read Parvana’s Journey too—before the war in Iraq of 2003 makes the 2002 war in Afghanistan a dimly remembered set of blurred images in our overcrowded historical memories. We should read it to see in Ellis’s images of children—starving, blighted, wounded, dying, surviving—how we are forcing children to be braver than they should have to be. We should wonder why. It’s the least we can do.”

Tough stuff.

For more reviews, to give you a sense of Judy’s insights and concerns about the world of children and the writing for them, see the Canadian Literature review links below.


Here is Judy, photographed in 2010 holding her copy of a Zipes book, for an interview for Arts Wire

While her teaching in English was chiefly text-based, from historical texts and the classics to the latest topical YA novel, she delighted in picture books. All students who visited her office saw this, for her door was covered with images, chiefly Canadian nature paintings, among them the coastal works of Emily Carr and E.J. Hughes, and lots of illustrations from children’s books.  One from Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius took pride of place.

For any of you who don’t know the book, here’s a link to the text and illustrations on YouTube.  (Judy, were she here, might be warning you that the voice of the narrator is a bit sappy, definitely not as good as the one in your head. But she’d encourage you to look at the pictures.)

Miss Rumphius closes with a refrain:

You must do something to make the world more beautiful
All right, I say,
But I do not know yet what that can be

Judy discovered for herself what that could be.

Written by Jane Flick,
Judy’s colleague in English, friend of Judy and the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable.


See also the English Department and MACL tributes to Judy Brown.

Book Reviews in Canadian Literature by Judy Brown

  • A Question of Belonging by Judy Brown. #187 (Winter 2005): 130–132. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    Mud City by Deborah Ellis [Author]
  • No Dust Gathers Here by Judy Brown. #181 (Summer 2004): 190–191. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales by Jack Zipes [Editor]
  • Picturing Childhoods by Judy Brown. #180 (Spring 2004): 185–187. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    A Fiddle for Angus by Susan Tooke [Illustrator] and Budge Wilson [Author]
    The True Story of Trapper Jack’s Left Big Toe by Harvey Chan [Illustrator] and Ian Wallace [Author]
    Ghost Train by Paul Yee [Author]
  • Like Life Itself by Judy Brown. #179 (Winter 2003): 119–122. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    Out of the Everywhere: New Tales for Canada by Jan Andrews [Author]
    The Crack in the Teacup: The Life of an Old Woman Steeped in Stories by Joan Bodger [Author]
    A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North by Peter Sis [Author]
    The Forest Family by Joan Bodger [Author]
  • Collateral Damage by Judy Brown. #179 (Winter 2003): 131–132. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis [Author]
  • Worthy of Serious Study by Judy Brown. #174 (Autumn 2002): 183–185. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    Canadian Children’s Books: A Critical Guide to Authors and Illustrators by Raymond Jones [Author] and Jon Stott [Author]
    Growing Up: Childhood in English Canada from the Great War to the Age of Television by Neil Sutherland [Author]
    Children in English Canadian Society: Framing the Twentieth Century Consensus by Neil Sutherland [Author]
  • No Bedtime Story by Judy Brown. #172 (Spring 2002): 204–205. Book Review: HTML available.
    Book(s) reviewed:
    The Breadwinner by Deborah Elllis [Author]

Click here to download a pdf version of this lovely tribute.

Consider donating to the Judy Brown Memorial Scholarship in Canadian Literature