Hilda van Stockum

Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006) was an internationally celebrated author and illustrator of such children's classics as The Mitchells, The Winged Watchman and A Day on Skates, for which she took Newbery honors. Winner of the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Hilda van Stockum was known for her warm and vivid, but realistic depictions of family life, often in the face of difficulty or danger. Her most famous book, The Winged Watchman (1962, named a "Notable Book" by the American Library Association), tells the story of two young boys living in a windmill who help the Dutch resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.
 
Her books were originally published primarily by Viking Press, during what has been called a "golden age" of children's literature shepherded by the inspiring and author-friendly editor, May Massee. They were widely and favorably reviewed, and were also favorites among librarians because they celebrated family life and dealt with issues of good and evil - and because librarians noticed that the books held the attention of children.
 
The Mitchells (1945) was a semi-autobiographical account of how Hilda's family coped in Washington, D.C. during World War II. Someone asked her who the protagonist of the book was, and she immediately answered: "The family is the protagonist. The family weathers the storms." The Mitchells includes a description of her brother Willem van Stockum, who was killed in 1944 on an RAF mission. She often used her family as models for the written and illustrated characters in her books.
 
In addition to writing and illustrating her own books, Hilda translated and illustrated editions of many other authors, including editions of Afke's Ten, Hans Brinker, Little Women and Little Men, and Willow Brook Farm. She was a charter member of the Children's Book Guild and was the only person to have served as its president for two consecutive terms.
 
While Hilda was best known as a writer, she was also a painter of some note, showing frequently in galleries in Dublin, Geneva, Ottawa, and Washington, D.C. She was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Hibernian Academy and her paintings are in the National Gallery of Art and other major collections of 20th century Irish artists. In 1993 her still life, "Pears in a Copper Pot," was chosen to appear on an Irish postage stamp as part of Ireland's Europa series honoring contemporary art.
 
Hilda Gerarda van Stockum was born in Rotterdam in 1908. Her father, Abraham Jan van Stockum, was a naval officer and her mother, Olga Emily Boissevain, was the daughter of Charles Boissevain, a prominent Dutch newspaper editor, and his Irish wife Emily MacDonnell.
 
As a child, van Stockum grew up in Ireland and the Netherlands and traveled with her family to France, Switzerland, and the East Indies. Constantly filling notebooks with stories and pictures, she wrote and illustrated a book for her younger brother, Willem, when she was five.
 
In 1932, in Dublin, Hilda married the roommate at Trinity College of her brother Willem (a gold-medal-winning mathematician famed among time-travel aficionados), Ervin Ross ("Spike") Marlin.
 
Two years later, the Marlins moved to New York. Hilda lectured on the use of Montessori materials and published her first children's book, A Day on Skates (1934). The book, which includes a preface by her aunt, Edna St. Vincent Millay, took Newbery honors in 1935.
 
The family moved to Washington in 1935 when Marlin won by exam a U.S. civil service position in the Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was posted to several agencies including the Social Security Administration and the Federal Security Agency (later renamed the Secret Service). Hilda continued to teach, study art, and write children's books in Washington during the war, while her husband was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services in Dublin and London.
 
After the war, her husband was with the U.S. delegation at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and then served as director of technical assistance for the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal and as senior director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. The Marlin family followed him to these posts. He retired first from the UN, then became Director of International Recruitment at the State Department and retired a second time. Then he was asked by the AARP to form the International Federation on Ageing, retiring finally for the third time in 1973. The Marlin parents moved from Washington to Berkhamsted, England to be near most of their children and grandchildren. He died in Berkhamsted in 1994.
 
Hilda's books, which are set in Holland, Ireland, Canada, Kenya, and the United States, were published by Harper & Brothers, Viking Press, and Farrar Straus. The Cottage at Bantry Bay (1938) was the first of three books about the O'Sullivan family in Ireland. Canadian Summer (1948) and Friendly Gables (1960) continued the saga begun with The Mitchells as the Marlins followed their father to Montreal. Many of van Stockum's works have been reprinted by Bethlehem Books and continue to have a strong following among home-schoolers.
 
Painting, however, was Hilda's primary passion throughout her life. She studied at the Dublin School of Art, the Amsterdam Academy of Art and the Corcoran School of Art. In the 1920's, she worked as an illustrator for the Dublin-based publishing house, Browne & Nolan. She illustrated her first book, an Irish reader, in 1930, and her last book in 2001, giving her a 71-year career as a book-illustrator.
 
Hilda converted to Catholicism in 1939, influenced primarily by leading Catholic converts - writers and intellectuals of her day - such as G.K. Chesterton and Monsignor Ronald Knox. The importance of these opinion leaders is described well in Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999). Her mother Olga joined her in conversion to Catholicism.