July 11, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 18

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    Sutherland, 1916–2002, influenced children’s literature

    Professor Emerita Zena Sutherland, an internationally recognized reviewer of children’s literature who edited the University’s Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books for nearly 30 years and whose textbook Children and Books is a classic in the field of library science, died Wednesday, June 12. She was 86.

    A faculty member from 1972 to 1986 in the University’s Graduate Library School, which closed in 1991, Sutherland is among the world’s most influential and prolific scholars of young people’s literature.

    She wrote 19 books and reviewed more than 30,000 children’s books during more than 40 years as a critic of children’s literature.

    In addition to editing the University’s Bulletin, Sutherland wrote the monthly “Books for Young People” column for Saturday Review from 1966 to 1972 and was the children’s books editor at the Chicago Tribune from 1972 to 1984.

    Children’s book author Maurice Sendak has called her a “giant” in the field.

    “She was one of the few people who, as an individual, had an extraordinary impact on children’s literature,” said Roger Sutton (A.M., ’82), a former student of Sutherland’s who now is editor in chief of The Horn Book Magazine, a leading journal of children’s literature.

    As a reviewer, Sutton said, Sutherland gave the study of children’s literature credibility. “She took the gloves off,” Sutton said. “Her reviews were like nothing before them.” Other reviewers of children’s books during the 1960s and 1970s were more genteel, said Sutton. “They would simply ignore children’s books they didn’t like. Not Zena.

    “She gave honest, fair, sophisticated reviews,” Sutton said. “She brought children’s book criticism to a new level.”

    As important as her reviews was her work as an educator. Sutherland is most widely known as the author of the textbook Children and Books. She co-wrote several editions of the textbook with May Hill Arbuthnot and wrote five additional editions of the book––the last one published in 1996––after Arbuthnot’s death in 1969.

    As an Associate Professor in the University’s Graduate Library program, Sutherland taught the courses Children’s Literature and Literature for Young Adults. “She was a very popular teacher,” said Martin Runkle, Director of the Regenstein Library, who taught at the Graduate Library program during Sutherland’s tenure. “She was warm, funny, smart. Just a very charismatic person.”

    Born in Winthrop, Mass., and raised in Chicago, Sutherland is a 1937 Chicago graduate. She also earned a master’s degree in library science from the University, intending to pursue a career as a medical librarian. Her experience as a mother of three children inspired her to take several courses in children’s literature. In 1958, she was hired as editor of the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, which is a comprehensive guide to all the latest literature published for children.

    Sutherland received many awards and honors, including the 1998 Norman MacLean Faculty Award. She served as a member of several committees within the American Library Association, including the Newberry and Caldecott award committees.

    In 1983, two former students established the Zena Sutherland Lecture Series, and two years ago, the University Laboratory Schools established the Zena Sutherland Prizes in Children’s Literature. The Sutherland awards are unique because the judges are pupils at the Lab Schools Lower School.

    Survivors include three children: Stephen Bailey, an associate dean and professor of history at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.; Thomas Bailey, a teacher in Hellebaek, Denmark; and Katherine Linehan, a professor of English at Oberlin College. She also is survived by seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her second husband, Alec Sutherland, preceded her in death in 1990.