Coleen Salley

Coleen Salley, a remarkable woman, passed away yesterday.  While I cannot claim a personal relationship with Coleen I did meet her a few times.  The most memorable occasion was many years ago when she hosted a party at her home in New Orleans during an IRA convention.  Her home was a wonderful French Quarter place — I remember charming rooms off a lovely center courtyard.  But it was Colleen I most remember — she was so vibrant and so striking. Being at that party at her home made me feel as if I were in a New Orleans novel or movie or play.  It was unlike any such party I’ve ever been to before or since.  Every time I saw her after that or read one of her books or her heard about her I thought back to that first meeting. Many others on list serves, blogs, and elsewhere have, are, and will post far more comprehensive remembrances than my puny ones.  But all of us will agree that the world of children’s literature has lost one of the great ones.



Filed under Children's Literature

5 responses to “Coleen Salley

  1. Very sad. I just became acquainted with Coleen Salley’s work this year when I read “Epossumondas Saves the Day” to a first-grade class. It was a huge hit with the children and their teachers.


  2. I had the privledge of hosting her LAST school visit last eyar and then I had an VERY entertaining dinner with her – she was truly one of the most fascinating and FUNNIEST people I have ever met. I am so sad today.


  3. Brian

    I have had the privilege to attending Queen Collen on many of her “last” rides as Queen of the Krewe of Coleen. We are all richer for her time on this earth. May her magnificent personality always live in memory.


  4. Charlene Pittman

    I had the privilege of having Coleen as a teacher at UNO. The best class I ever had. The experience of hacving her as a teacher 14 years ago has still enriched me and all of my students. I teach the children about this wonderful teacher and read all of her books to them. They love them.
    When I was student teaching Coleen came to my school as one of my famous people and read to my class. It was so exciting. She had a great time and all of us did too.
    When I became a teacher at Hynes Elementary Coleen came again to my school and read. She autographed many of her books. She wrote a beautiful message in my book whcih I lost in Hurricane Katrina along with my school. Coleen and I spoke a few times after that at the Jazz and Heritage Festival. After all that she did for me and the many years I had a Coleen Salley Day at school, my class decided to make her something special. My class loved her books and stories so much they made her a quilt. We drew and colored pictures of their favorite scene or book. After we made the quilt we summoned her to school, I will never forget that day. She was so thrilled and excited she began to cry. She loved the quilt. After Katrina I saw her again and she told me that the quilt was hanging in her French Quarter home. She said that she wuill never forget us. We surely will never forget her. Coleen I will miss you but will never forget you! I will always celebrate Coleen Salley Day!


  5. Pat Austin

    Remembering Coleen Salley…
    The world of children’s books lost a shining star with the death of Coleen Salley, September 16th, 2008. She was professor emeritus of children’s literature at the University of New Orleans, storyteller, author, and a passionate promoter of children’s books and their creators. When Coleen was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, her son David Salley emailed a letter to myriad friends and fans. He wrote:
    To say Mom has had a full life would be a monumental understatement. She has made more friends than most people can ever imagine, and touched and inspired thousands more. Obviously Mom did not deserve this fate (no one does) and it is sad that it has happened to her. It is a little ironic that a disease that literally strikes only one in 1,000,000 struck someone who is one in 1,000,000, actually 10,000,000. I am sorry that I have to bring everyone this news. However, I know each and every one of you have fond and fun-filled memories of your times with Mom and I know you will recall those as you think of her.

    Let me share my own memories…I was 20 years old back in 1971 when I took summer classes at the University of New Orleans. I was thinking about becoming a teacher, so naturally the most important class to take was Children’s Literature. Little did I know what I was in for until I met the professor, Coleen Salley. She transformed the typical, drab, sterile college classroom into a place of magic with her voice alone. Just as she had for every children’s literature class, every semester, she began each day with a chapter from Charlotte’s Web. She wept when she read the part where Wilbur left Charlotte alone at the fair to die. And needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the class.
    She introduced us to Uri Shulevitz, Ed Emberley, Brian Wildsmith, Taro Yashima, and so many others. She waxed eloquent about Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow. “Oh, you all….” she’d begin in her inimitable southern drawl, as she talked about the theme of tolerance in this seemingly simple but deep book. She knew hundreds of books, thousands of books, millions and billions and trillions of books, and she surrounded us daily with the very best, sometimes reading to us and other times telling us stories as she paged through books showing the illustrations. She had met many of the authors and illustrators of the books she shared with us so she also told us the backstories of what inspired them. That summer must have been her seventh year at UNO as she had been one of the founding faculty members of the UNO Library Science Program in 1964.
    Having completely fallen in love with children’s literature all over again–just as I had as a child–I spent hours and hours on the floor of UNO’s fledgling Children’s Literature Examination Center, where Coleen piled the books that publishers sent her to review. One assignment, which she probably gave to every class for the 30 years that she was a professor, was to have us write annotations and comments about books on cards. Unbelievably, some 37 years later, despite Hurricane Katrina’s eight feet of floodwaters that stole away my house and many, many beloved books, I still have those cards that had been tucked away in the recesses of the attic. When word came of Coleen’s death, I thumbed through those cards, shedding quiet tears as I reread comments she’d written.
    Who knew then that more than two decades after that wonderful summer, I’d be tending to the UNO exam center of children’s books and continuing those traditions of reading to students and having them read and write about hundreds of books? I take great pride in the moniker that Coleen gave me,“the skinny Coleen.” No one could be accorded a higher honor.
    She had a profound influence on my life as she has on countless students, colleagues, friends, and children. She started me on a journey back in 1971, and by the time I’d completed my Ph.D. at UNO, having enjoyed two more courses with Ms. Salley, I was convinced that I wanted her job when she retired. I never made any bones about filling her shoes. (I heard all-too-often and already knew that there wasn’t any way that was going to happen).
    I loved that Coleen finally had her own books to join others. Yet despite the honors, (her books were on many state award lists and children’s choice awards),Coleen didn’t make much of her own books. I’ll never forget the comment she made about my picture book The Cat who Loved Mozart.“You wrote a real book,” she said, “I just wrote down stories that I’ve been telling for years.” Nothing could be more appropriate than for Coleen Salley to have her own books join library shelves along with the hundreds and thousands of others she’d shared over the years.
    In a fitting tribute, let me steal the words of E. B. White, from the book that she read to thousands of students. “We will never forget [Coleen]. …She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. [Coleen] was both.”
    Pat Austin


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