Actor Jim Broadbent has joined publishers Hodder Children’s Books and Penguin Random House (PRH Children’s) in paying tribute to the “irrepressible” author Babette Cole, who died at the weekend.
Broadbent, who was a friend of Cole’s, told The Bookseller her death was a "tremendous loss".
“I was so saddened to hear that Babette has died," he said. "She was absolutely unique in both her work and her life. Her generous, playful, anarchic spirit will always be treasured by all who knew her and by all who knew her books. We all laughed with her and relished her extraordinary talent. She is a tremendous loss."
Cole was a creator of picturebooks and best known for Princess Smartypants (Puffin), first published in 1986. She passed away aged 67 on Saturday (14th January) in hospital after being admitted the previous week with a collapsed lung.
Anne McNeil, senior publisher at Hodder Children’s Books, said she was "shocked and saddened" to hear of Cole's death.
"Her passion and talent as a children’s book writer and illustrator will be much missed," McNeil said. "She was, in particular, a real leader in developing a more open, humorous and child-friendly way to talking to children about the facts of life in accessible picture-book form. It’s difficult to comprehend the loss of someone who was so quintessentially full of life. Our thoughts are with Babette’s family and friends.”
Hodder, part of the Hachette Children’s Group, published a fiction title based on the Princes Smartypants series, Princess Smartypants and the Missing Princes, in September last year. It will release a second series fiction title, Princess Smartypants and the Fairy Geek Mothers, which Cole finished just before her death, in May.
Francesca Dow, m.d. of PRH Children’s, which published the original Princess Smartypants picture book in 1986, said Cole was an “irrepressible force in children’s picture book publishing with her witty and anarchic stories and gave children and adults a way to talk about otherwise tricky subjects, through her brave, stereotype-defying humour”. She added: “The children’s book world will be a less colourful place without her.”
Born in 1950, Cole attended the Canterbury College of Art and received a BA Honours first class with distinction in animation, later working on BBC TV programs such as Bagpuss. As well as Princess Smartypants, she created a wide range of bestselling children’s books, notably Mummy Laid an Egg (Red Fox Picture Books), which sold 2.5 million copies worldwide, according to Hodder, and 'The Trouble With…' series (Mammouth).
The news of Cole’s death from a collapsed lung was confirmed yesterday (16th January) by Ron Johns, Cole’s publisher at Mabecron Books. Johns described Cole as a “delightful person” and a “comic genius” who “loved challenging authority”. She released The Wild West Country Tale of James Rabbit and the Giggleberries through Mabecron Books in 2014, which was inspired by her young “muse” and partner James Gutans.
Cole married Gutans just days before her death, according to the Guardian.