Richard Jackson, Who Had an Ear for Children’s Books, Dies at 84


“Working with him is a writer’s dream,” she said in an interview that year for the website of Cynthia Leitich Smith, another author of books for young people. “He’s kind, quirky, available, honest, and not afraid to take risks.”

She knew about the risk-taking firsthand: “The Higher Power of Lucky” caused an uproar because of its use of the word “scrotum” on the very first page. (The title character, a 10-year-old named Lucky Trimble, overhears a man telling a story about the time a rattlesnake bit his dog in that particular spot.) Some school librarians refused to stock the book because of that word.

Mr. Jackson would sometimes suggest a change if he knew an author’s choices would get the book banned in some places, but he didn’t present such concerns as deal breakers.

“I leave the final decision about accommodation to the writer,” he said, “and hold my breath.”

Richard Webber Jackson Jr. was born on Sept. 22, 1935, in Detroit. His father was an executive with the Hudson Motor Car Company, and his mother, Margaret Keena Jackson Gillis, served on the board of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Mr. Jackson grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., and earned a drama degree at Yale University in 1957. He was drafted into the Army in 1958 and spent much of his two years as a speechwriter for a general.

When his service ended he took a stab at a theater career, including producing an Off Broadway play with two friends. There was a blizzard on opening day.

“My morning was spent trying to convince The New York Herald Tribune’s drama critic, Walter Kerr, that, really, he’d enjoy a perilous helicopter flight into the city from Connecticut to review the performance,” Mr. Jackson recalled in 2005 in a talk at Drexel University in Philadelphia when he was the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecturer, a prestigious designation of the Association for Library Service to Children.

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