Mary Lee Kingman Natti, children's book author, editor, and Folly Cove Designer, died at home in Lanesville, Gloucester, on May 31, 2020.
She was born in Reading, on October 6, 1919, to Leland and Genevieve (Bosson) Kingman. She was their only child and grew up in a household of book lovers. Her mother was a prodigious reader and would read to her by the hour. At age six Lee was writing
stories and at age nine she won a contest for writing ten book reviews, submitted to The Bookshop for Boys and Girls in Boston (the prize was ten books of her own selection). Nothing could have been more rewarding. In junior high she wrote poetry and by
the time she reached Reading High School she had no doubt that "writing was the thing she could do best and it was all she wanted to do."
Lee attended Colby Junior College in New London, NH for two years and then transferred to Smith College where she received a BA in 1940. At 24, she became assistant to the editor of children's books at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, and when the
editor, Grace Hogarth, left for London to be with her family during WWII, Lee stepped in as editor, where she quickly had to master all aspects of publishing. One of the authors with whom she worked was author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton, who was
working on her book Katy and the Big Snow when Lee became her editor. In order to develop her eye for assessing illustrations, Lee took a figure drawing course taught by Virginia Lee Burton's husband, George Demetrios, at his studio in Folly Cove,
Gloucester. It was at the home of the Burton-Demetrios family that she met her future husband, Robert Natti, home on leave from the Army. After a war-time whirlwind romance, a marriage proposal after six weeks, two years of letter-writing, and a leap of
faith, they were married in 1945.
During the war, Lee was part of a group of children's book editors that banded together to exchange information about dealing with wartime shortages and rationing; this group eventually became the Children's Book Council. She launched a career in writing
children's books with Pierre Pidgeon, published in 1942 by Houghton Mifflin. She wrote 29 books for children and young adults, many of them set on Cape Ann, where she lived for more than seventy years. In 1948, her first story with a Cape Ann background,
The Rocky Summer, was published, followed by The Best Christmas,which she said was inspired by her parents' New England "making-do with what they had" and her husband Robert's Finnish heritage. The Best Christmas is still in print in Japan and many of
her other titles have had multiple editions; her books have been published in France, Germany, Finland, Japan, China and Poland. In 1965 her book Private Eyes was a nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the juvenile fiction category.
In the late 1940's, she took a design course taught by Virginia Lee Burton, the founder of the renowned Folly Cove Designers, an artist/crafts guild that produced designs using linoleum blocks printed on fabric. Lee was accepted into the guild and became
a core member, spending twenty years creating designs, cutting the blocks, and printing placemats, tablecloths, aprons and skirts during the summer when the Folly Cove Designers "barn" was open. Today, the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester devotes an entire
room to the works of this creative group, which disbanded in 1968.
In 1999, she was among the first honorees to receive the Walker Hancock Award, awarded by the Gloucester Cultural Council for outstanding contributions to the arts and humanities.
Lee had a long association with the Horn Book, serving on the Horn Book Council. She edited two Horn Book volumes about the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, co-edited two books about Illustrators of Children's books for the Horn Book, and
edited The Illustrator's Notebook, a compilation of articles from the Horn Book about illustration. She also created beautiful little calendars for the Horn Book featuring select illustrators' works for several years...
Her daughter is Susanna Natti, illustrator of David A. Adler's "Cam Jansen" mystery series.
From "Contemporary Authors":
...She says that her writing "was strongly influenced by our family life and the atmosphere in which we still live--beside a water-filled quarry in the woods of Lanesville, near Gloucester. Cape Ann has provided background material for many of my books,
and because my husband's parents emigrated from Finland, I have had a special interest in Scandinavian themes. Finnish workers on Cape Ann were involved in working the stone quarries, which gave me background for four books, including The Best Christmas.
We traveled in Finland, Lapland, Norway, and Denmark in 1965, which resulted in two books about Lapland, The Secret Journey of the Silver Reindeer and The Meeting Post. In 1970 we spent some time in Iceland and that led to Escape from the Evil Prophecy.
"Although I have written stories for pre-schoolers and the middle years, my recent books have been for young adults, including Head over Wheels which is concerned with how the trauma of quadraplegia affects a teen-ager and more particularly, his family.
The exploration of family relationships is a subject of special interest to me....
She's written picture books and novels. One of her more popular novels - if dated - is "The Peter Pan Bag." About that one: "A seventeen-year-old girl discovers why people drop out of society when she becomes part of a Boston hippie colony."
One Amazon reader wrote a review with this title: "Hilarious but holds the attention."
Private Eyes: Adventures with the Saturday Gang, illustrated by Burt Silverman. New York, Doubleday, 1964 .
The Year of the Raccoon. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1966 .
("Draws a realistic picture of a problem many young people face. Describes Joe's relationships to his pet raccoon and the members of his family and reveals that there are many talents in a family.")
The Secret Journey of the Silver Reindeer, illustrated by Lynd Ward.
New York, Doubleday, 1968 ; Kingswood, Surrey, World's Work, 1970 .
("Rather than relinquish his family's wealth to his treacherous uncle, a fifteen-year-old Lapp boy undertakes a secret journey to his ancestral burial ground, proving he has the courage and inherited right to be the head of the family.")
The Peter Pan Bag. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970 .
("A seventeen-year-old girl discovers why people drop out of society when she becomes part of a Boston hippie colony.")
Georgina and the Dragon, illustrated by Leonard Shortall. Boston,
Houghton Mifflin, 1972 .
" It was sitting by the leg of the bed, its face buried in its front
paws, crying piteously. Georgina doesn't know what she's let herself
in for when she agrees to help Dolores the dragon, but their quest is
doubly difficult with a fierce and determined dragon-hunter on their
The Meeting Post: A Story of Lapland, illustrated by Des Asmussen. New
York, Crowell, 1972 ; London, MacRae, 1985 .
Escape from the Evil Prophecy, illustrated by Richard Cuffari. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1973 .
Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe! Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1976 .
Head over Wheels. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1978 ; London, Hamish
Hamilton, 1979 .
The Refiner's Fire. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1981 .
The Luck of the "Miss L." Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986 .
Catch the Baby!, illustrated by Susanna Natti. New York, Viking,
Publications for Adults
Editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1956-1965. Boston, Horn
Book, 1965 .
Editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Award Winners and Honor Books
1922-1968. Boston, Horn Book, 1968 .
Editor, with Joanna Foster and Ruth Giles Lontoft, Illustrators of
Children's Books 1957-1966. Boston, Horn Book, 1968 .
Editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1966-1975. Boston, Horn
Book, 1975 .
Editor, The Illustrator's Notebook. Boston, Horn Book, 1978 .
Editor, with Grace Hogarth and Harriet Quimby, Illustrators of
Children's Books 1967-1976 Boston, Horn Book, 1978 .
Editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1976-1985. Boston, Horn
Book, 1986 .