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In Memoriam: Janet Allen

Posted by admin on Apr 24, 2023 9:17:42 AM

Janet Allen HeadshotStenhouse author Janet Allen died on April 8th, 2023 near her home in Presque Isle, Maine. She was 72.

In an obituary that ran in the Bangor Daily News, Janet’s family wrote about her commitment to both teachers and students: “She loved every minute of this work. So many other educators came along beside her and together many students were able to achieve what they may have never thought possible. Janet was always an advocate for the strivers, a nurturer, and a fierce voice for teachers.”

These thoughts were echoed by Philippa Stratton, Janet’s editor. “Janet was so smart, such a good mind. At once analytical and practical-minded. And her heart was always with those students most in need.”

However, Philippa adds that it was inevitably difficult to get Janet to transfer those ideas to the actual page. “Many of us are skilled in the art of procrastination but Janet carried this to a new level.” Over the course of six books and three flip charts, Stratton learned that the best approach to reeling in a new book from Janet was an indirect one. Instead of asking about progress on the manuscript, Philippa would propose a meet up in Maine under the subject header “Fried Clams.” That sometimes worked.

Janet responded in kind. In the acknowledgements in her first book for Stenhouse, There’s Room for Me Here, she lavishes praise on the Stenhouse team including Philippa and co-founder Tom Seavey: “They are [all] thoughtful and witty, kind and patient (except for Philippa’s occasional threat to disconnect my cable TV).”

After Philippa retired, Stenhouse publisher Dan Tobin assumed the role of chief Janet Allen Wrangler, trying desperately to land one more book. “Janet and I would meet every February at a reading conference in Toronto,” Dan says. “I loved watching Janet present. She was brilliant in a completely unassuming way. She seemed to have read every relevant study and every new children’s book, but she would introduce herself to the audience as an expert in just two things: ‘literacy and fried clams.’”

Janet wrote books for other publishers and the range of her work extends well beyond vocabulary instruction and seafood, from a professional development book for Oxford University Press to an autobiographical children’s book for Boyds Mills Press called Best Little Wingman. It captures her childhood memories of riding in her father’s snowplow on cold nights in their small town in northern Maine. The book ends with this moving reflection:  

Excerpt from Best Little Wingman

Many snowy nights would come and go before her dad’s work was finally done. The little girl became a woman who spent her days seeing what there was to see in many wonderful places. But as she pressed her fingers against the icy kitchen window, she only wished she could see the lights from her dad’s snowplow just one more time. The snow blurred her vision, and for just one moment she thought she could hear her dad whisper, “You did a good night’s work, little wingman.”
—From Best Little Wingman by Janet Allen; illustrated by Jim Postier

Quotes about Janet from others who worked with her:

“Janet was at the very top of her game when we published Best Little Wingman at Boyds Mills Press. She had written several books and helped countless students and teachers. But people in her community in northern Maine didn’t really understand what she did. Best Little Wingman helped her reconnect with her hometown. We threw a party for her at a snowmobile center near her home and it was a very happy experience, especially for Janet.”
—Kent Brown, Janet’s publisher at Boyds Mills Press

“Janet taught me many life lessons; one of the most important is gratitude. She was generous to a fault, knowing that people she helped would never be able to repay. The only thing she hoped for in return was for the receiver to live with grace and gratitude, being a giver rather than a taker.”
—Educational sales consultant Toni Shay, who sold Janet’s books and had a decades-long friendship with her

Books by Janet Allen

From Stenhouse

There's Room for Me Here: Literacy Workshop in the Middle School (1997)

Words, Words, Words: Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4-12 (1999)

Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12 (2000)

On the Same Page: Shared Reading Beyond the Primary Grades (2002)

Tools for Teaching Content Literacy (2004)

Inside Words: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, Grades 4-12 (2007)

More Tools for Teaching Content Literacy (2008)

From Other Publishers

Best Little Wingman
Illustrated by Jim Postier
Boyds Mills Press, 2005

Reading History: A Practical Guide to Improving Literacy
Oxford University Press, USA 2005

It's Never Too Late: Leading Adolescents to Lifelong Literacy
Heinemann, 1995