Remembering Babette Cole

The Children's book world was rocked this week by the sad news of the death of Babette Cole, acclaimed author/illustrator of Princess Smartypants and over 70 other children's titles. Babette was a good friend of SCBWI - she was a keynote speaker at the 2008 Bologna SCBWI Conference and continued as an SCBWI member thereafter for some years. Here in tribute are a few words from some of us who knew her.

Bridget Marzo

Babette Cole was such a life force! In glorious frothy pink she filled the stage of our 2008 SCBWI Bologna 'Day Before’ conference.  Erzsi (the first SCBWI International advisor) and I as the Int’l IC,  had invited her to be a guest speaker and had the usual techno trouble before she talked -  which is where Candy leapt in and saved the day.  In a glorious frothy pink dress, alongside her books, she surprised us with information about a machine that converts horse manure into energy. She was such was a free spirit.  My kids loved her hilarious and subversive books. I remember her French publisher (the now departed, influential Jacques Binstock at Seuil) saying how the guaranteed success of her books gave him the financial base to take the risk of publishing less known authors and artists. She helped us all in so many ways to be free.

Babette in beautiful primrose (taken at the SCBWI Bologna dance party closing the 2010 conference with then Bridget Strevens Marzo and John Shelley at the Libreria Trame in central Bologna).  Babette commented on this photo on Facebook:  "Oooh look ..It's the Publishing Vampires...check those teeth and blood stained tie being licked by thirsty lady! Twilighters better watch out! lol   Babette "
 Candy Gourlay

Babette was an on and off SCBWI member and I met her at the Bologna SCBWI conference in 2008 when there was an emergency SOS for geek assistance because she was in a panic over her presentation. I missed half the author keynote, sitting with her and turning her images into a Powerpoint presentation from scratch. I couldn't believe I was chatting away with the woman whose books The Trouble With Mum and The Trouble with Grandad I had read to my children ad nauseam. She was exciting, scary, fun and irrepressible. Her books are anarchic and outrageous, instant classics (When I read Mummy Laid an Egg to my son, he thought the true explanation of where babies come from was sidesplitting). Babette was an original and unforgettable. Here's a Guardian piece where she explained her process from concept to final book

 John Shelley

I too first met Babette originally at the 2008 Bologna Conference, though I knew her work well before then, and like many at the event was struck by her vivacious charm and madcap character. We kept in touch regularly thereafter and I got to know her quite well, we went to a few London events together, and regularly exchanged mail, she was very supportive of my work.

Babette Cole was a larger-than-life character, a living personification of the exuberant characters in her books. She was vivacious, straight talking and full of boundless energy, especially when discoursing about her horses. Sometimes that directness was a little unpredictable, my daughter found her quite scary on first meeting, but she was one of those characters you have to roll with - things might go a little crazy, and that's just fine. Babette was fun loving and warm hearted.

Babette's portfolio piece from the 2010 SCBWI Bologna showcase

Babette's books were a reflection of her own character, outlandish and animated. Though she'd enjoyed success with several early titles,  Princess Smartypants brought special fame, heralding a new type of picture book using anarchic humour to deliver powerful points of view. The motorbike riding feminist rebuttal of the Cinderella legend was an instant success, which Babette repeated in dozens of other titles like Mummy Laid an Egg (dealing with conception and birth), Hair in Funny Places (on puberty), The Smelly Book, Tarzana, Dr. Dog... the list is long and unforgettable. When I knew her she was devoting a lot of her energy to writing the Fetlock's Hall series of novels for 7-9 year olds, and setting up her new e-imprint Inky Sprat.

Horse breeding and children's books were her life, and she approached both with a fearless self-assurance. Even after knee surgery and being crushed by a herd of cows while surveying property, she was back in the saddle - Babette seemed both irrepressible and indestructible. Her unexpected passing has been a tremendous shock to those who knew her, SCBWI offers our deepest felt condolences to her family. She was a legend, and will be greatly missed.

Photos courtesy © Bridget Marzo


  1. Thanks for putting this together, John. Oh Babette. What a loss to the children's book world.

  2. Yes - we'll all miss her. Let's try and follow her example - thinking outside of the box, being brave, caring - and sharing the fun!

  3. It was a privilege to get to know her for a few short years. Her life seemed to be as chaotic as her books, but she was very shrewd, knew exactly what she was doing, and was never aloof, always positive, there's a lot to be inspired about.
    Many thanks for your words!

  4. Thanks for an inspiring tribute. I met her once at an AOI event, and pleased to have done so.

  5. I met Babette just once at a London SCBWI social. She was such a FORCE, a whirlwind coming into the room. I couldn't believe that this was THE Babette Cole. I've shared her books with so many kids over so many years; they were amazing. What a unique talent, such sad news.

  6. Thanks John, Bridget and Candy. A great way to remember Babette as she was in life - once met, never forgotten!


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