Shirley Climo: Author enchanted generations

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Mrs. Climo

Shirley Climo, a Los Altos author who published dozens of picture books, died Aug. 25. She was 83.

Mrs. Climo penned 24 books, covering fairy tales, fables and folklore from around the world. Sometimes she revisited a classic story through the lens of different cultures, dwelling on, for instance, Cinderella as Egyptian, Persian and Korean, and even as a lad.

In 2005, Mrs. Climo told the Town Crier that fables and folklore are good starting points for young writers because they lend themselves to adaptation.

“Fables are great because they are all short and almost always have an animal as message carrier, and kids like animals,” she said.

She credited her family’s passion for writing as her inspiration to become an author. Her mother was a writer and her eldest sister an illustrator.

“I think the hardest thing about being a writer is having to be a self-starter,” she said.

Born 1928 in Cleveland, Mrs. Climo attended DePauw University until her mother died unexpectedly in 1949. Despite encouragement from her family to continue her studies, Mrs. Climo decided to drop out and take up her mother’s work: writing scripts for the weekly WGAR-Radio children’s program “Fairytale Theatre.”

“I learned about writing by doing it and learned self-discipline by doing it whether I wanted to or not,” Mrs. Climo wrote in an autobiographical essay.

Her mother had set an example of work ethic during Mrs. Climo’s teens, using her writing talent to support a family struck by tragedy.

Mrs. Climo wrote with warmth of her happy childhood, yet early bereavement also set the stage for the author to develop a special empathy for stories of orphans like Cinderella. Before her mother’s death, Mrs. Climo’s brother Robert had died in an accident in 1939, and her father Morton in 1943 of a heart attack.

Marrying her longtime beau, George Climo, in 1950 allowed Mrs. Climo to start building a home she described as “like the one I’d had in childhood.” She took a break from professional writing to raise three children.

“Although I missed writing, I missed the warmth of family more,” she wrote.

George reminisced about the couple’s adventures, traveling behind the Iron Curtain, to China and to the Fifth Avenue apartment of her brother-in-law, famed artist Mark Rothko, for one particularly artistic Christmas as young bohemians. In an interview last week, George grinned as he said life as the spouse of a lifelong writer was “grand.”

Mrs. Climo also found a calling in giving book talks, sharing tips with schoolchildren at Linden Tree Books and traveling across the country to share her enthusiasm and “try to take the terror out of writing,” she wrote in an autobiographical essay.

Mrs. Climo is survived by her husband, George; her children, Lisa, Bob and Susan; and seven grandchildren.

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