If you grew up in Saratoga Springs during the mid-to-late 1980s (as I did), your parents likely took you to see Bruce Hiscock present one of his children’s books at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, back when it was housed in the present-day Saratoga Arts building. Or maybe you just caught him during one of his countless story time sessions at a local school near you. He was a bit of a local celebrity.
Sadly, the award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, who published 12 books throughout his lifetime, passed away at his home in Porter Corners on July 11. He was 80.
Hiscock was born in San Diego, CA in 1940, but raised mostly in Ann Arbor, MI, save for nearly two years during which he lived in Shemya, AK, with his family on a remote island in the Aleutians West. Hiscock ended up returning to Ann Arbor for college, where he studied chemistry at the University of Michigan, ultimately receiving a PhD from Cornell University. After working for more than a decade as a chemist—he was hired by Dow Chemical in the ’60s, served as an assistant chemistry professor at Utica College in the ’60s and ’70s, and was named director of drug testing at the Saratoga Harness Track, where he worked in the ’70s and ’80s—Hiscock realized his heart was in children’s book writing and illustrating and went all-in in the 1980s, aptly focusing in on science- and natural history–related topics. “It wasn’t easy to get published,” Hiscock said of his change in careers, “but after years of rejections, things came around.”
Hiscock’s breakthrough came in 1986, when he published his first children’s book, Tundra: The Arctic Land, on the prestigious Atheneum Books for Young Readers imprint (now owned by Simon & Schuster), and followed it with 11 others that he either wrote and illustrated, or just illustrated. These include: The Big Rock (1988, written and illustrated by Hiscock); The Big Tree (1991, written and illustrated by Hiscock); the award-winning The Big Storm (1993, written and illustrated by Hiscock); When Will It Snow? (1995, written and illustrated by Hiscock); The Big Rivers: The Missouri, the Mississippi, and the Ohio (1997, written and illustrated by Hiscock); the award-winning Coyote and Badger: Desert Hunters of the Southwest (2001, written and illustrated by Hiscock); The Big Caribou Herd: Life in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; (2003, written and illustrated by Hiscock); Turtle Tide: The Ways of Sea Turtles (2005, written by Stephen R. Swinburne and illustrated by Hiscock); Wings of Light: The Migration of the Yellow Butterfly (2006, written by Swinburne and illustrated by Hiscock); Ookpik: The Travels of the Snowy Owl (2008, written and illustrated by Hiscock); and Armadillo Trail: The Northward Journey of the Armadillo (2009, written by Swinburne and illustrated by Hiscock).
Of those children’s books, Hiscock’s The Big Storm won the 1993 John Burroughs Award for best children’s book featuring natural history, while 2008’s Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl was a finalist for the Charlotte Award of New York State. Additionally, 2001’s Coyote and Badger: Desert Hunters of the Southwest won the children’s category of the National Outdoor Book Awards.
In his final letter to friends and family, the author wrote: “I want my remains to be scattered to the winds, so I am more a part of everything on this beautiful planet. Perhaps you will think of me when the seasons change, and how I loved the first snowfall, the delicate spring woodland flowers, the small leaves on the trees, that will fill the woods, and the color they will display when the frost comes.”
Hiscock is survived by his wife, artist Helen Dickerson, with whom he shared the home that he built on Ballou Road in Porter Corners, about 15 minutes northeast of Saratoga Springs. Hiscock also had two adult children and three grandchildren.
Donations can be made in Hiscock’s name to Community Hospice or one of the Capital Region’s children’s libraries.