Van Stockum was raised partly in Ireland, and also in Ymuiden, the seaport of Amsterdam, where her father was port commander. With no car and few companions, she recalled turning to writing out of boredom. She was also a talented artist. A penchant for art evidently ran in the family, which counted the van Goghs as distant relatives.
In the 1920s, she worked as an illustrator for the Dublin-based publishing house, Browne & Nolan. She illustrated her first book, an Irish reader, in 1930, and her last book in 2001, giving her a 71-year career as a book-illustrator.
Van Stockum attended art school in Amsterdam and later in Dublin, where she met and later married Ervin Ross "Spike" Marlin, who at the time was her brother Willem's roommate at Trinity College. Willem Van Stockum was killed piloting a bomber over France in 1944. Van Stockum memorialized him in her book The Mitchells (1945), about the travails of raising a family in Washington, D.C., during the war. She often used her family as models for the written and illustrated characters in her books.
Not surprisingly then, Van Stockum was, in fact, raising a family in Washington, D.C., at the time, having married Marlin, who by 1935 was a Roosevelt administration official.
She had written and illustrated her first book for children, A Day on Skates , in 1934. It had a foreword by her aunt-by-marriage, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and won a Newbery Honor. During the next four decades she averaged one book per year written, illustrated, translated or some combination.
Van Stockum and the couple's six children were in tow for Marlin's peripatetic assignments, and it seems nothing short of miraculous that she managed to write and illustrate a score of children's books. In addition, she translated and illustrated editions of many other authors.
Asked in 1942 by the Washington Post how she did it, Van Stockum replied with characteristic aplomb, "By neglecting my other duties." Highly organized in her work, she illustrated and painted in the winter and wrote in the summer, when she could get her children out of the house.
Known for their warm, vivid, and realistic depictions of family life in the face of danger and difficulties, van Stockum's books typically featured families and were set wherever she happened to be living; Francie on the Run (1939), about a child who escapes from a hospital, was set in Ireland. Friendly Gables (1958) completed the Mitchells' saga — by then they had moved to Montreal from Washington.
Her most popular book, The Winged Watchman (1962) is the story of two Dutch boys who help the Resistance during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. The book is based on letters Hilda received from relatives in the Netherlands, and has been praised for conveying an accurate sense of life under Nazi occupation.
Hilda van Stockum died in 2006 at the age of 98.
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