SOUTH BEND — Award-winning children’s book author, photo-illustrator and long-time South Bend resident April Pulley Sayre engaged children with science and the natural world.
She often incorporated photographs of the area’s nature in her books, making South Bend a part of her work.
Sayre died earlier this month from breast cancer, but she left behind a catalog of more than 80 children’s books that earned her widespread praise from educators.
Though she grew up in South Carolina, Sayre traveled extensively before settling in South Bend for the past 15 years.
“She has a way of taking the subject and making it fun for kids,” said Kathy Burnette, owner of Brain Lair Books in South Bend and a friend of Sayre’s. “That’s kind of why they use her in classrooms. Even though it’s a nonfiction picture book, you can get into it and kids can make artwork based on what she’d done.”
Sayre was born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1966. She first developed her love of nature by working with birds at an animal rehabilitation center and by farming vegetables at her grandparent’s farm, according to her website. Sayre also enjoyed taking trips to the Appalachian Mountains in the summer to hike and in the winter to skate.
Sayre attended Duke University and graduated with a biology degree in 1987. She then worked for the National Wildlife Federation in Washington D.C., where she met her future husband, Jeff, a fellow naturalist and author. The pair were married in 1989, according to Publisher’s Weekly.
Sayre also earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Vermont College.
The first of Sayre’s children’s books, “If You Should Hear a Honey Guide,” was published in 1995 and went on to win the John Burroughs award. Many of Sayre’s books have also won literary awards for excellence in science and naturalist writing for children.
Many of Sayre’s recent books, such as “Rah Rah Radishes,” are illustrated with photographs taken in and around South Bend. It was a testament to her love of Michiana, according to those who knew her.
“She made this area hers and found things that could support the book she was writing,” Burnette said.
Burnette met Sayre a few years ago and the pair often talked about education, activism and ideas for Burnette’s budding bookstore.
“I don’t carry a lot of local authors’ work (in the bookstore) because of what my specific mission is,” Burnette said. “I carry her work because it transcends everything that we’re doing.”
Jennifer Sniadecki, another of Sayre’s friends who works as a librarian for South Bend schools, said Sayre helped bring South Bend to a national audience.
“She took the photographs at Farmer’s Market and at Bendix Woods and all these places that are South Bend’s legendary places to be,” Sniadecki said. “Not only did she write great books for children, she brought in the community that she lived in to spread the word.”
Sayre’s last book, “Happy Sloth Day!”, is expected to be published in 2022 and is a collaboration with her husband.
The couple were in the process of raising money for the April & Jeff Sayre Fund for Nature, a nonprofit organization focused on conservation.
A funeral for Sayre has already taken place, though family and friends may hold a larger service in coming months.
Email Marek Mazurek at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek