Sunday, 11 June 2017

John McIntyre

John McIntyre - Booklover
Died 10 June 2017, aged 65

John McIntyre wasn’t just an advocate of children’s books; he wasn’t just a person who believed that
Ruth & John McIntyre,
Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington, NZ, Nov 2011. 
reading was important for kids. John was different; he was somebody who got up and did something about that belief.

He and his wife Ruth took a brave and perilous step when they opened their Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie 25 years ago. Just to have succeeded in that business would have been sufficient achievement in itself.

But John (and Ruth) – and please imagine that the words “and Ruth” reappear throughout this note – went far beyond bookselling. They became a focus of children’s literature, both locally and nationally. The Children’s Bookshop was a place where you got good advice from people who had actually read the books.

The shop was much more than a shop. It was also a meeting place, where visits by writers were organised, so that children could meet the authors and artists who created their books. John also drove writers around schools and sometimes he was the one who rang the schools to arrange those visits. Book launches and other literary celebrations were held in the bookshop, and it was a rare one where John’s voice wasn’t heard singing the praises of a book.

When he agreed to review books for Radio New Zealand, John showed another of his talents. John understood people. He refused to take any payment for all those radio talks. He explained his reasoning to me. If he had been paid, sooner or later some bean-counter would have sacked him to save money. Since he was free, he would be allowed to carry on. And he was. For over fifteen years he recorded his book talks. Over 300 of them; perhaps a thousand books in all.

His motto was “I don’t see myself as a reviewer; I’m a cheerleader.” John always refused to comment on books he disliked. This was because - as John put it, “Life is too short to drink bad wine or read bad books.” (Because of his kidney transplant, John didn't drink wine, but he knew a good saying when he met one.)

Look at any aspect of books for young people and John was there. He was a judge of the Children’s Book Awards. He campaigned to get Margaret Mahy’s early books back into print. He spoke up against bigotry and censorship. 

Life was too short for John. He had to fight serious health issues but he never allowed them to limit his enthusiastic support for the causes he loved.  And in turn, he was loved by radio listeners, by parents, by teachers, by book-buying parents and grandparents, by writers, by illustrators, by librarians, by publishers. Above all he was appreciated by the young people into whose hands he guided the right book.

His enthusiasm, his family values, his generosity of spirit, his belief that we should trust young people, his love of a good well-told story – all of these were important aspects of that lovely man we knew as John McIntyre. 

He was a great role-model. It has been an honour and a pleasure to know him.
- Trevor Agnew       

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