Robert Dunbar was a giant among the childrens book people in Ireland. He reviewed childrens' books for the Irish Times for over 27 years. He was a founder of the Childrens Literature Association of Ireland, which blended with the Irish Childrens Book Trust to emerge as Childrens Books Ireland. Editor of two anthologies on childrens' literature in Ireland, lecturer, editor of Inis Magazine, radio commentator, CBI Book of the Year Awards (formerly the Bisto) judge; Roberts' energy and enthusiasm was enough to make you exhausted. For many of us here, he simply WAS childrens' books in Ireland. As such, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CBI.... and no one anywhere ever deserved it more.
There is not much I can say about Robert Dunbar that hasn't already been said, and if I am honest, I feel ill-placed to be writing about him. No, we were not close friends...we didn't hang around each other much. But as a childrens' bookseller and reviewer, Roberts' views, intelligence, humour and opinion helped me navigate a course through this part of my life that made him irreplaceable in it.The few times we did meet and talk were always memorable. His passion and drive were infectious, his knowledge and reasoning was beyond that of anyone else I have met and, frankly, when it came to childrens' books, the man was always right. He was a true gift. David Maybury put it best; "He made us all better". Truer words were never spoken.
In Roberts' death notice, the family requests no flowers, please. But rather, mourners who wish to give something in his memory are asked to donate a book token to a local school library. How incredibly fitting. I hope everyone reading this, whether you are in Ireland or not, will take the time to do this in Roberts' memory. To see children reading....that would be the best gift we could give back to Robert Dunbar. I can see him smiling now....
R.I.P. Robert...you will be truly missed.
Here's a link to Inis Magazines' Robert Dunbar's Top 50: the best of Irish Childrens' Books. Well worth a read...actually, well worth printing yourself a copy and having it to hand!