SARATOGA SPRINGS – Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Bruce Hiscock, who died at the age of 80 earlier this month, left an indelible mark on the Saratoga community, perhaps most noticeably at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
The walls of the children’s section feature whimsical murals of woodland creatures, including foxes and owls, all painted by Hiscock. Beyond the paintings, Hiscock also served on the library’s board of trustees and the board of directors for many years and was instrumental in the library’s move in the 1990s from Broadway to its current location on Henry Street.
“The community was very lucky to have him at that point in time … with the construction of the library, with his talents and his enthusiasm. He was quite a mover I would say,” said Ken Bollerud, who served on the board with Hiscock.
According to his obituary, Hiscock grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, though he spent two years with his family on Shemya, a remote Alaskan Island and throughout his childhood spent many hours outside in nature. He went on to attend the University of Michigan and then Cornell University, where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. He worked as a researcher, then as a professor at Utica College. In Saratoga Springs, he ran a drug-testing laboratory for racehorses for nine years before leaving the field to write and illustrate picture books.
His books, including “The Big Tree,” “The Big Rock” and “Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl,” among many others, are research-based and focus on educating young readers about the natural world.
Much of his research came from his travels and some of his books were directly inspired by his adventures. As his obituary notes “On one trip to northeastern Alaska, he found himself hiking in the middle of a huge caribou herd which resulted in ‘The Big Caribou Herd: Life in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.’”
He also shared his experiences with local students through programs at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. During one particular program, the library would bring in third-grade students from the city school district and invite local authors to come in and talk about their work. Hiscock was the featured author several times and, according to librarian Jennifer Ogrodowski, “He would talk to them about his travels and show them pictures of caribou and then take them through a drawing exercise. He was really wonderful with them.”
His books were named Outstanding Science Trade Books by the Children’s Book Council. “The Big Storm” won the 1993 John Burroughs Award for best children’s book featuring natural history. “Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl,” was a finalist for the Charlotte Award of New York State.
He was a self-taught artist and musician, often singing and playing guitar with friends. In true Renaissance-man fashion, he also built his house in Porter Corners by hand, using the rocks and trees on the property.
“[He was] an all-around great guy, beloved by everybody that he met. He had a little bit of a dry, acerbic sense of humor, he was a great artist; willing to do anything in service to the community and to the library,” said Saratoga Springs Public Library Director A. Issac Pulver.
One of Ogrodowski’s favorite memories of Hiscock was that around the holidays he would come into the library wearing jingle bells.
“So whenever he’d walk you’d hear jingle bells,” Ogrodowski said. “He was such an intelligent, kind human being but he also had this playful side, which was really neat to see.”
“He was just very enthusiastic about life; a very good conversationalist; definitely a strong supporter of the library and its role in the community’s life,” Bollerud said.
Hiscock is survived by his wife, Helen Dickerson, and two children, according to his obituary.