Children's writer and educator, Jonny Zucker possessed a unique gift the ability to communicate with absolutely anyone, making them feel special within seconds of meeting him. Even strangers connected immediately. His death has left a sense of numbing shock and sorrow amongst the immense amount of people, worldwide, whose lives he touched.
Zucker was a man of prodigious and varied talents. Even though he wrote his first book when he was 10, his real dream was to play football for England or his beloved Arsenal. He was raised in Hampstead Garden Suburb (or East Finchley depending on who he was telling) and attended Brooklands Primary School and then University College School (UCS), before studying Politics, Education and Psychology at Manchester University.
“Honny,” as he was known within his close-knit family, was the son of Kenneth and Ruth Zucker and younger brother to Naomi. He was often the centre of attention making them laugh with his antics. During the Zucker annual camping trips — later the blueprint for his holidays for four decades — children would gravitate towards him to play football and be entertained.
It was this charisma that became the hallmark of his considerable achievements and relationships. His formative years were enriched by a deep involvement in Habonim-Dror. He spent a gap year in Israel with the movement, and met a group of people there, many of whom became lifelong friends. He had a strong sense of Jewishness and in the late 1980s visited refuseniks in Moscow.
After a short stint in radio broadcasting, Zucker found his real calling in teaching. His years at West Acton Primary School were particularly important to him and he never really left the world of teaching but felt that he could achieve more through his writing. He became a full time writer — mainly for children — and wrote more than 100 books. From adventure novels to picture books, from parodies to a series on Jewish festivals, his creative output was characterised by humour, verve and an endless imagination. He won or was shortlisted for numerous awards, including his football series, Striker Boy. The first book in his Monster Swap series was a Richard and Judy Children’s Reading Club selection and his Max Flash series was heavily featured in the Boys into Books campaign. He was a strong advocate for increasing boys’ literacy, in particular.
He used the platform of his writing to carry on his passion for education and visited hundreds of schools and libraries, inspiring schoolchildren to read and write. Parents often said their children were “buzzing” after his workshops.
Zucker’s endless curiosity and zany character led him down many other byways. There was a successful foray into stand-up comedy, teaching on writers’ retreats and a love of music. He enjoyed playing guitar and writing songs and weekly band rehearsals were sacrosanct.
For his friends and family, it will be the personal encounters that each will remember, the innumerable memories of laughing helplessly with him or being engaged in passionate and philosophical debate. He possessed real insight, rooted in a deeply idealistic, grounded sense of the world. His was always a voice of reason and compassion informed by his wide, liberal reading. He was also an advocate and defender of Israel from his time as the political officer of Manchester University JSoc, and detested the cant and hypocrisy of anti-Zionist rhetoric.
The absolute loves of his life were his best friend and wife Fiona, and their three sons Jake, Ben and Isey. They lived in the house in which the couple were married, on July 13, 1997, having first met in Habonim-Dror and then studied together at Manchester University.
For all his achievements Zucker was most comfortable in more intimate environments, and relished time with Fiona and the boys, his extended family and close friends. He was always interested in people and his ability to transcend age differences meant he was as close to his niece and nephew, young cousins and friends’ children as he was to their parents and grandparents. The loss of a man of such talent, warmth and personality has left a gaping chasm. His legacy is a significant body of work. More important are the special memories, wisdom and encounters that will live on in the souls of his family and friends, all of whom loved him deeply.
He is survived by his wife Fiona Starr and their three sons, his parents, and sister Naomi Samuelson.
ANNE JOSEPH and JAMES LIBSON
Born November 30, 1966. Died November 27, 2016.