Julie Just, deputy editor of the New York Times Book Review, has taken over the position of children's books editor. We caught up with her as she was starting her new job.
PW: What attracted you to the children's job? What prompted your decision to shift your position?
Julie Just: The moment Eden Lipson announced she was retiring, I asked Sam [Tanenhaus] for the job. I never lost an intense attachment to the books I loved growing up—they've followed me from place to place all my life—and I plunged in all over again when I had children. Also, the job immediately made a better work/life fit—now I bring home books every night and share them with my kids, instead of sneaking into a corner to read.
What impressions have you gathered so far about the children's industry and the books themselves? Any surprises?
My first impressions are probably too sunnily upbeat. The bottom-line mentality is certainly a problem in kids' publishing, as it is in adult books. But I've been struck by how many excellent books are being published at every reading level, by huge media companies and small independent houses alike. In the best picture books, there's an impressive attention to detail—high-quality paper, experimental techniques, original voices; it's hard to find such high quality on the adult side now, just vis-à-vis the physical book. Children's books have a lot going for them, even compared to adult titles—they have an army of advocates, in the form of librarians and teachers who are committed to reading. That's a huge advantage.
How do you foresee balancing the Book Review's mission as a critical journal with parents' need for buying suggestions in bookstores?
Well—they're both really important. My background is in journalism, so I basically want to get the news out—which raises the issue, is the news always good? No, it's not. As soon as I got this job, parents I knew were coming up to me with urgent questions about things their kids were reading. They wanted guidance, which is something a book section should be able to give.
What changes do you have in mind for the children's coverage?
I want to do more on the Web—link to interviews with authors and artists, say, and related readings; more illustrations. I'm adding some pages in the December holiday issue, which I hope will be a permanent thing. I'll probably do more YA than has been done in recent years; it's such a fascinating, varied, problematic genre. I think we could use the Web links to get young adults involved in the Book Review—I want to hear their voices and feedback about the books that are being written for them. There's a great opportunity here to get kids involved in literature outside the classroom and journalism at the same time.
What do you see as the job's challenges? What are you most excited about?
The challenge is catching up on a couple of decades of interesting work—and not getting caught up trying to please everybody, because I won't. I'm most excited about the books—there's a tremendous vitality out there. It's a great moment to come into this field.