cover image Good Books for Bad Children: The Genius of Ursula Nordstrom

Good Books for Bad Children: The Genius of Ursula Nordstrom

Beth Kephart, illus. by Chloe Bristol. Random House/Schwartz, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-593-37957-8

Having cultivated a love of what she called “good books for bad children,” editor and publisher Ursula Nordstrom (1910–1988) championed many well-loved American children’s classics. When asked how an adult who didn’t work with children could make books for them, she replied, “I am a former child, and I haven’t forgotten a thing.” Fittingly, Kephart (Beautiful Useful Things) begins with Nordstrom’s own childhood as the lone child of divorced performers, later zeroing in on her understanding of the need to make books for children who “feel different... are lonely... have secrets.” As a young office assistant, a friendship forged in the Harper & Brothers cafeteria led to a career shepherding memorable creators—the book spotlights Crockett Johnson, Ruth Krauss, Maurice Sendak, John Steptoe, and E.B. White, among others—and helping to shape their works. Scenes of well-known classics in process (“It does need pulling together,” Nordstrom tells Margaret Wise Brown about a draft of The Runaway Bunny) are a special charm of this picture book biography, illuminated by Bristol (Nonsense!) with angular portraits and embellished with thoughtful details, including Nordstrom’s typewritten letters. It’s a lively look at a dynamic personality credited with transforming children’s literature. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. (Sept.)