Longtime children’s book editor and publisher Margaret K. McElderry died Monday, February 14, at the age of 98. In a 1997 New York Times profile, the Times’s Eden Ross Lipson called McElderry “the last of her class of editors who brought American children’s books into the postwar world.”
After working for legendary librarian Anne Carroll Moore at the New York Public Library, McElderry became editor of children’s books at Harcourt Brace in 1945. There, she published such classics as the Borrowers books by Mary Norton and the first book in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence; her long list of authors also includes Lucy Boston, Edward Eager, Elizabeth Enright, Andre Norton, Erik Blegvad, Ashley Bryan, Nancy Bond, and Margaret Mahy. In 1952, she became the first editor to have books win both the Newbery and Caldecott Medals in the same year—for Eleanor Estes’s Ginger Pye and Finders Keepers by William Lipkind, illustrated by Nicolas Mordvinoff, respectively. After 25 years at Harcourt Brace, in 1972 she was asked by then-chairman William Jovanovich to fire her staff and take early retirement. “I asked, ‘Why are you doing this? What have I done?’ ” she told Lipson in the Times profile. “And he said, ‘You’ve been fine, but the wave of the future has passed you by.’ ”
So McElderry turned around and founded her eponymous imprint at Atheneum, the first children’s books imprint to carry an editor’s name, and which is still in operation today. Notable titles that McElderry published under that imprint include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; the final four volumes in The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper; The Maggie B. by Irene Haas; Yolonda’s Genius by Carol Fenner, which won a 1996 Newbery Honor; and The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, which won a 1997 Newbery Honor. McElderry stepped down as editor-in-chief in 1998, when she was 86, but continued to contribute titles to the McElderry Books imprint for the next several years.
A memorial service will be held at the New York Public Library at a later date. For a longer obituary, click here. And to read and leave remembrances of McElderry on a specially created Facebook page, click here.