Judy Newman is no stranger to children’s publishing. In 1986, she helped launch Bantam Doubleday Dell’s Trumpet Club, and for the past 24 years, she has overseen the Scholastic Reading Club (previously the Scholastic Book Club). In 1999, she created Scholastic Reading Club’s ClassroomsCare initiative, which teaches children the value of reading and giving. Along the way, Newman has helped usher in the careers of Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey, and David Shannon, whose books were hugely popular in the influential club Newman headed.
“I’m not a shy person,” said Newman, currently executive v-p and president of Scholastic Reading Club. “I’ve never been afraid to put my name on anything.” That is, until she published her first book.
Last year, under the pseudonym Pepper Springfield, Newman quietly released Meet the Bobs and Tweets with Scholastic. The book, which follows two very different families (the slobby Bobs and the neat Tweets) who share the same street, received a few lukewarm reviews and lackluster sales.
After working in publishing for so many years, and advising countless new writers, Newman found, instead of her insider status giving her an upper hand, it created extra pressure in her role as a debut author. “I was terrified of being outed as someone who didn’t know what they were doing,” she said.
Describing her publishing experience, Newman said, “It was extremely humbling. “Nothing much happened. I sort of heard through the grapevine that it wasn’t selling well. I didn’t have the courage to put myself out there and even ask. I was just cowering over this. I felt totally responsible. I’m Pepper Springfield and I’m hiding.”
With the next book in the series, Perfecto Pet Show, out June 25, Newman is hiding no more, owning her nom de plume, and hoping that stepping into the limelight as Pepper will help push the book to a wider readership than the previous one.
“To the thousands of authors I work with, I say, ‘Don’t be shy, don’t hold back, reach out to people you know, celebrate your book,’ ” Newman said. “[With Bobs and Tweets], I didn’t do anything. I mean nothing.” Newman eschewed a launch party, stayed mum on the book to family and friends, and didn’t promote it on social media.
Despite lending extra anxiety to publishing her first book, her decades in publishing did inspire Bobs and Tweets in the first place. Her personal passion, Newman said, is fostering a love of reading in kids who may be falling behind, and she felt there was a void to be filled.
“I go out on a million school visits every year,” said Newman, in her capacity working for the book club. “I see a lot of kids who struggle to find something that doesn’t make them feel stupid if for some reason they get left behind along the way. Something that’s relatable, that’s easy enough, but isn’t going to make them feel dumb.” Her Bobs and Tweets books, which are written in rhyme, feature illustrations by Kristy Caldwell, and follow the titular wacky families, the youngest members of which are not quite in sync with the rest of their tribe.”
Although the first book didn’t perform as she had hoped, Newman did have moments of affirmation that her work was resonating with kids. The one school visit Caldwell made during the launch of Meet the Bobs and Tweets, with Newman incognito in the background, inspired the students to put on a fully costumed and choreographed play based on the book a few months later.
Newman’s editor at Scholastic, Celia Lee, knew upon submission who the true author of the book was. It arrived on Lee’s desk complete with the research Newman conducted ahead of time—Newman had printed dummy books and delivered them to kids, who filled out surveys after reading. “That’s the great thing about working with Judy,” said Lee. “It was this impressive package.” Lee and the rest of Newman’s editorial team were all in the know on Pepper Springfield’s identity, but, with this article, her secret will be revealed to the vast majority of Scholastic staffers.
When asked why she decided now was the time to come forward, Newman said she understands, with the impending arrival of the second book, that she was always hiding behind the name. “Pseudonyms are good for some reasons,” said Newman. “But, my reason was fear, which is not a good reason. You have to go for it. You have to be your own best ambassador.”