Revered children’s book editor and author Ann K. Beneduce, who had a guiding hand in launching the careers of Eric Carle and many other authors and illustrators, died on March 18 in Princeton, N.J. She was 102.
Beneduce was born September 16, 1918 in Maplewood, N.J., and grew up in nearby Short Hills, N.J. She began attending Bryn Mawr College at the age of 16 and earned her B.A. from Barnard College in 1946. She additionally pursued graduate studies at Columbia University.
While raising two young daughters on her own following a divorce, Beneduce wrote book reviews for a local newspaper and did storytimes at the library. By 1957, she took her first steps into the world of publishing, landing a job at Doubleday, working as a junior editor of adult trade books. Nearly three years in, she made her case for a raise and a promotion. “I was told, ‘My dear, we never make women senior editors except in the areas of children’s books, cookbooks or mysteries,’ ” she recalled in a 2001 interview with PW. With that, she sought a better opportunity, and found one in the children’s book department at Lippincott, where she began working for editor Eunice Blake in 1960.
In a 1983 interview with children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, Beneduce admitted that she initially believed the children’s side of the book business might be a downward career step. However, she soon discovered that it was an ideal match. “It was only after I began working on children’s books that I saw it was something I loved doing, and that it was challenging and rewarding,” she told Marcus. “In addition, I had done graduate work in developmental psychology, and I was passionately interested in literature and art, as well as in the intellectual development of children, and I found that editing children’s books was the perfect combination of all these concerns.”
Blake at Lippincott and other noted editors of the day, including Elizabeth Riley at Crowell and Velma Varner at World Publishing, were considered internationalists, according to Marcus, and were among the first in the industry who sought to publish children’s books from other countries to expand the world view of American children. “This became very important for Ann’s work as well,” Marcus told PW.
In 1963, Beneduce left Lippincott to become Varner’s assistant. The following year, when Varner left for Viking, Beneduce was made editor-in-chief at World. It was there that Beneduce first saw samples from an advertising artist named Eric Carle who was looking to illustrate children’s books. “I loved the art and knew we wanted him to do something for us,” she told PW in 2009. After completing two early projects, Carle proposed doing a book about a worm that nibbled its way through the pages of a book. He and Beneduce “sat down and figured out exactly what the character and plot should be,” she told PW, and the result was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was published in 1969. But the book featured full-color art and pages of different sizes with precisely positioned die-cut holes—a printing project no U.S. company would take on. By chance, on a vacation to Japan, Beneduce found a willing Japanese publisher to manufacture the book, and history was made. Carle and Beneduce formed a close bond and would go on to work together for many years, even after Beneduce’s retirement, up through Carle’s 2015 title The Nonsense Show.
During her time at World, Beneduce published the first picture book by Jane Yolen, The Emperor and the Kite, illustrated by a new artist she hired named Ed Young. The title was named a 1961 Caldecott Honor Book and its creators were off on the start of their long, successful careers.
From World, Beneduce moved to T.Y. Crowell in 1969 and headed the children’s department until 1977. In that span, one of her many highlights was publishing Katherine Paterson’s first book, Of Nightingales That Weep. Her junior editor at the time, Sandra Jordan, had discovered Paterson’s manuscript in the slush pile and brought it to Beneduce’s attention, knowing that a book set in medieval Japan would hold appeal because of Beneduce’s deep interest in Japanese culture.
Beneduce was reunited with her World backlist when she took the helm at the recently merged Collins and World Publishing in 1977, remaining there until the children’s division was acquired by Putnam in 1980. And under the Putnam umbrella, Beneduce founded and was editorial head of her own imprint, Philomel, which became home to Carle, Yolen, Young, and other notable artists such as Tasha Tudor and Japanese author-illustrator Mitsumasa Anno, whom Beneduce introduced to an American audience.
In 1986 Beneduce retired from Philomel and began a second career as an independent children’s book consultant to other publishers, while continuing to work as a consulting editor on projects by her longtime authors and illustrators. During the 1990s Beneduce took to writing children’s books herself, adapting and retelling favorite tales like Gulliver’s Adventures in Lilliput by Jonathan Swift (Philomel, 1993) which were illustrated by Russian artist Gennady Spirin, and worked on a series of picture book biographies of artists published by Rizzoli, which she translated from the original French.
Beneduce’s devotion to international children’s publishing never waned and it was evident in her long support of the Bologna Book Fair and in her extensive board and committee work. She served as the U.S representative to the executive committee of the International Board on Books for Young People, was a founding member of the U.S. Friends of IBBY and was president from 1980–1981, was a corporate member of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, and a member of the art jury for the Biennale of Illustration in Bratislava, among various other appointments. Additionally, she served on the advisory board for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., and in 2006 the museum recognized Beneduce as the inaugural Carle Honors Mentor recipient, an award for editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form.
Beneduce is survived by her husband, Joel Lebowitz, a renowned mathematical physicist, and daughters Wendy Worth and Cynthia Beneduce.
Sandra Jordan, author and former children’s book editor, recalled one of her earliest memories of her longtime friend and colleague. “I went to work for Ann at World in 1969,” she said. “I’d been there about three weeks and she had a big backlog of work. I left at 7 o’clock at night with my desk clear and I came in the next morning and it was piled high, like she’d been there all night. And I said ‘Ann…’ and she said, ‘Oh yes, didn’t I tell you I’m going to Japan?’ And she went to Japan for the printing of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I knew nothing about it!
“Ann was pleasant always, very soft spoken, never raised her voice. But she was quietly effective and certainly knew how to make her displeasure felt,” Jordan noted. “I never heard her be mean. She had a wicked sense of humor but you didn’t always see it. And she was really fun to do stuff with. I don’t think we ever had a cross word, and I knew her a long time.”
Marcus shared an anecdote about traveling to Japan with Beneduce and Eric Carle in the early 2000s. “There’s an international library of children’s literature in Tokyo and it was just being opened,” Marcus recalled. “They gave Eric the first exhibition and had invited Ann and me to come and speak at the opening along with Eric. We spent about five days there together. It was odd because the government was apparently trying to prove to Japanese voters that they were concerned about Japanese children, so they created this big library that was sort of half empty because they didn’t know what to do with it yet. But they wanted it to be a big statement to the nation. Every evening a group of Japanese government functionaries would meet us at a different restaurant, and wine and dine us. But it was very clear they had no idea why they were there and particularly had no idea who Eric was. We would be sitting in these little private rooms having an incredible meal and puzzling over what was going on. Ann and I were staying in the same hotel and it was kind of like the hotel in Lost in Translation, a big Western hotel with a bar on the top floor. After each of these dinners Ann and I would go up to the bar and would sit together have a drink and try and figure out between us what had actually happened that evening.”
Author-illustrator Jane Breskin Zalben worked with Beneduce at Crowell when she was a book designer there, and later, Beneduce edited many of Zalben’s books. “I will always love Ann and miss those days in publishing where we had great lunches and drinks and pie at the top of the 666 building and parties around the country at ALAs, and she’d turn around and say, when we finished a book project, ‘Janie, dear, what should we do next?’She’d bind my books in leather binding with endpapers from another era and give me a copy…. She will be remembered in my heart, my mind, and I will never ever forget her.”
Author Jane Yolen called Beneduce “the first amazingly great editor I worked with,” in a social media post. “A friend, mentor, guiding light, elegant, soft-spoken, and a great spirit. Plus, she was just plain fun. The last time I saw her was at the Carle Honors two years ago and she had just turned 101 and was as elegant as ever.... She kept friendships with her authors and illustrators forever. Blessings, Ann. You truly, truly changed my life.”
And Patricia Gauch, who succeeded Beneduce as publisher of Philomel, paid tribute with these words: “Ann Beneduce was the creator of Philomel Books, named for an English nightingale, and named just right. Ann was an editor’s editor. She loved making what she called ‘beautiful books.’ It began with taste and artistic skills of her own, which, of course she used to do spectacular books. In coming to Philomel, I discovered how much the whole publishing house, the international publishers, other American publishers appreciated Ann.
For me, coming to publishing newly, she stepped up immediately, allowing me to trail her as she worked on the books of Eric Carle, Tasha Tudor, Ed Young, and so many others. I knew she had the magic touch, which, of course, came from her own talent, but I knew it was a rare opportunity to learn from the best of the best.
What I didn’t know was that Ann Beneduce, gentle, kind, talented Ann, would become my friend. Long after she had left the publishing industry, we stayed in contact, sharing new projects. I felt she would always be part of Philomel. It wasn’t just another publisher; it had an idea behind it, an idea that came from Ann.
This is an iconic loss. But in her generous spirit, she passed the baton, sharing what she knew and believed: how to make a beautiful book.”