Grace Maccarone

Executive editor, Holiday House

As a child, I loved Curious George. And I was curious about H.A. Rey. What did he look like? Was he tall and skinny like the man with the yellow hat? And what did H.A. stand for?

Early in my career, I had an opportunity to work on Curious George activity books. H.A. had died long before, but I was very excited to be able to study George’s character and to create puzzles that would go along with George’s zany adventures. I thought the books were quite wonderful.

Unfortunately, Margret Rey [Rey’s widow] did not. She called me and told me so: the artist made George too fat, the groundwood paper was cheap-looking.

She invited me to her home in Cambridge to talk. I was terrified! I was thrilled! I told her I looked forward to meeting her. She told me that I wouldn’t like her, but that I would like her dog. I was even more terrified.

My memories are spotty. I remember being—yes—thrilled. And—yes—scared. I remember a feisty 80-something woman and a barky dog. I remember a mini trampoline in the living room, but I don’t remember if it was for Margret or the dog.

Margret let me in on some secrets: H.A. drew himself—as an artist, of course—and Margret, then red haired, in a circus scene in one of the books, and he did not look like the man with the yellow hat. H.A. stands for Hans Augusto. And, Margret said, she actually coauthored some of the original books. Probably because I’ve seen the H.A. Rey byline on Curious George books since I was five, I’ve never believed it. That said, I left with the impression that H.A. had modeled George after the curious, feisty, mischievous Mrs. Rey. Coauthor or not, Margret was definitely responsible for Curious George.

And I did like her.

Anne DeCourcey

Sales rep, HarperCollins

Long before a publishing career was a glimmer in my eye, my mother introduced our family to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Ours was a well-loved hardcover, the jacket long since disintegrated, the pages smoothed by our fingers, smudges here and there, but no dog ears, never ever. When we moved to London in the early 1970s, we lived near the Children’s Book Shop in Notting Hill Gate. It was our mecca; we made frequent visits, arms filled with books as we reluctantly departed.

There, at the Children’s Book Shop, I met the author of our beloved volume, Roald Dahl. Sitting alone at a small table, he was, to my young eyes, terrifying: a fortress, unapproachable, scowling, and at odds with the child-welcoming bookstore. Brave Mom, with three of us in tow, handed the dour Dahl our tattered copy. When he opened the book to the title page, his demeanor changed. He positively transformed, lighting up, as best he could, with the delight of unexpectedly meeting an old friend, the first American edition of his classic book. He smiled at Mom, behind whom we sheltered but peeked out all the same, and expressed his surprise.

That decades-old encounter even today reminds me that behind every book is a human with passion and hope who has invited us to briefly step into their world.

Terry Borzumato-Greenberg

V-p of marketing, Holiday House

Amelia Bedelia! Who didn’t love her quirkiness? I read and reread the original book countless times, laughing at every single page turn, especially when Amelia “dressed” the chicken—how cute was that little outfit!—and “drew” the drapes. My very first job in the 1980s was at Macmillan Children’s Books, and we published many Peggy Parish titles, though not the Amelia books. You can imagine how excited I was when, after only two years in publishing, I learned that I was going to meet one of my favorite authors ever! Peggy was the nicest—so low-key, yet so funny. And she was delighted when I showed her my treasured paperback of Amelia Bedelia from my childhood. Peggy was so kind to sign the little book club edition, and we both had a good chuckle at the cover price of only 35¢!

Steve Geck

Editorial director, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

The first time I saw Maurice Sendak, he was being beaten with his own book. I was working at the Red Balloon Bookshop when the Minnesota Opera held the U.S. premiere for the opera of Where the Wild Things Are. At intermission of the performance I attended, I realized Maurice Sendak and some of the production people were standing in the aisle that divided the front and back of the auditorium. I really wanted to meet him, so I started walking across the aisle. Just behind him, standing precariously on her seat, was a small child waving a hardcover copy of Where the Wild Things Are around in the air. Oblivious to everyone around her, she whacked Sendak on the back of the head with the book. Sendak flinched, grabbed his head, and turned around to glare at the girl and her parents, who were paying no attention. I took another couple of steps up to him and had started to tell him where I worked, when the girl swung her arm again and landed another blow to Sendak’s head. He spun around, told the child to stop hitting him, and then stalked off with the producers.

I finally met him years later at BEA. When I mentioned what I’d witnessed at the opera, he said, “Yes, that’s not the first time that’s happened.”

Victoria Rock

Editor-at-large, Chronicle Children’s Books

When I was very new to publishing, I had the privilege of working with Ann Beneduce at Philomel Books. Ann was Ed Young’s editor, Virginia Hamilton’s editor, Eric Carle’s editor. But it was the notion of meeting Tasha Tudor that had me starstruck. As a child I didn’t own a lot of books—we were avid library-goers—but Tasha Tudor’s Book of Fairy Tales and The Secret Garden had permanent placement on my nightstand. When I mentioned this to Ann, she generously invited me to join them for lunch.

I am sure we talked about books, but what I remember most is that Tasha wore old-fashioned clothes—not just from the previous generation, but the previous century! And she talked about visiting England, specifically that, in order to avoid problems driving on the opposite side of the road, she put a sign in the window of her car that read “Old Lady American Driver”—which miraculously opened up a wide band of space around her on the road. It was definitely a case of the real person, tiny as she was in size, being even larger than my expectations.

Kristen Pettit

Executive editor, HarperCollins

About 10 years ago I met S.E. Hinton and was introduced as the editor of Thirteen Reasons Why. Ms. Hinton’s eyes went wide and she said, “Oh!” As though she were somehow impressed with tiny old me. I was shaking everywhere. In my brain, on repeat, ran the words, “Tell me to stay gold!” We exchanged a few sentences which are, honestly, lost in the haze of my excitement. Through some miracle I managed to keep up my end of the conversation. She signed my copy of The Outsiders, and I don’t know how I didn’t burst into tears when I later opened the book and the inscription was exactly what I had hoped: “Kristen, Stay Gold.” I died of happiness then. My ghost is typing these sentences.

Ally Russell

Consumer outreach specialist, Candlewick Press

I’m not new to the world of publishing, but I am new to the world of children’s publishing, and I will never forget the day I found out that I would get the chance to not just meet M.T. Anderson, author of Thirsty and Feed, but actually sit down and ask him questions for the Candlewick podcast. I had anxiety for months before the interview, and the day of the actual interview, I wrote frantic emails to my husband about how I was worried about fainting—something that I’d never actually done but seemed entirely possible.

It was a very surreal experience, because two and a half years ago I wasn’t sure that I would ever break in to children’s publishing, let alone meet one of my favorite authors. If you had told 11-year-old me that I would get the chance to sit across the table from M.T. Anderson while we talked about ghost stories and cryptids, I would have told you that there was a better chance that I’d discover incontrovertible proof of Bigfoot’s existence. But it did happen, and he signed my 20-year-old copy of Thirsty, and he was one of the kindest, wittiest people I’ve ever met.

Jason M. Wells

Publicity and marketing consultant, Rodale Kids

In my very first year in children’s book publishing I was lucky enough to be assigned as publicist to Tomie dePaola. His Caldecott Honor–winning Strega Nona was a favorite in my family, since my mother is of 100% Italian descent. My siblings and I had often enacted our own version of the book at home, sans actual pasta, of course. Big Anthony was like a big brother. Tomie taught me three very important things as I toured with him: how to tie a tie, what a Bloody Mary is, and that getting a glimpse of the Rolling Stones at the hotel bar is way better than missing them while shopping for postcards in the lobby.

Lizzy Mason

Director of publicity, Bloomsbury Children’s Books

When I was three, my family adopted a cat from our local animal shelter. My sister and I were obsessed at the time by the book Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos, and named our new cat after its titular character. Though he wasn’t red, Rotten Ralph lived up to his namesake. Twenty-five years later, while I was working at Macmillan Children’s, FSG Books for Young Readers announced a book called Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, and I ran to my boss’s office to ask if I could work on it as his publicist. The first thing I said when I met Jack was “Hi, I’m a big fan. I named my cat Rotten Ralph when I was three.” He was tickled by the coincidence, but I think I should have left out just how young I was at the time of the naming.

Claudia Gabel

Senior executive editor, HarperCollins

Ten years ago, I was a youngish editor at Delacorte Press when Judy Blume came into the office for a meeting. I wasn’t invited; however, I had this eloquent speech all planned out in my head in case I ran into her in the hall. Lucky me, I saw her being escorted to a conference room and practically threw myself in front of her, excited to profess just how much her books meant to me as a child—because clearly she had never heard that before!

She smiled and shook my hand when I managed to stammer through an introduction. All thoughts left my brain and my cheeks went hot as I tried to muster up anything else to say other than my name. Finally, victory! “You have really soft skin,” I said. She thanked me with a lovely and infectious laugh that I still remember to this day.

Sylvan Creekmore

Assistant editor, St. Martin’s Press

About six months after I was hired, I was at BEA for the first time, completely overwhelmed and excited, and queuing anxiously for a galley of Holly Black’s new book. My friend from another publishing house was kindly waiting with me, even though YA/middle grade fantasy isn’t really her thing, and I was talking about 100 miles a minute about every one of Holly’s books and when I’d read them and how amazing they were, and midsentence the man in front of me turned around and said, “It’s always so nice to meet a fan.” Turns out it was her agent, Barry Goldblatt. He was incredibly lovely to me, and asked me what I did and congratulated me on my new job. And that’s when I learned not only how very small publishing is, but also how welcoming it is to newcomers. It was a perfect first BEA. And yes, I got my galley of Holly Black’s book.

Christy Ottaviano

Publisher, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt

My first job in publishing was working as an editorial assistant to Brenda Bowen, who was then publisher of Henry Holt. Brenda worked with a number of authors agented by the renowned Marilyn Marlow. Given there was no email back then, most of the daily back and forth with agents happened over the phone, with the assistants being the point of contact. I remember being daunted by Marilyn’s formidable reputation and illustrious client list. She was a strong voice on the other end of the phone and could be intimidating if she was frustrated by the wait time on a contract, edit notes, and so on. I remember one instance where I was able to turn around an author’s on-signing check in a few days, making Marilyn very happy. Actually, she was so pleased she insisted that if there was anything she could do for me, to let her know.

There was something that I really wanted from Marilyn and that was to take her to lunch. I ran it by her assistant who let me know that Marilyn didn’t really “do” lunch, and without her assistant saying it, I inferred that Marilyn certainly wasn’t taking lunches with editorial assistants. Still, I got my nerve up and asked Marilyn if she would consider it. She let me know that she didn’t really take lunches but that she would make an exception. She then informed me that I was to meet her at Time Cafe near Astor Place, close to the Curtis Brown offices, and that she would only have an hour.

I was a huge fan of The Outsiders when I was in middle school—it was a pivotal book for me that I read over and over. I was eager to ask Marilyn questions about how she discovered S.E. Hinton, what went into the editing of the book, and anything else she could tell me about its history, including insight into the film directed by Francis Ford Coppola that featured my teenage crush C. Thomas Howell! I got to the restaurant a half hour early and nervously waited for Marilyn to show up. Mistaken for no one else, she walked in wearing an impeccable skirt and matching jacket, signature penny loafers, and hair pulled back in a thick ribbon. Once we sat down, she was gracious and disarming and made me feel relaxed enough to ask her all my neophyte questions which she went on to answer generously. I was so excited during the lunch that I didn’t so much as touch my meal. She noticed that and without consulting me, asked the waiter to wrap it up so I could take it back to the office! Classic Marilyn. I remember walking back to the Holt offices knowing that I had been in the presence of a publishing legend. Indeed she was.

Gabriel Barillas

Sales rep, HarperCollins

When I was very new at Harper, Maurice Sendak agreed to visit a couple of stores to sign books, and I was lucky enough to host him at one of my accounts in Santa Monica—the Children’s Book and Music Center. I was new and very nervous and wanted everything to run smoothly. I put on a white shirt, tie, and blazer and set out to pick up Maurice and his editor, Toni Markiet. We had a great signing, had a big crowd, and sold a lot of books. Following the signing, we were to meet the owners of San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe for lunch at a venerable Pasadena restaurant.

Five minutes from the restaurant, on the freeway, I got a flat tire. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in September, and this was a major wrinkle in our plans. I was so nervous about how Maurice would react that I immediately broke into a sweat. Reps travel with trunks filled with selling materials, so, as I was emptying my trunk, Maurice came up to me and asked, “Is there something I can do to help?” Not a particularly loaded comment, but a huge wave of relief swept over me. He was absolutely one of the sweetest men I’d ever met, and the tenor of the afternoon changed dramatically.

I had the privilege of meeting Maurice a few more times over the next 25 years, and he always took time to come over and spend time with me. The last time we spent time together, he landed in my lap running from a group of dancers in Bermuda who tried to get him to participate in their dance. Who’s been lucky enough to have Maurice Sendak run to them for help?

Charlie Young

Southeast district sales manager, Scholastic and Klutz

My first rep job was in New York with Putnam (back before they became part of Penguin, and way before Penguin and Random House merged). There were so many independent bookstore customers in metropolitan NYC that two reps split the customers.

Tomie dePaola visited the Putnam offices at 200 Madison Avenue the day his classic collection of Mother Goose stories was published, in October 1985. I got to spend much of that day escorting Tomie to sign stock at various Manhattan independent bookstores, including the beautiful Scribner’s store on Fifth Avenue, and even Macy’s at Herald Square, which had an impressive book department back then.

Tomie was full of great stories, often ones with self-deprecating humor, so it seemed appropriate that we ran into a great American humorist—bestselling author Erma Bombeck—on the street that day. Tomie was excited to meet her, just as excited as I was to meet him. Experiences like that one are the reason I still enjoy working as a children’s publishing sales rep over three decades later.

Jennifer Sheridan

Sales rep, HarperCollins

After 15 years as a floor bookseller and children’s book buyer in Chicago, I was buying children’s books for Bookazine in Bayonne, N.J., and about to go on maternity leave, when I had the honor of meeting Christopher Paul Curtis. I think it was around the time that Bud, Not Buddy was coming out. I was thrilled, and my hormones were raging. In expressing my enthusiasm and respect for his talents I was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears. I was so embarrassed. He was so sweet—he gave me a big hug. I have met many authors over the years, but his gentle nature and genuine gratitude for his well-earned success has stayed with me ever since that day.

Erica Barmash

Director of trade and digital marketing, Bloomsbury Children’s Books

I first met one of my children’s book idols, Ann M. Martin, in 1992, when I was in the fifth grade. By that point, I had been reading the Baby-sitters Club books for years and had probably read each one at least 20 times. I loved reading and writing my own stories, but meeting Ann at the Waldenbooks in the mall showed me that being an author could actually be a job, and made me curious about the world of books beyond just reading.

Twenty-two years later, Ann was promoting Rain Reign. I brought my photo of the two of us in 1992 to ALA in the hope that I could get a moment with her. With a few kind words from my boss to Ann’s editor, I was ushered over to meet her. Pulling out that photo and showing it to her was one of the most fun moments in my career, and was a great reminder to me that, by establishing a career in children’s books, I’ve achieved something that would have made 11-year-old me very, very proud!