When Dr. Laura Berk began writing her first textbook on child development, her work followed her home from the classroom at Illinois State University. There was research and writing to do, of course, and there were also her own children to care for and learn from. At the time, the early-career professor had two young sons, then ages eight and 11.

Dr. Berk has continued writing child development and lifespan development texts for more than 30 years. Her textbooks are widely adopted by instructors and much praised by faculty members and students alike.

In May, SAGE Publishing’s U.S. college division announced a new author/publisher partnership with Dr. Berk, who is distinguished professor emerita in the department of psychology at Illinois State University. SAGE now becomes the exclusive publisher of Berk’s bestselling titles.

Together, the textbooks are considered an essential resource on human development from infancy to adolescence and into adulthood. SAGE and Dr. Berk are currently working on integrating her titles into the SAGE Vantage learning platform which will provide assignable multimedia activities, auto-graded assessments, and more to instructors using her texts.

In a recent Velocity of Content podcast interview from Copyright Clearance Center, Dr. Berk looked back and looked ahead on her career as a textbook author.

“I sought a wider reach than was afforded by the research articles, book chapters, and course assignments reflected on my vitae,” she recalled. “I just wished to reach more students, more faculty. In reality I had no idea what it would take. The time and effort were just immense. It required unremitting library research to keep pace with a rapidly changing and evolving subject across hundreds of topics, and a thick skin in the face of conflicting feedback from many, many scholarly reviewers.”

Dr. Berk is widely recognized for her ability to make that research accessible to students through textbooks. “Students expect a coherent, compelling, interesting, integrated narrative,” she said. In addition, students look for representation in the materials. “They want to see themselves and their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the text. And they want to see images that look like themselves. They should expect that, and we have a responsibility to deliver on that,” she said.

“I am conscious of the importance of representing diversity, of representing culture and social and health issues facing children and their families and the developing adult as well, the reason being the dramatic impact of these contextual factors on development,” Dr. Berk explained.

In her textbooks, LGBTQIA+ children, adults, and families especially have long found a place. “I included in my titles early on evidence on development of kids in lesbian and gay families, of development of gender minority children, on lesbian and gay parents and child-rearing, and on lesbian and gay adults. As the research appeared, I felt a strong responsibility to include it.

“More recently, we have an increasing body of research on transgender children, and I have included that in the last couple of editions of my texts. So it’s a high priority for me, and I plan to pay serious attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion of all kinds. We can’t really understand development without doing that.”

The late career move to a new publisher is “highly unusual,” Dr. Berk conceded, but one she made deliberately. “During a series of discussions with their key editorial managers, I was just very, very impressed with SAGE’s steadfast commitment to high-quality content, excellent writing, and first-rate pedagogy. All of that was very apparent to me. We had such common values.

“I have to say signing with a publisher is somewhat like getting married,” she added with a laugh. “And I felt such a commonality of purpose with SAGE.”

For would-be authors considering writing a textbook, Dr. Berk encourages self-reflection even before beginning the allimportant research. “I think all successful textbooks start with a vision, a mission. It stems generally from teaching insights and knowledge of the discipline with a sense of how to improve on texts that exist. So I think, ask yourself about what is that vision, and how clear is it for you and the prospective publisher?

“How will two or three years of working on a text in a large market fit into your personal life? My two sons were quite young when I began writing my first textbook. I had moments where I wondered, was this the right decision?”

Christopher Kenneally hosts the Velocity of Content podcast from Copyright Clearance Center.