Liz Van Doren
Editorial Director
Gulliver Books/Harcourt

One of the biggest arguments of my career, before I had a child, took place one night with two colleagues--one who had a child and one who didn't--about whether to be a truly good children's book editor, one had to have children. I was emphatically on the "no" side, and I still am, but having a child definitely changed my approach to how I look at books, what I appreciate about them and how I help to develop the books that I edit.

The first thing I noticed, in reading to my baby, was how much I loved simple, rhyming texts, particularly of the kind that I might, behind my desk, have dismissed as being too predictable or too common. There's nothing in life that duplicates the staggering exhaustion of having a new baby, and I found patterned, rhythmic texts really soothing to myself as well as my daughter.

The second revelation, as Lily got a little older and more aware of the stories in the books, was how much I appreciate a short book, especially on the nights when we are all pushed to the bedtime limit. For years, sales reps have been saying, "No, they passed on this or that, there was too much text." As a parent, I get it in a completely different way, particularly as my daughter demands longer stories and I find myself choosing which sentences I can skip in the too-long book she has insisted on hearing for the umpteenth night in a row. It has reminded me to be ever more vigilant about what is unnecessary to a picture book text.

And the third thing that strikes me is how hypercritical I am of the books I read to my daughter, more than I ever imagined I would be. I think my experience as an editor has made the just-less-than-perfect endings, that one word that probably should have been changed but wasn't, the slightly quirky logic of a plot that wasn't completely solved stand out to me in a way that they don't to my friends-with-kids who aren't in publishing. I realize that I never have a pure reading experience when I'm reading with my daughter because that editor voice is always in my head.

Christy Ottaviano
Executive Editor
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

I have two little boys (ages four and two) and their interests, tastes, and reactions to books have greatly affected how I evaluate and edit picture books as well as what I acquire.

Around the time my son turned two, he became fascinated with trucks of all kinds. It was a fun challenge to find him good, age-appropriate books on the subject that satisfied his interest. When he was two and a half, he was intrigued by tools. As with trucks, I quickly learned everything on the subject (who would have ever thought I'd know the difference between an anvil and an awl?). These two subjects in particular had absolutely no appeal to me before having children. But watching my son's curiosity and excitement grow for these subjects inspired me in ways I never could have imagined. I saw the simplicity and eloquence of the text and art in many of the books he adored (Anne Rockwell's books, for instance) and took up the challenge to acquire my own books on these subjects.

Just recently, my older son has become fascinated with the human body and how it functions, so I am curious to see where this will take me. I am also expecting another child. It's a girl this time around, so new interests are definitely ahead.

In terms of what I see differently, I don't have a lot of patience for overly sophisticated picture books that are geared more for adults than children. I do have much more appreciation for books that combine thoughtful, well-written texts with accessible and imaginative artwork that is age-appropriate--a key element that I seem to understand better now.

Nancy Grant
V-P, Managing Director
Kingfisher Publications

Having a child of your own, when you publish children's books, is like going home to America's Test Kitchen every night. Right there in your very own living room is the person who can give you the straight answer on the project you've been working on. One of the paradoxes of children's publishing is that we (the adults) spend countless hours in meetings and development to come up with something we think young readers will like. At home we get to test it out on the real thing: a reader who has some (very real) opinions.

I think that those of us in publishing who have children at home naturally think about the books that we publish through the lens of parenthood. I have always found this useful. What we learn locally becomes the foundation for successful publishing in the wider market.

Elise Howard
V-P, Executive Editorial Director
HarperCollins Children's Books

My son, Tristan, has changed the way I think about publishing over and over again, from the time he began going to the school library to pick out his own books about sharks, snakes, bugs and spiders rather than the brilliant, beautiful picture books I had always selected on his behalf. He's caused to me slow down and reconsider a manuscript I've left lying next to a living room armchair and may have read too quickly, just as he's deftly pierced my enthusiasm for a potential acquisition with one apt, incisive observation. Last year, he let me know I should be watching our Warriors series, which had become a considerable hit among the sixth graders at Maplewood [N.J.] Middle School. Most recently, he has been my lifeline in the world of manga and anime. Without him, I wouldn't know Sailor Moon from Rorouni Kenshin from Shonen Jump. I'll never get a clue about Magic: The Gathering, one of his other great passions, but someone else already publishes those books anyway....

Michael Green
Associate Publisher and Editorial Director
Philomel Books

When writers ask me what I look for first in a manuscript, I always answer "voice." Yet my own notion of what makes for a successful voice has evolved since I had a child. Picture books are multidimensional beings, there to be read, seen, spoken and sometimes even touched. To edit a picture book text and not to read it aloud is to ignore part of its nature. More than once I have been reading aloud a book to my son, Jordan, only to trip on sentence structure or rhythm. I owe him a debt of gratitude for making me more conscious of this when editing my own picture books.

Megan Tingley
V-P, Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I was never interested in editing books about trucks and didn't understand why they were so popular. But now that I have a 21-month-old son, I finally get it! So, if I were to publish my "wish list" as a parent, it would look something like this: Trucks; More Trucks; 101 Trucks; How About These Trucks? Unfortunately, I don't have any of my own truck books to read with Leo, but I can't resist "testing" out some of my other titles on him. This requires me to check my ego at the door, as some of my suggestions are met with an emphatic "NO!" (often followed by the offending title being hurled across the room).

After I had Leo, Christy Ottaviano at Holt sent me a copy of Digger Man. I have to admit I liked it fine, but thought it was probably a book we'd read a few times and then move on. Boy, was I wrong! Other books have come and gone, but we are still reading Digger Man nearly every day after almost two years. Seeing how powerfully Leo connects to this story, and to others like it, has given me more confidence to go with my gut and publish books that appeal directly to a child's sensibility, rather than worry about whether they will attract the attention of parents, reviewers, booksellers, etc. It's really hard to do these days, but I'd like to believe that if children themselves love a book, eventually the gatekeepers will come around.

Rebecca Davis
Senior Editor
Greenwillow Books

My son, Timothy, is 19 months old, so at this point he’s only had an impact on the way I think about picture books for the youngest audience. I don’t think he’s actually shown me anything that I didn’t already know intellectually. I always believed that short texts, rhythm, repetition and endings with punch were important in young picture books, for example. But he’s shown me just how important those things are. As I watch him hold onto the penultimate page of one of his favorite books (Freight Train by Donald Crews), turning it ever so slowly and bubbling with anticipation as I read the words (“Going, going...”), and then bursting into laughter as he finally flips the page over (“gone”), I appreciate a surprise ending on a deeper, more emotional level. I’m looking for the same elements I used to in a young manuscript, but I’m more sensitive to them now, and enjoy them more when I find them.

Allyn Johnston
Editorial Director
Harcourt Children’s Books

If I’d said it once to writers, I’d said it 10,000 times—that I absolutely did not want to see any rhyming manuscripts because they were usually so award-winningly horrible—and besides no one could possibly approach Dr. Seuss’s brilliance, so why bother?

And then nine years ago we had our son, and my husband and I spent the first year and a half reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom aloud. I saw how much sharing that rhyming, bouncing wordplay brought the three of us together, and at last my icy heart softened with regard to rhyming books.

I can’t say I’ve found a whole lot of brilliant new rhyming manuscripts to publish since then, but I do have a much different respect for the genre.

Nancy Paulsen
G. P. Putnam’s Sons

I always cringe when I hear editors or librarians begin a sentence with “My child loved this...,” as what kids loved is so subjective, and one child’s opinion doesn’t really tell you that much. So I try not to use my kids as reviewers in that sense.

But having kids has given me access to knowledge and I try to find out as much as I can about the curriculum as we go through it, which has helped me very much while editing nonfiction picture books like Cod—which we adapted from an adult bestseller. We particularly stressed exploration, ecology and the economy when adapting the book as we know the classroom would find those aspects useful.

A book which we will publish in May, On Earth, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, came about when I learned how commonly kids mix up rotation and revolution. Brian was game to do a beautiful, poetic picture book that would explain these mysteries (and we spent more hours on this manuscript than most picture books - it is complicated!)

Katherine Tegen
Editorial Director at Large
Katherine Tegen Books
HarperCollins Children’s Books

Having children definitely changed my perspective on publishing children’s books. Like millions of sleep-deprived parents, I searched for the picture books that were short, and that I could stand reading over and over again at a point of near-exhaustion every night. I finally understood the meaning of “read-aloud,” because I was reading aloud every night. And I would edit the books that I thought were too long and tedious as I read them out loud I finally understood the magic of a book like Goodnight Moon—it wasn’t just the text that had a unique poetry to it (and that was so wonderfully short!), it was also the coziness of that room, and finding the mouse on every page.

Now that my children are older, I’m looking for fiction that is funny and fast-paced, or that has a great hook, or maybe something magical happening. Books that adults think have merit—literary, lyrical, etc.—are often just plain boring to kids. Believe me, my children have no problem telling me when they think something is boring.

Paula Wiseman
Paula Wiseman Books
Simon & Schuster

Being a parent made me like shorter picture books and sports books, though I am an unlikely candidate for the latter. When my children began reading, I began to see that just because I thought they should read a certain book, didn’t at all mean that they thought so too. I saw that my son was happy to read anything related to sports, and the same was true for his friends. So I’ve come to publish books about sports as a way to keep him interested in reading, and it’s working. It’s been fun to publish books like By My Brother’s Side and Game Day and now my son thinks I’m kind-of-cool-sometimes and that I’m knowledgable about sports (but it’s really the authors, not me of course, who are, but don’t tell Luke that).

Nancy Traversy
President and Co-founder
Barefoot Books

We [Traversy and co-founder Tessa Strickland] started Barefoot Books in a fairly unconventional way, working from our homes and surrounded by our children, who were always integral to our decision-making process and working culture. We have seven children between us who have grown up with illustrators arriving at breakfast and couriers calling at midnight, immersed in literature, creativity and a busy working environment. We believed that we could show them that, if you want to make a difference and do it on your own terms, you can. We have learned a huge amount from our children as individuals and also from their teachers, classmates and friends. Many times, they have helped us make choices between various artists we were considering for a project: “Which pictures works best with this text?” or “Which illustrations do you like more?” They have also often read manuscripts at a very early stage in development and let us know their initial impressions. Sometimes we listened and sometimes we trusted our own judgment!

I can’t imagine producing children’s books in an ivory tower. It is really important to understand what parents want for their children and what children respond to, all the time, never lowering the standard. As our children have become older, our flagship store in Cambridge now provides us with a vehicle to solicit feedback from parents and children about what works and what doesn’t and where there are gaps in the market. It is wonderful to continue to be surrounded by children of all ages and to stay grounded and connected!

Beverly Horowitz
V-P, Publisher
Bantam Delacorte Dell
Books for Young Readers

Having children has humbled me as an editor. Now that my children are teenagers, I really have been put in my place! I realize you do not have to have kids to be good at this job, but it is interesting to understand some issues at an entirely different--emotional and practical--level.

I am a lucky mother. My two daughters are readers and have always been willing to read manuscripts I give them. The rule is that they do not have to worry about my feelings when they react--they just have to be honest about what they think. I never use their opinions for acquisition; I usually give them something after it is acquired. They might hate or love something for reasons that never crossed my mind. But at other times we are all in sync. That is a happy moment--loving the same book.

What has always stood out about their reactions is that they hate fake. They sometimes have said, "That author thinks she knows what a kid thinks or feels, but she is just an adult who has forgotten what it is really like to be in school, or deal with bullies," or whatever the subject is. And they really hate fake dialogue. "What kid talks that way?" It is gratifying when I hear them say how memorable a character is or how beautiful the writing is. Kids do recognize these aspects of a novel.

Having kids and reading with them gives me enormous pleasure. It reminds me that this is happening in households all over the world. It may sound corny, but it really is a splendid way to share ideas and time together. I never forget the power of a good book.

Return to the Spring 2005 Announcements Main Page