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Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Heroes and Geniuses

March is National Women’s History Month. So I thought since we’re also celebrating heroes at Stone Arch Books this month, I’d take this opportunity to talk a little bit about one of my heroes.

These days, it’s not hard to find a female children’s book editor. There are a few major metropolises where you can’t turn around without looking at one. But just a few decades ago, there weren’t many women editors in the business, and children’s books as a separate industry didn’t even exist. The people who first decided to focus on books specifically written for children have shaped the industry—and more personally, my career. And many of them were women.

One of the most famous is Ursula Nordstrom. An editor at Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, her list of authors and illustrators reads like a “Best-of-Children’s-Lit” list. When I started my first internship in book publishing, the editor who mentored me recommended the book Dear Genius, Leonard Marcus’s collection of Ursula Nordstrom’s editorial letters. I was especially touched by (and felt so much in common with her because of) the first letter in the collection: a frantic letter written to Laura Ingalls Wilder in 1937, apologizing for a “stupid mistake” that had appeared in a dummy of On the Banks of Plum Creek.

At the time I first discovered Ursula Nordstrom, I was a college senior commuting to New York City for my internship. On the train to and from Manhattan, I’d read Ursula’s letters to her authors (people like Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, Shel Silverstein, E. B. White) and dream of the day I too would be a children’s book editor. So, in this month when we’re thinking about women and heroes, I’m thinking a lot about Ursula Nordstrom, grateful that she—and so many other women—paved the way for someone like me to achieve her childhood dream of reading books for kids all day long.

Beth Brezenoff
Senior Editor, SAB

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