Friday, September 15, 2006

And what makes me so qualified to edit children's books?

It's interesting that Meghan just wrote about "What makes us so qualified to write for kids?" yesterday, because earlier this week I was just thinking about writing this post. I think about this every time I speak at a writer's conference, because as I've mentioned before, it feels odd to be in this position of power.

Some people think it's weird that so many children's book editors don't have children of their own. At my company, the only editor with children is our Publisher. There are many editors out there with children, but at my company it's a rare thing, and it's not deliberate. Many of us hope to have children one day. Many children's book authors and illustrators also don't have kids, and in fact a few famously dislike them. So, does this make us less qualified to judge what children will like? I don't think so.

To expand on what I've commented below, to a cewrtain extent, kids will like most anything you put in front of them if you present it the right way. Of course, this isn't completely true, but this is why so many prospective writers say in their cover letters, "I've tested this on my child/grandchild/2nd grade class/daycare and they loved it" and why this doesn't influence us editors one little smidgeon. For the most part, kids will like a little cartoon with stick figures about a person who farts that you draw for them. But do I want to publish that? No. But perhaps another editor will. The truth is, children are so diverse--one child's favorite picture book will be the Berenstain Bears, another's will be The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, another's will be Todd Parr's books. And another will love all three, but hate Richard Scarry. It's hard to predict what child will like what book, and it could drive us crazy trying.

I think much of the answer is illuminated by Libby's post on Wednesday. Seven beginnings, and for the most part, we all had different reactions to them. It just reinforces the fact that this is a subjective business.

Not to keep beating the diversity issue over the head, but the truth is, editors have different tastes and philosophies, and the more diverse a group editors are, the more we will ensure that we're publishing books that all kinds of children will like. When I acquire a book, sometimes I'm acquiring it as the kid I once was, and sometimes I'm acquiring it as the adult I've become. Everything comes into play. The editor of the Gossip Girl and A-List series, who works on mainly young women's commercial fiction, has said that she's looking for books that will entertain--that's her main goal, and she's certainly achieved that. Another editor is looking for really fun, humorous middle grade novels that are age appropriate. I tend to be drawn to novels that I feel are "important" (I feel a little silly saying that, but it's true). And because of the different interests and backgrounds and tastes of our editors, our company published a pretty wide range of books: commercial and literary, silly and serious, issues and light, fiction and fantasy, historical and contemporary, etc..

But I guess I haven't really answered the question of what makes me qualified. But the truth is, I don't really know. I'm a voracious reader. I have been from before I can remember. I love books. But is that enough? Part of it is just the on the job training, the apprenticeship. I could go through my resume--my bookselling experience, my internships, working with children, "playing well with others..." I don't know what it is, really. Many people don't last long in this business, and yet I can't imagine being apart from it. Maybe it's the same thing that drives people on the creative side. The passion, the love, the need. At any rate, here I am, and here I hope I'll stay.


Anna Alter said...

This post reminds me of that Ursula Nordstrom quote:

"Asked pointedly by Anne Carroll Moore, the New York Public Library's powerful superintendent of work with children, what qualified her (Ursula), a nonlibrarian, nonteacher, nonparent, and noncollege graduate to publish children's books, Nordstrom just as pointedly replied, 'Well, I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing.'"

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