Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Leonard S. Marcus/DEAR GENIUS

This collection of letters written by children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom is interesting for a few reasons:

1. It shows the low status of children's book publishing when it was in its early years.

2. It offers insight into the character of Nordstrom, who often apologized for her inability to clearly communicate her thoughts and who was more interested in "good books for bad children" than anything superficially moral.

3. It illustrates how an editor might work with her authors--i. e., by being brutally honest about what works and what doesn't, by offering suggestions without demanding changes, by telling her authors whether they were really doing their best work.

Nordstrom worked with such famous authors as Maurice Sendak, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and E. B. White. Her letters provide glimpses of how she shaped their work. One letter to Sendak asks if he would like to change the last line of his famous picture book Where the Wild Things Are (a line which refers to Max's supper being ready for him when he returns from his journey) to "and it was still warm" instead of "and it was still hot." I've only ever seen it as the latter, which I think is superior by far. Good thing Sendak didn't want to change it!

The book is pretty long (about 400 pages), but it's easy enough to skip around looking for letters to your favorite authors. It's also great for writers who are still learning about the editing process.

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