Tag Archive for Lois Lowry

One Question, Five Authors #12: “Do You Have Any Heroes in Children’s Publishing?”

 

If I were English, I might say that I was dead chuffed by this edition of “One Question,” the internet’s laziest interview series. Thankfully, that expression won’t be expressed here. Not on my watch! Let’s just say I really like how this turned out. I was glad to see the various directions our contributors took in response to my open-ended question. Speaking of contributors: Lois Lowry’s in the house! I have enormous respect for Everything Lois and it is a true honor to have her visit my little blog, pull up a milk crate (note to self: buy chairs!), and hang out with the rest of us. Speaking of heroes, the answers here are provided by Heather Alexander, Lois Lowry, Elaine Magliano, R.W. Alley, and Kurtis Scaletta. Thanks, one and all! You did good.

 

Heather Alexander

My mother asks the same question about each book I’ve edited since I started in children’s publishing: “But where is your name?” The message came across loud and clear — all my hours of work didn’t count because my name wasn’t printed on the cover (or, really, anywhere). Throughout my reading-under-the-covers childhood, I’d naively believed that words flowed from an author’s imagination directly onto the page and then were bound seamlessly into the book in my hands. The important person’s name was displayed prominently on the cover, and those authors became my heroes. It wasn’t until I got behind-the-scenes did I realize how many talented people toil to make a book — and elevate a so-so author to a great author and a great author to an amazing author. Editors, copyeditors, fact checkers, designers, production managers — the list goes on. I was lucky to have been taught by some of the best editors in the business — true magicians able to conjure greatness from the clumsiest of sentences. I’ve also been fortunate, as an author, to have awesome editors and fact checkers carefully watching my back. So as far as children’s publishing heroes go, I’m giving my shout out to all the uncelebrated people behind each and every book. (And, now, if every author reading this writes the name of his or her trusted editor or designer in the comments section, I suspect you’ll make their moms so, so happy!)

 

Lois Lowry

It won’t come as a surprise to hear me mention Walter Lorraine, who become my editor after the editor who had acquired my first book in 1977 moved on to another company. Walter was/is deservedly renowned as an editor of picture books — Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, James Marshall, and Allen Say were among his superstars. I don’t think he felt that the editing of prose was his forté. But when I landed (figuratively) in his lap, it was a fine pairing because I had a background as a photographer and had brought, I think, a heightened visual sense to my own writing. Walter perceived that, appreciated it, nurtured it. He was also a purist, as I am, and hated — as I do still — the commercialization of children’s books. He loathed the spin-offs: the toys and games and money-making gee-gaws vaguely related to literature. As he moved (grumbling) toward retirement, after fifty-five years in the field, he saw himself as something of a dinosaur in a publishing world that was moving away from the patient and painstaking encouragement of ideas and true art. I was fortunate to have been his colleague during those magical years.

 

Elaine Magliaro

My hero is Grace Lin. Grace is a dear friend. We met nearly twenty years ago when she was just starting out in children’s publishing. At that time, she was illustrating other authors’ books and writing and illustrating her own picture books. Since then she has truly blossomed as a master in the field of children’s literature. In addition to picture books, she has written early readers, realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She’s won a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Josette Frank Award, a Theodor Geisel Honor — and been a National Book Award Finalist. Grace has definitely found success in her chosen profession.

I admire Grace for more than the awards that she has won, though. She is a hero to me because she has remained true to herself and to her heritage. Grace has provided young readers with a heart-warming look into her culture and her own personal experiences when she was growing up as a minority in upstate New York. She has been an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement and for gender equality in children’s publishing. She is a strong individual who has dealt with difficult situations in her life with great resolve and grace. I know her to be a true and loyal friend who NEVER forgets a kindness done for her. She is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. The great success she has been met with has not changed the sweet young woman that I met years ago.

 

R.W. Alley

My hero in children’s publishing? I’m taking the question to mean, not authors and illustrators, but rather editors and publishers, which makes it more interesting. Editors and publishers shape the tone of an imprint.
 At the start of my career, there was a clear distinction between “trade” and “mass market” publishers. This played out in content (trade = literature, mass market = entertainment) as well as in production values (trade = dust-jackets over cloth covers, mass market = paperback and uncoated paper). Of course there was overlap, but generally that was the idea. Sendak was literature. Scarry was mass market.

I dropped into that world as a long-haired, clean-shaven, John Lennon glasses high school grad with a very heavy (by weight) portfolio and a NYC map marked up with publisher locales and switchboard phone numbers. Art directors had portfolio viewing days. Some met in person. 
My publishing hero was a meet-in-person art director, Grace Clarke. I came to know lots (but not enough) about Grace later. She was kind, but straight-forward. At our first meeting, she made it clear that my sketchbook was more interesting than my carefully curated (and matted) portfolio. She gave me a copy of the “new” series she was publishing (Tintin) from her then-desk at Western Publishing (Golden Books) and told me I should think about that format. (I did and I continue to.)
 But what elevated Grace to hero status in my small world was something I found out years later. My parents (respectable college professor and protective mother of an only child) wrote to Grace (my mom dictated the letter to my dad, as per usual) and asked her not to encourage my art. In fact, they asked that she please actively discourage it. Their son had college to attend and an academic path ahead. Art was at best a sideline. At its worst, a dead-end ending in a flophouse.

Instead, this is what Grace did. She filed away the letter, kept in touch and, right after I graduated from college, offered me my first book. It took her over fifteen years, but she finally revealed my parents letter. She said she’d waited to make sure she’d made the right call. In the meantime, I’d gotten more books, gotten married and gotten my parents kinda on board with the artist thing. For that waiting, for the care she exercised in tending the psyche of a young man in his relationship with his art and his parents, Grace Clarke is my publishing hero.
 Thanks for asking, Jimmy.

 

Kurtis Scaletta

My heroes are the school librarians, booksellers, preschool teachers, and so forth who create and cultivate readers, find the money to book authors, and make those authors feel appreciated. Yeah, they’re paid to do it, but not much. OK, I actually work at a literary organization so maybe this is a little self-serving! But seriously, I really do love all the people who help us do what we do.

Another of my heroes is a local author. Her writing is lovely and has won major awards but I admire her because of her kindness. She’s supportive of everyone who writes. She rallies behind anyone who needs it. She remembers everyone’s kids’ names and asks about them. She doesn’t just ask to be polite, she really cares.
The Greek origin of the word “hero” is a person who is both god and human. I’ve had enough of the heroes who are all about the god half, and appreciate more the ones who live up to the human half.

On Lois Lowry and the Perils of The New York Times Comments Section

There was a nice piece on Lois Lowry, written by Dan Kois, in the October 3 edition of The New York Times. It’s worth reading. I’m not a fanboy by nature, but with Lois Lowry I make an exception. I hold her in the highest regard, with great respect and admiration for the integrity of our work — and, even moreso, her commitment to her work. I think of her in the way I thought of Arnold Lobel: the real deal, the genuine magilla.

In the article, Lowry made a comment that made me think. To set the stage, the year was 1978, and Lowry was to give a commencement address to a local middle school:

She was preceded to the lectern by the principal, who told the bored, uncomfortable kids that these were their golden years. When Lowry spoke, she told them the principal was misleading them. These weren’t their golden years at all. At best they were a dull beige. She reminisced about her own eighth-grade year, when she was obsessed with a girl in her class who had enormous breasts when Lowry had none.

The kids laughed. But when Lowry looked out at the parents, she later wrote, “their faces were like concrete.” She realized that day that she could talk to kids or she could talk to adults, but not to both: “And so I chose the kids.”

I love that: I chose the kids. I’ve asked myself if that’s always true of my own work, or even if it’s possible. With the Jigsaw Jones series, for example, I was always aware of the potential parent in the room, the mother reading the story out loud at bedtime. And I was aware of the gatekeepers, the teachers, the librarians. Even before that, my editors and publisher. You have to navigate through a lot of adults before reaching an actual kid. Maybe that was wrong, but I tried to please those adults, too.

I remember coming across Bugs Bunny cartoons as an young adult, and realizing (then) that they often threw in some grown-up humor, with references that few children would understand. I liked how it worked on dual levels. Anyway, that’s NOT the section of the article that got the biggest response. Lowry was asked about The Hunger Games, and she had the temerity to respond carefully, respectfully, and honestly:

“I could certainly see why kids love it. It’s suspenseful. The plot moves right along. But I was troubled by the fact that it’s children killing children.”

Here’s are few highlights and lowlights from the Old Gray Lady’s comments section. In fairness, you should read the entire article, since some of these folks are taking issue with Mr. Kois’ handling of the article, more than anything Lois Lowry specifically said. The YA crowd is a tough (and yet sensitive!) readership, and some of them shoot arrows:

A.J. asks:

Is Ms. Lowry somehow implying parents should censor their children’s reading habits if the book doesn’t rise to the level of hers? I hope not.

Herzliebster writes:

Where is it written that to praise one author one is obliged to disparage others? Or that there is only one right way to write a book — or even one right way to write a dystopian novel for teens? Since when is literature, or even one subgenre of literature, a zero-sum game?

Cynthia Bishop:

I am beyond sad for Lois Lowry’s loss of her son, and in awe of her writing ability. Nonetheless, to imply that there can only be one kind of ‘good’ book for children and teens, and that all books written for the latter are violent and negative is simply ridiculous.

Elizabeth Hutchinson writes:

Why must every discussion of children’s or young adult literature invariably devolve into some sort of dismissal, in this case, that “every young adult book published is a dystopian thriller packed with action sequences,” a claim so easily disproven as to need no examples? Even as the NY Times (and NPR and many others) force themselves to acknowledge the indisputable presence of the YA market, there is always an undercurrent of “less-than,” and why is that? Is its sheer popularity a threat to some other authority? Maybe.

To which Tamora Pierce replies:

Yes, the dismissal gets very old. Anyone who walks down the aisle can disprove it immediately, and yet journalists and pontiificators insist on doing it. Surely the days of dissing the fiction that shapes our adult minds should be over? What’s worse, these pronouncements are usually made by those who have made no effort to read what is available–and sadly, that includes Ms. Lowry.

Alice comments;

All kudos to Lois Lowry, but I’m not sure why granting those kudos requires the digs at the Hunger Games, a series of novels embraced by no less a literary critic than Stanley Fish (and on this website!).

Thom McCan:

Euthanizing a baby, worrying about another girl who has large breasts while she has none, violence by children. This is supposed to help children understand the world?

And at last, mercifully, there’s Donald:

As a former children’s librarian, I read this article with interest and pleasure. Having enjoyed Lowry’s “Looking Back: a Memoir” so much so that I have given it as gifts to several people, I was thrilled to get a little bit more of the back story of her son’s death. That said, I am a bit shocked to see all the negative and angry comments. Methinks these folks doth protest too much! Mr. Kois you have done a fine job interviewing a Newbery medal winner and a legend. Kudos.

And most beautifully, Jane Hinrichs:

This is a wonderful piece of journalism. The quotes the journalist chose and the direction he went is beautiful commentary on a quartet of books that are so rich in meaning and beauty I think everyone on earth should read them. Lois Lowry is a genius in her writing.

I am sorry for those who have commented against what she said and what was written. She said good things about The Hunger Games. Her criticism of it was not against the author or the writing, but she gives thoughtful questions about why children killing children is a good thing to highlight. We can disagree with her or agree with her, but to then slam her for her opinion is not a good thing. She doesn’t slam The Hunger Games author at all.

If you haven’t read Lois Lowry’s books I recommend them. I’d let my youngest child read them though the material is not all happy. But it is written in a way that will get them thinking about what life is about.

Odds & Ends

Around the web . . .

* This was sweet and lovely and instructive on the value of seeing things from a different point of view.

* I recently read this book and it’s just about perfect, a 135-page gem.

* Paste Magazine recently listed their “15 Favorite Tina Fey Moments” and I laughed all the way through. I bought the audiobook of Bossypants for Lisa, and she loved it.

* OMG (and I never, ever type “OMG” — so take note, people!), have you seen the brilliant, beautiful cover that Greg Ruth did for The Secret Journeys of Jack London by Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden? It does everything a cover should do, makes you want to pick up the book and read it. Greg Ruth, my goodness. Wow.

* Okay, I guess Lois Lowry can be president after all. Seriously, I love her blog, somehow all that great humanity comes leaking through. And if my math’s not wrong, she looks terrific 97 years old.

* This is my favorite song from the new Fleet Foxes CD, “Helplessness Blues.” It’s a fan-made video of “Lorelai,” which opens with Brian Wilson-era harmonies and a touch of Dylan. “I was old news to you then, old news, old news to you then.”

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Men Reading: What You May Have Missed

In addition to the relentless snowbooking, I’ve been putting in time over at my new blog, FATHERS READ, which is dedicated to 1) fun photos of men reading; and 2) the importance of positive role models for boy readers.

Note: I want to pause for a moment to emphasize that these gender issues often devolve into an “us” versus “them” scenario, the boys against the girls, with advocates for each side lined up in opposition. This is unfortunate and counter-productive. What we want is readers, boys and girls. Yes, I wrote: the importance of positive role models on BOY readers. Because that’s my focus here, the statistical fact that boys do not read as much as girls. But on a larger scale, the fathers read movementha! — benefits boys and girls. I’m not pitting one against the other.

Please check it out, spread the word, send in photos. Things are eerily quiet over there, it’s the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  It’s a new blog and generally these things either take time or die on the vine. Right now, it’s too soon to tell.

Over the past two weeks:

* Author Lois Lowry tugged at my heart;

* Author Lewis Buzbee stopped by to contribute, “Five Things About Me as a Young Reader.”

* Peter Lerangis, author of many outstanding books, got fierce about reading.

* I’ve linked to useful, provocative articles on tips for boy-friendly educational approaches, the culture of low expectations, research that suggests how video games might actually boost brainpower, super dad seminars, 14 literacy strategies for boys, and more.

* Identified some pretty excellent father-based blogs.

* And for as long as supplies last . . . photos. Really great photos.

Please do what you can to amplify this important message.

Promote the site on your blog . . .

Send in a photo . . .

Honor a man who played a role in your development as a reader . . .

Don’t make me beg, people.

Lois Lowry & Me

I’ve never met Lois Lowry and I doubt she has any idea how terrific I am. But for my money time, she writes one of the few truly excellent blogs out there by authors. I mean to say, it’s not all self-obsessed twaddle. Maybe it’s because she’s already successful; Lois doesn’t feel compelled to relentlessly beat the drum of  self-promotion. But actually I think it’s because her interests range far beyond her own self, and the blog reflects that. So I make it a point to swing by from time to time.

Lois Lowry, right (she’s the one in the turtleneck).

I recently commented on one of her posts, “Do I ever work?” In it, Lois took a rare moment to discuss her writing, offered up some thoughts on transitions, and was mildly critical of another writer’s work. (Note: Lois admits to  mostly reading books for adults. I can relate to that.)

Anyway, Lois used my comment as fodder for today’s blog post, provocatively titled, “Put clothes on him. But not too many.” It’s about including details — without going overboard. You should read it.

When I ask my daughter, Maggie (age 9), to describe a movie she’s seen, she’ll go into excruciating, mind-numbing detail. Well, she’ll begin, warming to the topic, this happened, then this, then this, then this . . . until warm blood starts trickling from my ears. “For the love of all that is good and holy,” I’ll cry, “get to the point!”

That’s when I learn she’s only on the previews.

Maggie, you see, is at that stage in her development where she can’t quite separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s all important, and therefore, of course, nothing matters. I’ll beg, “Please, dear heart, just give us the highlights.”

It’s a basic mistake for many young writers. Too many details, too many dreary facts, most of them meaningless. As authors, we must seek the telling detail, not bury our characters under mountains of fact.

Anyway: I feel like the radio talk show caller who’s been on hold for the past half hour. Suddenly he’s gotten through and can’t quite believe it. “I’m on the air? Really? Lois, is that you? I thought you’d be taller.”