Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting my writing group buddies at the Chappaqua, N.Y. library to hear Leonard Marcus speak to a group of librarians. Leonard is probably the top authority on the history of children's literature, and has written and edited many books, including Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, and A Caldecott Celebration: Seven Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal. (Oh, and he's an awfully nice guy, too. We had a chance to talk with him. Of course my "shy" gene kicked-in. But at least I managed not to drool on myself.)
His presentation was based on his most recent book, Minders of Make Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature. (Whew-- these are some long titles!) What can I say-- it was fascinating. I love history, so when an author can take a specific subject such as children's lit, and weave it together with what is happening socially and politically in the wider world, well, I'm hooked.
His book covers a huge span of time, from the very first children's books imported from England to the Harry Potter phenomenon and beyond. Plus just about everything in between. (Did you know there was a time when books were hand-colored, usually by women and children, each person in charge of a single color as they passed the book around? Or that there was basically no copyright law in colonial times. If a printer/publisher saw a book they liked, say, in Virginia, they could copy the book and reprint it in Massachusetts. Interesting stuff!)
I wish there was a crystal ball to tell us what the future will bring for children's publishing, especially in these scary economic times. But learning about the ups and downs, what survives, what changes and adapts, and figuring out where you fit in the grand scheme of it all-- still leaves me an optimist.
(And here's a big thank you shout-out to Jody, my writing-group-librarian-buddy, who told us about this event. Go hug a librarian today!)