Document 61837

The Constantly (Un)Changing World of Children's
Book Publishing
By Lisa Rowe Fraustino
Last week a student asked me what I thought of
publishing. They become active in the Society of
Madonna's new children's book. I confessed that I had
Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, attend confer-
not read it and therefore could not give an opinion. My
student rolled her eyes at me and shook her head and
ences, take classes, participate in critique groups. And
along the way, this torturous publication quest trains authors away from such literary sins as triteness, condescension, sentimentality, didacticism, political incorrectness,
and age-inappropriateness. Professionals learn about the
forms and formats of children's books published for various audiences and adapt their writing accordingly; for
instance, putting cliques of jealous eleven-year-olds into
chapter books for middle-aged children instead of picture books for preschool and early elementary readers.
Madonna, of course, didn't have to run the literary
gauntlet before getting published. From a business perspective, why should she? Her books—The English Roses
is the first in a series of five—will find a ready market
regardless of all the literary no-no's that no no-name author could sell. According to publisher Nicholas Callaway,
the book was released in 30 languages in over 100 coun-
"Now wait," I said magnanimously. "Just because
Madonna's a celebrity doesn't mean she can't write. She
has talent. She has rhythm. She might be able to transfer
skills to children's writing." (After all, couldn't I, a
children's book writer and scholar, make music videos as
well as Madonna, if only I had the time?)
More students joined the eye rolling and head shaking and laughing while those who had seen Madonna's
book jumped on each other's sentences describing The English Roses to me. It's an illustrated storybook for ages 4 to
8, they said—but it's about a clique of jealous eleven-yearolds—and the text is really long, with lots of preaching
from a fairy godmother. Yes, my students had learned their
lessons well. They knew what I would think. So, without
having read the book, I joined the eye rolling and head
tries on September 15th, 2003, in "the widest simultaneous
shaking and laughing—not at Madonna but at the mixedup world of children's book publishing.
Serious aspiring authors (that is, those who aren't
already famous for something else) spend years of rejection-riddled apprenticeship learning to write publishable
books; for me, ten years between my first draft and my
first book signing. Our early submissions for publication
are almost always returned, often unread, with generic
rejection slips. We can hardly blame the editors for this
insensitive practice; the "slush pile" of unsolicited manuscripts received at top trade houses numbers in the thousands every year. Writers rejoice on that memorable day
release of any book in publishing history" (np). Two weeks
later, The English Roses hit #1 on the New York Times Best
Seller List for picture books. By October 7, when I looked
the book up, it had already garnered 234
customer reviews and shot up to 38 in sales rank. By com-
when an actual editor writes an actual letter about the
actual manuscript and signs her name in actual ink. Dabblers and hobbyists and people writing down the cute little
stories they made up for their own darling children and
grandchildren tend to drop away after a few years of this
investment in wasted postage. Dedicated writers stay with
it, learning all they can—about children and children's
literature, about the writing craft, about the business of
parison, the 2003 Caldecott Award winner, Eric
Rohmann's My Friend Rabbit—which, incidentally, does
fit the literary conventions and developmental concerns
of the picture book genre—had 15 customer reviews and
a sales rank of 478.
The reviewing debate over The English
Roses is fierce, with satisfied customers repeatedly praising its great message, important lessons, and cuteness
while dissatisfied lovers of children's literature rail the
book for its didactic message, adult-spouted lessons, and
valorization of anorexic beauty. Madonna may not have
experienced the editorial criticism gauntlet before publication, but she's going through it now—and if she listens
to her critics and works hard, I believe she could learn to
write a good children's book. After all, the majority of
© 2003 Children's Literature Association
The Constantly ¡UnjChanging World of Children's Book Publishing
beginning writers make the same sorts of mistakes she
made in her first book. They just don't get to see them in
print. Madonna has potential, but of course she doesn't
have a track record for cleaning up her act—and why
my wall now if not for Patti Gauch. She is true to her
words: "The idea for a great book has to come from the
inside, from the individuality of person: editor, author,
would she want to?
tial line in the sand for many in the editorial world." No,
not all editors would publish Madonna.
The discussion of contemporary publishing continues in a series of three papers that were part of a National
Council of Teachers of English conference panel discussion chaired by Daniel Hade and sparked by his 2002 Horn
Book article, "Storyselling: Are Publishers Changing the
Way Children Read?" First Lissa Paul provides background in "A Pocket-History," in which she reviews
Newbery's "holy trinity of children's book advertising:
instruction, delight, and, and toys" and shows that today's
"synergistic relationship between toys and books is much
as it was in the eighteenth century." Hade provides a digested version of "Storyselling," followed by a response
from Scholastic's Director of Library and Educational Marketing, John Mason. While pointing out that "books have
Celebrities perform to please the popular culture,
and here the market-savvy Madonna has triumphed yet
again. Yes, her name got Madonna published; however, I
don't believe it's her name that's making the book a
bestseller. While her notoriety might cause people to pick
the book up and look at it, most actually buy it because
they like what they see. In fact, significant numbers of
buyers like the book enough to post passionate five-star
reviews defending it on And why do readers like The English Roses? For the same reason that they
like The Berenstain Bears, Lynne Cheney's books, and a
host of other popular children's publications that the literati love to hate: because it fits neatly into the popular
(mis)conception of what many (if not most) adults think
children's literature is and ought to be. To echo John Rowe
Townsend's words from way back in 1967, "Years ago we
threw the old didacticism (dowdy morality) out of the
window; it has come back in at the door wearing modern
dress (smart values) and we do not even recognize it" (56).
The moral majority is willing to pay for children's books
that teach lessons in proper behavior, even if they are written by Madonna. What we have here is dowdy morality
in modern dress. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. Ma-
artist. Protecting that creative place has become an essen-
to sell if they are to reach their audience," Mason also ar-
gues that the publishing success at Scholastic depends on
making reading and literacy top priorities.
From Newbery's "instruction" to Scholastic's "literacy," children's book publishing has always responded
to and served education. In "Of Funnybones and Steam
Shovels: Juvenile Publishing, Progressive Education, and
I have learned from editing this special Quarterly issue on
the Lyrical Left," Julia Mickenberg indicates the significant ways that the Left influenced both education and
children's literature between the World Wars. Through
what she calls "children's liberation," Mickenberg shows
how the Lyrical Left imagined and predicted social trans-
publishing is that priorities haven't changed all that much
formation in works of children's literature that "would
since Newbery's time.
The issue begins with an insider look at publishing
over the past twenty years from the viewpoint of Patricia
serve as a 'usable past' to later Leftists who entered the
Lee Gauch, who describes her experiences as Editor in
Comic Elton and The Age of Fun: Robert H. Elton and the
Chief of Philomel Books. Known in the business as a bril-
Picture Book," where he argues: "By emphasizing the importance of illustration over text and valorizing technical
novelty, Elton's publications signal a distinctive turning
of demotic literature in the 1830s and 1840s and prefigure
the formal properties of the twentieth-century picture
terial Girl, meet Sarah Trimmer.
Madonna is merely a new face on an old body of
children's literature. In fact, what strikes me most in what
liant mentor, Gauch has nurtured three decades of talent
old and new, beginning in the 1970s as an author and a
teacher. In the early 1990s she critiqued several drafts of
my story about a blind boy and his grandmother whose
will sends the family on a scavenger hunt. Finally I got
the story right—at around the 21st draft (hm... I wonder
how many drafts of The English Roses Madonna wrote?)—
but, alas, at that time the Philomel list was being
downsized from 60 to 20 books. She was unable to publish my book, or me. Those were tough times to forge new
relationships in publishing—the editor of my first two
novels, Harold Underdown at Orchard, had already been
laid off due to the widespread downsizing trend—but
eventually my manuscript was taken by Arthur Levine at
Scholastic and published in 2001. The Hickory Chair went
on to receive numerous awards that I doubt would be on
field of children's literature in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s."
Michael Joseph looks to the previous century in "Old
In "Fairy Tales, Teletnachus, and Young Misses Magazine: Moderns, Ancients, Gender, and Eighteenth-Century
Children's Book Publishing," Ruth B. Bottigheimer surveys some significant early publications read by English
children and corrects some common historical myths. At
the conclusion of her essay, she invites others to join her
in compiling "a bibliography of books available to and
read by English children in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries." Bottigheimer begins, though, with a summary
of the culture war between the Moderns and the Ancients
during that time. "One side held up modern stories such
as fairy tales with their simple diction and their ethical
moralities as a superior ideal; the other admired the noble
content, elegant style, and aesthetic values of the ancient
world's literature and art." How much, yet how little
things have changed in the world of children's book publishing. Our politics may waffle, but our culture wars con-
Children's Literature Association Quarterly
Fraustino, Lisa Rowe. The Hickory Chair. New York: Scholastic,
Richie, Madonna. The English Roses. New York: Callaway, 2003.
Rohmann, Eric. My Friend Rabbit. New York: Millbrook, 2002.
Townsend, John Rowe. "Didacticism in Modern Dress." 1967.
Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature. Ed. Sheila Egoff,
A visitor to may listen to a video clip
of the author introducing The English Roses. She tells us,
"It deals with envy and jealousy. I only wish I had read
about these subjects when I was a little kid." Apparently
she never read "Cinderella." Good-bye Perrault, hello
Madonna. I can't help but roll my eyes and shake my head
and laugh.
et al. New York: Oxford UP, 1980. 55-62.
Callaway, Nicholas. "Q & A with Nicholas Callaway, Chairman
and CEO of Callaway Arts & Entertainment." The English Roses.
2003. Callaway. 9 October 2003 <
"The English Roses by Madonna Richie." Sep. 2003.
7 October 2003 <
detail/ /0670036781 /ref=ase_thebookgrouplist/104-40289207137505?v=glance&s=books>.
Lisa Rowe Fraustino is an Assistant Professor of English at
Eastern Connecticut State University and a Visiting Associate
Professor in the Graduate Program in Children's Literature at
Hollins University, specializing in both creative writing and
criticism of children's and young adult literature. Her most recent books include The Hickory Chair (Arthur Levine/Scholastic 2001), Sovil Searching: Thirteen Stories of Faith and
Belief (Simon & Schuster 2002), and the forthcoming Don't
Cramp My Style: Stories about That Time of the Month
(Simon & Schuster 2004). An active member of the Children's
Literature Association, she has served on its Phoenix Commit-
tee and on its Board of Directors, currently in the position of