introduction 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 booksÂ—The English Roses is the first in a series of fiveÂ—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- laughed. "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 saidÂ—but it's about a clique of jealous eleven-yearoldsÂ—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 laughingÂ—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 onAmazon.com, 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 canÂ—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 RabbitÂ—which, incidentally, does fit the literary conventions and developmental concerns of the picture book genreÂ—had 15 customer reviews and a sales rank of 478. The Amazon.com 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 nowÂ—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 Â© 2003 Children's Literature Association The Constantly Â¡UnjChanging World of Children's Book Publishing 131 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 actÂ—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 Amazon.com. 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 rightÂ—at around the 21st draft (hm... I wonder how many drafts of The English Roses Madonna wrote?)Â— 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 publishingÂ—the editor of my first two novels, Harold Underdown at Orchard, had already been laid off due to the widespread downsizing trendÂ—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 book." 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 132 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, 2002. 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. tinue. Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature. Ed. Sheila Egoff, A visitor to Amazon.com 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. WORKS CITED Callaway, Nicholas. "Q & A with Nicholas Callaway, Chairman and CEO of Callaway Arts & Entertainment." The English Roses. 2003. Callaway. 9 October 2003 <http://www.callaway.com/ Press/ER%20Media%20Kit/nicholasQ%26A.html>. "The English Roses by Madonna Richie." Amazon.com. Sep. 2003. 7 October 2003 <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/ 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 Treasurer.
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