Senior Editor, Penguin Workshop
How did your career in publishing begin and what have been some of the highlights?
At one point in college, I thought I wanted to work in museums. But after a few museum internships, I decided I wanted to do something more rooted in the contemporary world. I've always loved books - I majored in intellectual history in college basically just so that I could read novels to get my degree - so I looked for jobs in publishing when I graduated.
I landed an editorial assistant job at G.P. Putnam's Sons at Penguin (on the adult side), which was a wonderful first job. I worked for two editors, and learned the ropes of publishing while requesting checks for people like Jesse Kellerman and Catherine Coulter. But I soon realized that children's books would be better suited to me - I longed to work with artists, and on the kinds of stories that had impacted me as a kid.
I got a job at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, working with the amazing Christy Ottaviano. I was in seventh heaven working there - I remember getting original art from artists and having to put them away in the flat files, wondering how I ever got so lucky.
A few years into that job, I felt ready to spread my wings and came over to Grosset & Dunlap, which is now Penguin Workshop. Workshop is the most creative and innovative place I've ever been. Brainstorms are par for the course at Workshop, and while they intimidated me at first (how will I come up with an idea every time??), I look forward to them now.
As Senior Editor for Penguin Workshop - what are your core responsibilities?
My job is to edit and acquire books for our list, where we focus on ages 0-12. We work on licenses as well as trade publishing, and we also publish into various Penguin brands. We’re often tasked to come up with ideas for new formats or brainstorm ideas for projects, and we all work on lots of different kinds of books, so there’s never a dull moment!
You work across a wide variety of formats for ages 0-12 including board books, chapter book series, middle grade series, and licensed books. Can you select a recent project from each of these age categories to share with our audience?
Sure! I acquired a board book series a few years ago that’s done well—Hello, World by Ashley Evanson—so we’re going to publish more in the series. The books pair basic concepts, like shapes and colors, with cities around the world, like Paris and New York. Especially as a new parent (I have a 7 month old boy), I’ve come to appreciate board books that go beyond the cute/cuddly animal genre, and are fun to read over and over again (even though all my baby seems interested in at the moment is eating books...).
For chapter books, one of my personal favorites is Phoebe G. Green, a series about a third grade foodie by Veera Heranandani (who recently published The Night Diary). Veera’s writing is fantastic, and the illustrations bring to life Phoebe’s personality and zest for life perfectly.
For middle grade, we’re publishing a Babysitters Club-meets-coding series with the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code, and it’s been interesting to learn how you can use computer coding for so many creative things, like designing clothes and making music.
As for licensed books, we recently published novels based on the online game Animal Jam—it’s fun to completely immerse yourself in a game and create compelling stories out of it.
How important is humour in children's books?
For certain projects, it’s very important! One of the books in our Girls Who Code series, Lights, Music, Code!, is written by Jo Whittemore, who’s a master of middle grade humor, and it makes the book such an entertaining read. The greatest test, for me as an editor, is if I still laugh when I’m reading the manuscript for the 3rd or 4th time—then you know the jokes are good. But not every book has to be funny, of course. We pride ourselves on publishing a book for every reader, and sometimes a kid needs a quiet, calm book to wind down, or to reflect on life.
Tell us about the most innovative children's book you have ever worked on.
This Book Is Magic by Ashley Evanson was a new format and concept for us—it’s kind of like Press Here for magic. We used thicker interior stock, so it was a hybrid between a board book and a picture book.
I’m also proud of the books we published through a company called Lyric Culture—What the World Needs Now Is Love, which came out last December, and True Colors, which will come out this December. They're in a small trim, with a strip of cloth on the spine, and a ribbon enclosure. I love the package--our designer found amazing artists, and the books make the perfect gift. I also think the two songs we picked are timely and meaningful.
What made you fall in love with reading as a child?
I grew up mostly in France, and Babar was a big part of my childhood. Reading the Babar books now, I see the problems with them (the imperialistic undertone, first and foremost), but I think I mostly liked reading about an anthropomorphized elephant who was French and traveled the world.
The book Babar Goes to New York was my favorite, because it melded my two worlds: France and the US. I loved the page where Babar gets dust in his eye on Park avenue--that remained my image of New York City for most of my childhood.
When I got older, I became fully entrenched in The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Thoroughbred, and the Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. That’s one of the reasons why I was attracted to series publishing as an editor—series played a huge role in developing my love of books, and those stories impacted me greatly.
Are there particular illustration styles or subject matters you are drawn to?
We work on many different kinds of projects at Workshop, so different illustration styles suit different books. Generally, we like to work with artists who will elevate the project in some way—we don’t want our books to blend with what's already out there.
As for subject matters, it depends on the project. For board books and picture books, I like projects that bring something different to the table, and for chapter books & middle grade, I like all kinds of subject matter (contemporary stories, mysteries, etc.), as long as the voice grabs me.
When looking at an illustrator's portfolio, what is the first thing to catch your attention?
Definitely the storytelling. I remember going to an SCBWI conference years ago where an art director was critiquing artwork, and she said that she looks for a story in every image she reviews. That concept rung true for me. I look for personality, too. Whether it’s an image of a person or an animal, am I curious about the character? Do I want to know more? That’s what will attract readers, and it’s what attracts me as an editor, too.
Who are some of the most inspirational creatives you have worked with in your career?
Our authors and illustrators, for sure! As far as people in the publishing industry, this might sound clichéd, but my bosses! Christy Ottaviano was my introduction to the world of children’s books, and I was constantly amazed at the work she did—and the breadth of it! She ran the gamut in terms of projects she worked on, and she told me once that being a children’s book editor, she’d been able to work on whatever topics interested her throughout the years.
My current boss, Sarah Fabiny, has taught me a lot about believing in your vision for a project, and standing up for it. Like any job, so much of being an editor is learning how to navigate a corporation, and Sarah's been a great mentor in learning that skill.
And Francesco Sedita, our publisher (the force behind our many brainstorms!) is always encouraging us to be more creative, and to push boundaries. I’ve also found that having senior staff that works well together—and complements each other—is vital for an imprint to feel cohesive and well run, and that’s definitely the case for Sarah and Francesco.
What have been some of the biggest success stories from your lists?
My favorite success stories are the sleeper successes. One of them for us was Night-Night Forest Friends by Annie Bach. We published it years ago, and it’s still going strong. Dollywood picked it up, which was a huge coup, and we recently heard that a state park will be using it for a nature walk, with pages of the book printed out on a trail. As an avid hiker, that makes me so happy!
We’re publishing a companion title, Good Morning Farm Friends, (coming out this May), which feels like the perfect result of a book doing well.