Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Mommy Editor

I was an editor before I became a mother. There’s a persistent, if whispered, rumor in children’s publishing that unless you have kids, you can’t really be a good editor. I don’t believe that’s true—heck, Ursula Nordstrom had no kids—but I do find that having kids has changed the way I work.

I’m a different reader now: the internal kid voice I use when I read books and manuscripts is no longer just Kid Me, but also Kid Munchkin (my three-year-old) and Kid Niblet (my baby). Those extra voices make for a rather noisy brain, but I’m convinced the extra noise is worthwhile. (Kid Me was kind of a weirdo, after all.)

I’ve found that the tips that authors and illustrators hear all the time really do have merit. Repetition really IS important in books for toddlers; I knew it before, but now I have empirical evidence. (Over and over and over and over, I have empirical evidence.) Similarly, those little repeated or hidden elements in illustrations really ARE a special treat: I see that more clearly, now that I’ve watched my own kid gleefully point out the mouse in Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown, Harper).

There is a downside, alas: the inability to turn off my editor brain. Whether we’re at the library, at the bookstore, or just reading books at home, I find it hard to relax and just read the darn book. For the most part, I’m evaluating each book the way I would any manuscript. Does the plot hold together? Do I care about the characters? Do the illustrations complement, enhance, and extend the text?

But sometimes I find myself editorializing, too: I can’t read Martha Speaks (Susan Meddaugh, HMCo) without inserting our official family policy on the phrase “Shut up!” (For the record, it goes like this: “ ‘Martha, PLEASE! SHUT UP!’ Which is not a very nice thing to say at all.”) I’d never suggest that the phrase was inappropriate for the book—it’s not! it’s perfect!—but it does make me realize that other parents may do the same kind of read-aloud revision of the books I work on, too. Horrors!

The biggest perq to being a mommy editor is, of course, the in-house focus group. I can’t say I’ve brought home manuscripts to try out on the Munchkin (she’s not quite ready to sit still for a story without pictures), but I do bring home the books I’ve edited. There’s nothing better than sitting down with my own kid and sharing a story I helped bring to life—especially when it’s one she likes. (And for those who suspect a family bias: believe me, she would let me know if she didn’t like it. No shrinking violet, my Munchkin.)

Photo note: The Munchkin and the beagle are reading Aggie and Ben (Lori Ries, Charlesbridge).

Posted by Emily Mitchell

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