I’m working on Mary Stolz’s texts again today (surprise!), and I’ve just come across a particularly lovely quotation that speaks directly to my wistful, sappy, nostalgic self. This is Stolz providing an anecdote about French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943):
Simone Weil said once, to a friend from whom she must be parted, “Do not grieve, nor keep me constantly in your thoughts, but think of me as you would remember a book you loved in childhood.”
I love this concept. I constantly teach against it in class (since part of teaching children’s literature is helping students to separate their own senses of nostalgia from their analyses of beloved texts), but I love it, nonetheless.
Source: Stolz, Mary. “Specially for the Growing Older: As They Grow Older.” New York Times, Nov. 14 1954: BRA2.
After vising multiple publisher and librarian archives (and hoping to visit many, many more), I’m starting to recognize a hidden history behind the world of midcentury children’s books. Specifically, I’m starting to recognize that the network of women who produced and distributed these texts (especially editors and librarians) was not only based on working friendships, but on queer relationships. Like, a lot of queer relationships, and between some of the biggest names, and often across the fields (ie: most often a librarian and an editor).
Everything’s coded, of course, but I’m seeing some truly fascinating (and poignant) bits of evidence as it relates to correspondence between “roommates” and “companions” (who may, of course, simply be roommates or companions, but… hmmm).
My biggest difficulty with this research is the supposed silences of the midcentury period (I say “supposed” because I’m finding that the silences were not at all what I assumed), and those silences are compounded by the fact that research on women’s employment history is still lacking, particularly when it comes to women in children’s publishing. In an effort to find some historical contextualization, I’m now busy researching the history of queer librarianship. Librarians are WONDERFUL at documenting their own histories, so I’m thankful to them, and hoping that this research (which is mostly coming from the 1990s) proves helpful.
I’ve just started James Carmichael’s Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbiay Library History (1998), and, ignoring the problematic terminology of the 1990s, the first couple of pages provide two lovely reminders that this history is important:
a) the American Library Association formed the FIRST queer professional organization IN THE WORLD, in 1970 (known then as the Task Force on Gay Liberation).
b) the following quotation, from Carmichael:
“Without a history, the very ‘identity’ of lesbigays becomes tenuous, an easy picking for the ‘ism’ of the movement, and the gay self gazes into a mirror without reflections.” (Carmichael 2)
I’m excited to try to add just a tiny bit more to this forgotten and neglected history.
Carmichael, James Vinson, ed. Daring to find our names: the search for lesbigay library history. No. 5. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
Likely EVERYBODY back in the day knew this, but… I only just made the connection that Anne Carroll Moore (Grande Dame of the New York Public Library) was the aunt–or, more technically, “best friend and distant cousin” of the mother of Storer B. Lunt (W.W. Norton & Co). Through Moore, Lunt met Margaret K. McElderry (one of the Grande Dames of children’s publishing), and they married, and…
Seriously: sometimes the field of mid-century children’s literature seems so, so, SO tiny.
(Also: I think I already knew this information, since I’m familiar with the sources. How did I forget this tidbit?! I need to find a way to keep track of all of these little notes of information and connection…)
Mary Stolz is my favourite junior novel author. She also happens to have been expelled from two years of highschool for being “disruptive, discourteous, boy-crazy, inattentive, and, excepting what was considered a real talent for writing, an all-round undesirable.”
Then she grew up and won the Newbery.
THIS IS THE HISTORY I WANT TO TEACH GIRLS.
Mary Stolz’s author photo from the dust jacket of the first edition of The Organdy Cupcakes (1951)
(Source: “Mary Stolz.” Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 3, Gale, 1987, pp. 281-292.)
One of my favorite author/editor relationships is that of Mary Stolz (author) and Ursula Nordstrom (her editor at Harper & Brothers/ Harper & Row). Reading their letters, both these women come across as fierce, passionate, extremely political, extremely humorous, and sometimes a little salty (in the best way!).
Today, though, I came across an interview that Stolz gave after Nordstrom’s death, and it just… well, it hurts after having traced their friendship for years (both their years and the ten+ years I’ve been studying them). Here it is:
“The matchless Ursula Nordstrom supported, inspired, and put up with me over many, many years. When she died in 1988, I wrote an essay in her memory, in her honor. . . . She was the finest children’s book editor ever, the trail blazer, and all her artists and writers would say the same. When I finish a book, or when working on one, I actually ache, knowing she will not see it.”
Michael Cart opens From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature with the following:
If it was in Victorian England that “a separate state called ‘childhood’ was envisioned,” as Canadian critic Sheila Egoff has argued, others would agree it was neither there nor then but in America, instead, where another separate state, “young adulthood,” was to be envisioned. (3)
By and large, America was also the site of that precursor to canonical young adult literature: the junior novel genre.
For a long time, I questioned this American dominance. Was the US really *that* dominant when it came to the genre, or was it just that no one had searched out or made the connection to other, non-American junior novels?
The answer is, I think, a bit of both… but mostly the former.
I recently came across a 1954 letter from junior novel writer Anne Emery to Mont L. Haible, the administrative assistant to the general manager of the Westminster Press. In it, Emery ponders publishing her novels in the UK. She quotes a fan letter, in which the fan acknowledges that “here, from the ages of 13 to 17 there is nothing for us to read… Well, I hope you will write more books even if it is only for the benefit of those lucky American teenagers, while we have to be content to suffer the classics.”
Emery then quotes an English librarian that she had met a couple of years earlier, who noted that “there are almost no teen-age books published in England.”
The junior novel genre would, indeed, appear to be almost entirely North American, and particularly American. Looking at my bookshelves, however, I realized an important distinction I was forgetting to acknowledge: the English-language junior novel genre is almost entirely American.
I’ve already seen numerous hints that junior novels were popular worldwide. Mary Stolz’s and Anne Emery’s international publications suggest it. Betty Cavanna’s fan mail from girls in Japan suggests it. Still, these hints are all based on American-published junior novels in translation. Were there original junior novels published elsewhere, in other languages? And how would I find them?
Imports, my bookshelf advised me, and I reached for my translated 1972 Scholastic copy of Aimée Sommerfelt’s Miriam.
This first image is from the original 1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover (I think), from Norway. The illustration design is typical of late 1950s/early 1960s painterly illustration found in American junior novels and Whitman-style series books.
The following three images are from the 1972 Scholastic reprint, from the US.
While the original cover emphasizes the teen setting that forms the base of the junior novel genre, the 1972 Scholastic cover–appearing, importantly, within the early period of the New Realism–contextualizes the story with the conspicuous red of the Nazi flag.
In the end, searching for imported (and translated) junior novels isn’t a full or ideal solution to the question of whether or not the genre existed in its own right in other countries, but it’s a start.
Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, HarperCollins, 1992.
…sometimes they make me want to slam the book shut and throw it at the patriarchy.
Case in point:
“But that’s one thing I can say,” she cried. “I have never never been in love with anyone but you, Cliff. Not ever, not even a little bit.” Forgive me, George, she thought. I did love you in a way, but not like this, and I have to be able to tell him that he’s the only one I ever loved. (Mary Stolz, And Love Replied, 1958).
Mary Stolz is my absolutely favourite junior novel writer, but COME ON, MARY.
(Actually, Stolz’s letters back and forth with her friend and editor, Ursula Nordstrom, suggest that she’s actually pretty progressive, with some clear feminist tendencies. And, as sad as I am to admit it, this paragraph really does fit the somewhat manipulative nature of Betty, the protagonist of this particular novel, so it may just be an added aspect of characterization. But… it still rankles this twenty-first century reader).