The Transatlantic Junior Novel Divide

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.

original cover of Miriam
1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover

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.

1972 Scholastic reprint front cover

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.

1972 Scholastic back cover
1972 Scholastic copyright page

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.

Published Sources:

Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, HarperCollins, 1992.


I love the junior novels, but…

…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).

/end rant.


On articulating the necessity of lying…

I love Louise Fitzhugh, but for the record, Mary Stolz also told young people that sometimes they had to lie. That was in Who Wants Music on Monday, published in 1963–a full year before Harriet the Spy.

And both were edited by Ursula Nordstrom. Hmm…

(Of course, Stolz was writing for a slightly older audience, but still!)

The Sally Draper Reading List

A friend sent me today’s awesomeness (in the form of a link to the New York Public Library’s “Sally Draper Reading List.”).

I wasn’t able to post on the site (apparently I am spam, which makes me feel sad and forces me to question my existence), but here’s what I tried to add:

I love this!

In terms of romance novels, I echo a lot of Joanne’s titles (especially Cavanna’s Going on Sixteen and Daly’s Seventeenth Summer). 1955 Sally might also have read Mary Stolz’s To Tell Your Love and The Sea Gulls Woke Me, Anne Emery’s Senior Year, Rosamond Du Jardin’s Wait for Marcy, and Amelia Walden’s Three Loves Has Sandy.

Good times…!

A Love Letter to Margaret K. McElderry

I haven’t updated this blog in a long, long time, but learning of the death of Margaret K. McElderry (1912-2011) yesterday made me want to write my own tiny little tribute to one of the Great Ladies of the children’s book world. The following, then, is my Valentine’s Day homage to the last link of the female junior novel network.
Margaret K. McElderry
 A Love Letter to Margaret K. McElderry; or, Reasons Why I Wish I Could Have Met Her:
1. She was a big part of the female junior novel network…
…and I am in love with that network. Briefly, it was a group of professional women who worked with each other to create, promote, and distribute female junior novels. The network may be split into two historical phases: first, those American women who founded children’s book publishing and extended children’s librarianship from the turn of the century to roughly 1940, including Anne Carroll Moore, Bertha Mahony, Louise Seaman, and May Massee; and second, those who continued and expanded the realm of children’s books and library services from 1940s through the late 1960s, notably Mabel Williams, Margaret Scoggin, Ursula Nordstrom, and Margaret K. McElderry. The division separating the two phases is fuzzy; it is partly generational, in that many—but not all—of the women who formed the first phase retired around the time that the second phase emerged. It is also partly ideological, in that the way in which the women viewed their professional roles underwent a shift between the two generations, from the perception that they were creating and promoting children’s books because they were female (and therefore had an inherent link with children), to their own recognition of their abilities as based on experiences and qualifications, rather than gender. Invisible because of its all-female composition, middlebrow status, and “feminine control,” yet self-governing for those same reasons, the network established a semi-autonomous space into which left-leaning authors—like Mary Stolz—could safely (if subtly) critique American social and foreign policies during the Cold War period.
2. She worked under Anne Carroll Moore for nine years at the NYPL—and survived 
When McElderry left the NYPL in 1945, it was to become head of the children’s book department at Harcourt, Brace.
3. She understood her business
At the American Booksellers Association convention in 1948, McElderry, then children’s book editor for Harcourt, addressed the Association by first citing current birth statistics, including the new arrival of 333 000 American babies each month, and then by declaring “that she had come not to wax eloquent about her high-minded convictions but rather ‘to talk about children’s books as profitable merchandise for the bookseller’” (Marcus, Minders 179). Leonard Marcus further points out that, to accompany the baby boom, children’s book editors now published “a record one thousand new titles from which to choose” (179). McElderry’s speech demonstrates the extent to which editors had ideologically changed from (somewhat altruistically) filling a need for children’s books to recognizing and promoting children’s books as profitable commodities.
4. She respected (and was respected by) her professional network colleagues
In an interview with Betsy Hearne, McElderry recalled the unspoken agreement between editors that specific authors belonged with certain editors, and that those authors were not to be poached:

We were very close then….We met once a month for lunch, 15 or 20 women. It was fun and you talked about all kinds of things. And if, for instance, an author of Ursula got disenchanted for a moment—as one did—and called me and said “I’d like to change and publish with you,” I said “well, that’s very nice and complimentary, but I think really you are a Harper/Ursula Nordstrom person.” Or if an artist called, you’d call the editor and say, “what about this?” We always did that… We used to call each other, send flowers of congratulation …. Then you were friends with everyone. (Hearne 758)

Ursula Nordstrom
Being friends with everyone often meant that editors would suggest that unsuccessful authors try selling their manuscripts to rival editors at competing publishing houses. Thus in 1952, for example, Ursula Nordstrom published Natalie Savage Carlson’s The Talking Cat and Other Stories of French Canada. Carlson’s book eventually won the ages eight to twelve category of the New York Herald-Tribune Spring Book Festival award. Carlson then wrote another book, Alphonse, which she submitted to Nordstrom for publication by Harper and Brothers. In a letter dated December 9, 1952, however, Nordstrom informed Carlson that “with a heavy heart I must write you that we still think Alphonse (revised version) is not a worthy successor to The Talking Cat” (Nordstrom 59). While Nordstrom’s refusal is nothing out of the ordinary, what is interesting is the fact that she then suggests that Carlson contact her professional rival, Margaret K. McElderry, at Harcourt, Brace:

Well, let me know who takes Alphonse, if you are willing, will you? By the way, I hear via the grapevine, that Harcourt turned down The Talking Cat and I think they would be extremely glad to have a chance at Alphonse. You know Miss McElderry, don’t you? She does lovely books. (Nordstrom 59-60)

Nordstrom, of course, may have had several reasons for suggesting that Carlson try McElderry, not the least of which may have been an attempt to maintain friendly relations, should Carlson try to publish with Harper’s again. What Nordstrom’s suggestion also shows, however, is the degree to which many editors in the female junior novel network knew each other’s book lists and types, and were willing to suggest their competitors as possible avenues for publication.
5. Her network colleagues stuck up for her
Although their primary source of correspondence was in relation to authors and illustrators, network editors seemed to enjoy keeping in touch with each other generally, even when their letters were not specifically connected to a book or an author. Members of the Association of Children’s Book Editors (who were primarily based, like the publishing houses, in New York City) met monthly to lunch, gathered every summer at American Library Association conventions, and joined each other every November for the gala banquet during Children’s Book Week (Marcus, Minders 191). Interestingly, Nordstrom and McElderry, the Macy’s and Gimbels of the children’s book world, were perhaps two of its closer editors. One example of their professional relationship followed in the wake of an unexpected controversy caused by McElderry’s publication of a book she had edited, called The Two Reds. The title of the book, coupled with the author’s name (Nicholas Mordvinoff), suggested possible Communist implications to many people, including the president of FAO Schwartz. Frances Chrystie—a very good friend of Ursula Nordstrom, and a network member herself—had displayed numerous copies of the book in the famous department store’s windows. She was quickly directed to remove all copies from the display. Betsy Hearne observes that during this controversy “McElderry’s network of women—including editors, critics, and librarians—supported her aesthetic commitment in vocal and powerful ways” (757). As McElderry recalled:

Louise Seaman Bechtel, who was reviewing for the New York Herald Tribune, wrote: “The publication of this book restores one’s faith in the experimental daring of American publishers.” That sentence is engraved on my heart. Ursula Nordstrom, children’s book editor at Harper, called me on vacation in Nantucket to tell me about the review. (757)

Seaman’s review demonstrates the professional ties and similar aesthetic choices of the women in the network, particularly in regard to “experimental daring.” Although Seaman was no longer a book editor by this time, her reviews still carried a lot of weight. Nordstrom was herself often considered to be one of the most daring children’s book publishers of her time, and her vacation call suggests the closeness that these professional ties may have engendered.
5. She handled professional catastrophes May-Massee-style (which is to say, awesomely)
Just as the Depression signaled a crash in children’s book production, so too the late 1960s/early 1970s experienced a similar crash (although not to the same proportions). Parallels between editors may also be observed in Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich’s 1971 dismissal of Margaret K. McElderry, which Leonard Marcus hails as “the greatest act of managerial folly since the firing in 1932 of May Massee by Doubleday” (Minders 246). McElderry had been offered no choice when she was fired, but the reason for her dismissal, as offered at the time of her termination, demonstrates the new sense of publishing that seemed to be spreading at that time. McElderry may have been the first editor to have texts on her list that won both the Newbery and the Caldecott awards in the same year, but, as the young men who dismissed her explained, “the wave of the future has passed you by” (qtd. in Hearne 771). Thankfully, just as Massee was quickly hired by Viking, so Atheneum hired McElderry. 
Thanks for everything, Margaret K. McElderry. You seemed like a pretty exceptional person, and I wish I could have known you.
p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }
Hearne, Betsy. “Margaret K. McElderry and the Professional Matriarchy of Children’s Books.” Library Trends 44.4 (Spring 1996): 755-75. Print.
Marcus, Leonard S. Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.
Nordstrom, Ursula. Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Ed. Leonard S. Marcus. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

Team Tough Little Descendant

Okay, so this post is totally non-academic, non-analytic, non-anything-I-should-be-doing, but I just had to share two more quotations from Stolz’s Who Wants Music on Monday (1963):

First, the reason why my twelve-years-old self loved this book:

Regarding her niece Lotta, a popular girl, Aunt Muriel thinks:

These are the girls . . . who sail lightly along the surface of their youth, never suspecting the existence of undercurrents, riptides, rapids. The cheer leaders, the prom and hop belles, the flirts, who look forward to the next date, the next dress, anticipate college as a more glamorous extension of high school and marriage as a state of being adored by a perfect man. (54)

Second, the reason why my significantly-older-than-twelve-years-old self loves this book:

Regarding her niece Cassie, a very UNpopular girl, Muriel thinks:

for a girl who was plain as poker, Cassie had remarkable assurance. How she had come by that assurance was equally remarkable, since she got little assistance in that line from her family. Becky and Roger loved her, of course, but could never in this world have been subtle enough to give a homely girl the humor and persuasion of a good-looking one. And having Lotta around all the time would be taxing. There must be something in Cassie herself… a throwback to a strong-minded woman in their family’s past. An abolitionist, a suffragette had handed down her spirit to this tough little descendant. (51-52)

I may have wanted to grow up to be Team Lotta, but Team Cassie is SO much cooler.

Not the first to come this way…

I was procrastinating from job applications and article-writing and general end-of-degree freaking-out-edness yesterday by re-reading Mary Stolz’s Who Wants Music on Monday. (I’m allowed; it’s for an article). Everything was fine and normal and Stolz-like until I reached chapter four, where Stolz managed to somehow encapsulate my entire undergrad experience (and a bit of grad school too) between pages 75 and 86. I was particularly surprised by the passages that seem to be verbatim transcriptions of conversations I experienced during my undergrad years.

(A little context: while the novel mostly focuses on two sisters, Lotta and Cassie, every so often the narrator flips over to describe Vincent, their older brother, who is away at college).

A wee sample of Vincent’s world:

In the second semester of his second year at college Vincent Dunne had only fitful, insubstantial ideas of what it was he wished to do or to be, of what he wanted from life, except to be happy–a sensible, reasonable desire, condoned even by Samuel Johnson, no casual condoner. (75)

Right, so, typical Stolz. A long sentence, lots of punctuation, a little name dropping, and some big words. LOVE it. But that’s only the introduction. Let’s move on.

If my recollection serves,” Mr. Dunne had gone on that day, “you have now been a geneticist, an oil engineer, a metallurgist, a doctor, a psychologist, and a trial lawyer. All pretty high-sounding, all right. But what I want to know is, what are you going to be when you get your nose out of the air? And when’s that going to be? Do you think you have the rest of time to decide in? Or maybe you think I’m going to [send] you to graduate school? Seems to me you fellows go to school longer and longer, and if you ask me, it’s just to put off getting out and actually making your way. A bunch of ostriches calling yourselves scholars. You make me laugh.”

There was enough truth in that to make Vincent uncomfortable. Graduate school seemed to be becoming not the exception but the rule, and though he dared not mention it around home, Vince was pretty sure he’d have a go at one himself if he could figure out which one and if he could earn the money. That last he could probably do. Lab jobs, tutoring, summer work. He already, with his scholarship, earned part of his way just working summers. If he dug in and made a real go of zoo, some foundation or industry might even pick him up and see him through another two or four years of research. Dr. Vincent Dunne, the eminent zoologist. Or even Dr. Dunne, a zoologist. Was that what he wanted? (77-78)

Oh, Vincent. I know your dilemma well. (I think we all know your dilemma well). But it gets even better. Now Vincent’s friends, David and Enoch, get in on the action:

“I’m not sure I even know what college is for anymore. A corridor to graduate school? Doing what? Wasting more time? A plain B.A. doesn’t give you much of a leg up–and don’t ask me a leg up where because I don’t known–than a high-school diploma. And if it’s just a question of money, why not be a plumber or an electrician? Twenty-five hours a week and a pay scale like a Brink’s robbery. Half the time I think we’re going to college to work our way up to the lower-income groups.”

“Will you say that over again in different words, Professor?” said Enoch. “Your meaning got away from me.”

“If,” said David, “I were a professor, I’d be making less than a plumber. Clear now?”

“Unhappily, yes.”

“And you’re the guy,” Vincent said to David, “who said last week that you love college because where else would it be perfectly right and acceptable to read Plato in the morning?”

David shrugged. “I believe that. I’m being honest. You want me to be consistent too?” (86)

Ahhhhh EpicStolzLove.

And the kicker to all of this? Who Wants Music on Monday was published in 1963.

Well, as they say in the Norway ride at Epcot, “you are not the first to come this way…”