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!)

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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.
Love,
Amanda
Sources:
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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…”

"Well, darling, you and your gold lame"


I’m back to thinking about one of my favourite topics in relation to teen girl romance novels: clothing.

I’ve noticed that many of these novels employ daughters as the family dress-up dolls. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s A Boy to Remember, Karin moves to live with her grandparents and, in supposed celebration, her grandfather buys her a whole new wardrobe, purchasing

with a lavish hand that first amazed, then startled her. Everything she tried on, that was becoming and fit well, he wanted to buy for her. In less time than most people would take to select one good dress, he had bought her a navy broadcloth suit and a heathery tweed, a half dozen school dresses in the finest woolens Karin had ever touched, four skirts with cashmere sweaters to match, shoes, handbags, gloves, stockings. (27)

(Seriously: skirts with cashmere sweaters to match? I live in the wrong decade… and possess the wrong socioeconomic status!)

While Karen’s grandmother tells her that “it’s a long time since we’ve had someone young to fuss over” (27), it’s a salesclerk who reveals another intention behind the wardrobe:

Then, as the head of the department stood by, smiling at Karin and holding her grandfather’s check in her hands, she said a disturbing thing to Karin.
“You look charming in it, Miss Berglund. You’re fortunate to be the granddaughter of Mr. Berglund.” (28)

Karin realizes that her new clothing is not simply for her; she is also part of a show intended to demonstrate her grandfather’s status in the community.

Just as Karin’s wardrobe is as much for her grandfather as it is for her, so too Dody Jenks’ election as Snow Queen in Mary Stolz’s Pray Love, Remember is, for her mother, as much her own election as it is Dody’s. While Dody’s various family members congratulate her, Mrs. Jenks gloats “‘And think what Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates will say….Oh my, wouldn’t I just like to see their faces— ’” (114). Dody’s election is a conquest not only for Dody, but for Mrs. Jenks herself, who feels as if

she’d been, too often, overlooked by Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates when they’d passed on the street or met in the school at meetings and things. Not snubbed, she realized dully, but unrecognized. This was heart’s ease, this triumph of Dody’s…. Bosom lifting, Mrs. Jenks said to them, “Oh yes, we’re definitely moving a step up in this town’s society, let me tell you—” (114-115).

Dody’s Snow Queen dress becomes a family affair. The family cannot afford a new dress, but Dody’s older sister-in-law, Joyce, purchases material and makes one for her, while “in an access of proud confusion… Mr. Jenks contributed money for a cheap but dazzling pair of rhinestone earrings” (118). The family’s collective pride in Dody is thus demonstrated not in what she has done, but, on the night of the Winter Ball, in how she looks:

when she went down and stood in the living room door, her assembled family looked up in stunned silence. Then Larry, scratching his head, said hoarsely, “Cripes!” Marjorie said over and over, “She’s beautiful. She’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” Mr. Jenks blew his nose, and Mrs. Jenks put her hands to her face and sobbed. (118)

Like Karin, Dody is not only a member of the family, but also the emblem of that family’s social status within their community.

(Random aside: I LOVE Marjorie’s response. It’s so perfectly Marjorie. I always picture her crying after that statement, like Daisy staring at Gatsby’s shirts.)

As emblems, however, these girls are not without their own consumer agency. Although female protagonists like Dody and Karin fulfill the role of family status symbol, they are still in charge of the actual clothing that is purchased/made for them. Joyce may provide the idea and labour for Dody’s dress, but it is still Dody who designs it. Similarly, although Mindy’s shop-owner cousin Alix in Betty Cavanna’s The Country Cousin (1967) must slowly teach Mindy how to emulate the more sophisticated styles of Philadelphia girls, by the end of the novel it is Mindy whose hand-made dress design is purchased by a large New York clothing manufacturer, and whose future at Parsons School of Design consecrates her status as taste-maker.

There’s much more work to be done here, of course, particularly in regard to this taste-maker agency/ status symbol lack of agency dichotomy happening. For now, however, I’ll admit that the main reason I used to love these books –okay, the main reason I still love these books –is because you can’t get any better than their descriptions of clothes. I’ll finish this little post with my all-time favourite description, from Mary Stolz’s The Sea Gulls Woke Me:

(scene: the high school dance. Jean, having fled her hideous date, is now hiding out in a bathroom stall. The popular girls have entered the washroom).

“Did you see that Jean whatsis here with whoosis Coyne?”
Did I. I must get the recipe for that dress.”
Jean shuddered. This was a classic predicament, but she couldn’t recall the classic reaction.
“Well, darling, you and your gold lame. What I say is, after gold lame, what is there?”
“There’s always the platinum-studded cardigan.”

Gold lame? Platinum-studded cardigan? Hiding out in the bathroom? LOVE IT!

Finding my seat in the malt shop…


For the last couple of years I’ve been working on a project that analyzes American teen girl romance novels of the post-war and Cold War period (think novels by Mary Stolz, Betty Cavanna, Anne Emery, Rosamond du Jardin, Janet Lambert, and Amelia Elizabeth Walden, among others). I am in love with these books. Like: totally, butt-crazy in love. And so it’s been interesting to finally sit down and analyze them (using a New Historicist methodology, predominantly), and to attempt to understand exactly how these novels fit into their larger cultural milieu.

Of the few scholars who really examine these texts, most agree with Anne Scott MacLeod (who is, by the way, seriously awesome) that these are texts that are detached from their historical surroundings, and that demonstrate “with particular clarity the ambiguity of children’s literature as cultural documentation” (American Childhood 50). She notes that these novels are focused on domesticity and happy endings, not the controversial issues (the Cold War, the nuclear bomb, the Civil Rights movement, McCarthyism, among so many others) that we usually associate with their period of publication. The result of this focus is that

“even in a politically quiescent atmosphere, and even for a literature traditionally more concerned with individual experience than with social issues, postwar writing for teens was remarkable for its silences and was exceptionally unrevealing about the anxieties of its time” (50).

Okay, yes. Right. I agree that female junior novels (my name for these books) seem to be unrevealing, but I would also argue that their silences demonstrate a vital awareness of the culture in which they were produced. Silence, as absence, is not necessarily synonymous with “lacking in content.”

So how do I make the silence heard? Or, to switch to an easier metaphor, how do I make the invisible, visible?

I think one of the answers may be hidden in the trivialities.

Clothing, boys, the “right” seat in the malt shop –these elements come together to form levels of dominance within the adolescent social hierarchy. For the next however long, I will analyze these trivialities here, in this blog, to determine how they create a “female dominant society.” I will also attempt to examine how that society is paralleled by the women who produced and distributed these texts, whose middlebrow status and “feminine control” created a safe haven for leftist authors, editors, librarians, and educators during the Cold War.

And I will ask you, dear-readers-who-do-not-yet-exist (and quite possibly never will), to weigh in with any of your own insights/research/random I love Mary Stolzs.

Then, if all goes well, we will have contributed just that little bit to making the world more aware of these women authors, editors, librarians, critics, booksellers, and teachers who “insist on mattering.”