Thoughts on Hearing Leonard Marcus

I just got home from hearing Leonard Marcus, author of Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature, and other books, give a talk on the history of children's book publishing in America. A theme of his talk was the tension throughout the twentieth century between books eagerly consumed by children, and produced to be sold in large and inexpensive quantities to them, and books that are held dear and promoted because of more lofty sentiments about quality literature. He concluded his talk with a brief discussion of Harry Potter, an outstanding exemplar of the former tradition.

Is it coincidence, I wonder, that the latest round of Newbery Award kerfuffle coincides with the dawn of the post Harry era?

An audience member asked whether English books were being brought here to the US in large quantities anymore. He thought not so much--that the traffic these days, especially in picture books, is in the other direction. I am now wondering about this myself. Any thoughts?

I asked my own rather brazen question, as a postscript to a more thoughtful comment--who did he think would win the Newbery this year? His favorite contender--Masterpiece
by Elise Broach.


  1. Masterpiece! I'm just writing a post in which I mention that very book (it was my nominee in the Middle Grade category of the Cybils).

    Interesting point re: English (British?) books being brought to the US, too. I'm an anglophile--some of my very favorite books are very English--and I'm curious about when this slowed down. I read a lot of literature in translation in the 70s, too (mostly Swedish). Are there any popular children's book authors that we read in translation today? Oh, Cornelia Funke maybe!

  2. From an American-author-in-the-UK POV, the switch was thrown the hardest when the economy took a hit. Last year at Bologna Book Faire, where many US agents make their UK/worldwide sales, fewer Americans were able to buy, but because the dollar was weak, tons of other countries swooped in and scooped up American books. Now more than ever America is heading for cool again, and more and more people will want a piece of it/us. Which is kind of a shame, because I adored books from other countries/cultures, and frankly I think we need tons more of them. I grew up completely incurious about worlds outside my own, and if the curiosity starts earlier, I think it will mean good things for everyone.

  3. ...on the other hand, having biracial, multicultural leadership of our country also might mean we begin to hear from new countries and cultures and receive new stories. We're balanced on the cusp of things, and it could go either way...

    Okay, I'll stop hogging your comments now. It's just an interesting thought.

  4. Thanks for your report. Good food-for-thought, as well as a reminder that MASTERPIECE is in my oft-neglected-'cause-I-get-too-busy TBR pile.

  5. That's interesting, Tadmack, about the weak dollar having an effect. I hope this spring things are different!

  6. Thanks for the round up! I haven't read Masterpiece yet - I'll have to look it up.

  7. Sounds like a fascinating talk! And interesting prediction about the Newbery. I really enjoyed reading Masterpiece for Cybils.

  8. I'm glad you reported on this--wish I could have seen the lecture! It sounds like the discussion went in a very interesting direction re: the transatlantic movement of books. A lot of the children's/YA books I've enjoyed, both growing up and now, have come from UK authors. I'll be interested to see if there's a wider UK representation post-Harry due to residual Anglophilia! :)


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