I have had the pleasure of knowing the multi-talented poet Joan Graham for many years. When she asked me to participate in her blog tour for her new book, THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END, I was thrilled. This is a fabulous book that introduces many poetic forms. Joan's editor, Melanie Kroupa, agreed to be interviewed for the my stop on the tour. Leave a comment to get a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.
I loved the fact that there IS a story – a very funny narrative in verse that chronicles the plight of a young boy who can’t stop writing poetry – no matter where he is: in the cafeteria writing with French fries, in the bathroom using toothpaste, and even writing on the soccer ball in mud! But that’s not all: in addition, readers can discover the poems that Ryan writes – so the book works as a poetry collection too, and not just any collection, but one that offers poems in all the major poetic forms. And, at the back of the book, young readers and teachers alike can reference a handy guide to poetic forms and voices that connects the poems they’ve just read to specific poetic forms. What Joan cleverly created is really 3-books-in-1, all working together to create a very special book that’s fun to read again and again.
When I read the manuscript I could see kids being pulled in by the humor and hilarious antics. Joan has a terrific sense of what kids are like. I think children will want to read THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END just for the fun of it, but I can also see this book having great appeal in the classroom – it’s a lively way to introduce children to the delights of poetry -- and a painless way to learn about poetic forms.
Last but not least, I thought it would be great fun for an illustrator – and I immediately thought of Kyrsten Brooker whose inventive collage and paint style adds yet another appealing dimension to the book. This was a challenging picture book to put together, but Joan had created a great “road map” for the book and Kyrsten and I used that as a useful first tool to get us going.
What do you look for in a manuscript?
I look for something that strikes me as fresh and imaginative – whether it feels that way because it presents the familiar in a new way that brings it alive for readers or because it explores something new and different in a telling way. I want characters I can care about, a world that makes me curious and that I want to step into, wonderful telling details and language to bring those characters and that world alive in a memorable way -- and most of all, I want a story -- whether it be fiction or non-fiction (which after all is “story” too) that strikes an emotional chord with me and that I think will do the same for children or teens.
When and why did you become a children’s book editor? What is your favorite part of being an editor?
I became a children’s book editor back in the 1970’s, after taking the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course and working as an assistant secretary for $65.00 a week at Harvard University Press, then moving to Houghton Mifflin’s textbook division to work as an editorial assistant on their Reading Series. I somehow always knew I wanted to be in children’s books. FINALLY, a job opened up in the trade division at Houghton. It was there I first experienced the thrill of discovering that special manuscript and I had the great pleasure of working with Lois Lowry and David Macaulay on their first books. That excitement of discovering a special voice, story or artistic talent has never diminished – even after years in the field. But one of my favorite parts of being an editor is the on-going dialogue with the author to find ways to strengthen a manuscript – to make it sing -- until, eventually, there’s the joy and satisfaction of seeing a finished book after months and months, sometimes even years of work, where all the various elements – text, art, design,, etc. -- have come together to create what you believe is a stellar book. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect – but you know you gave it your all and it’s the best book you, the author, illustrator, designer and others who worked with you were able to create at that particular time and place.
Tell us about the graduate course you teach at Simmons College.
For the last few years I’ve had the fun of teaching a course, Editing Books for Children and Young Adults, in the Children’s Literature Program at Simmons College. At the beginning of the course I create a publishing company, “hire” students as editors, and we delve into the editorial process and what it means to be an editor. As the course progresses we discuss (and experience hands on) the editing of picture books, middle grade fiction and non-fiction, YA fiction and memoir. Students create text dummies for picture books, write editorial reports, offer editorial suggestions on manuscripts, defend opinions at editorial meetings, write editorial letters to authors, and exchange ideas in lively class discussions as we work through the editorial process from initial manuscript to finished book. I think I learn as much as the students do!