I thought my inaugural post should be something dear to my heart, and well, easy readers basically line my aorta. I wrote a really long paper on the birth of easy readers (i.e. – my MA thesis) because I love ’em, I think they need to get more cred, and they came about in the mid-1950s. The mid-1950s was the most swingin’ time in American children’s book publishing with the best gossip: powerful librarians talking to dolls, editor rivalries, unknown authors and illustrators getting to just flounce up to the editor’s office. Amazing.
One of the most interesting little gems I have come across is this New Hampshire Public Radio interview with Else Holmelund Minarik. And Holy Mother of Pearl, there is one heck of an interesting tidbit in there.
At the 4:00 mark, Minarik said that she, GET THIS, took the Little Bear manuscript to Random House before she ever took it to HarperCollins (then Harper and Brothers)! And Random House passed, saying “If you can write about children, we’d be interested.”
Now, why is this so interesting? Just imagine if Random House had accepted the Little Bear manuscript. That would have meant no Sendak-drawn Little Bear (he was Ursula Nordstrom’s property and there’s no way the Random House peeps would have sought him out). Can you imagine Little Bear without Sendak? Can you imagine Sendak’s career without Little Bear? (I mean, he was already rockin’ it with Ruth Krauss and others, but that lil’ ursine munchkin is an important part of his almighty portfolio)
I truly believe that the whole easy reader genre could have gone down an entirely different path if it weren’t for the Sendak/Minarik partnership. With no word list, and that dear, quaint, comfy Victorian-inspired art, Little Bear set the bar for both I Can Read and other publishers.
Any Grade 6 researcher could find the Minarik interview as it is linked to her Wikipedia page. But I’ve never seen it discussed anywhere, which is surprising, considering how different things could have been if Little Bear had been a Beginner Book. I mean, really.
Ah, 1950s children’s publishing gossip. Is there anything better in the world? No.