Checking Facebook this morning, I was saddened to see the news that Magaret McElderry had passed away at 98. For those who only know the McElderry name from her eponymous imprint at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, check out this article in the Times that gives a wonderful overview of her life and astonishing career.
While I didn’t know Margaret personally very well, I was lucky enough to be in the room back in 1997 when Margaret shared her story with the S&S Children’s department. I had just joined S&S in August, my first real job in publishing, and I was as green as you can get—yet here was a bona fide publishing legend taking the time to share her story with even the lowliest assistants. And with her modest grace, she showed us all how a publishing career can be created, sustained, and flourish despite the vicissitudes of time, taste, and corporate makeovers. I know I’m not the only one who left that day feeling that a career in kids books was a life worth living.
In rereading the Times article now, it’s fascinating to note just how radical and risky her choices were, particularly how her embrace of foreign authors and illustrators opened up the global children’s book market. At a time when kids’ books (and publishing in general) are going through a period of major uncertainty, it’s instructive to recognize how, in her own time, Margaret found new avenues for talent and new ways to grow the business.
I only hope that as we learn to navigate these new waters, we can do so with the style and elegance for which Margaret was known and celebrated. As her friend and protégé Emma Dryden wrote this morning, “Long may her spirit live on in all of us.”