On Gratitude, Editing, and 2016

What a year, folks. What. A. Year.

Last week as Thanksgiving approached, I was at a loss for a blog post topic until the obvious choice smacked me in the face. The foundational myth of the first Thanksgiving and its implications for generations of Americans? Good guess, but not today.

It feels especially important, this year, to reflect on causes for gratitude. (Shout-out to my colleague Sara Hoffmann, whose post from earlier this month I’m shamelessly ripping off.) As a children’s book editor, I’m thankful for these things, among others:

1. Courageous authors. “Courageous” is an oft-overused word, like “traumatic” and “actionable.” (Blog post for another day.) But as 2016 has shown us perhaps better than many other years, words really do have tremendous power for good and ill, and those who wield words balance universes (multiverses!) in their hands. I’ve worked with some very brave authors this past year–authors who reject easy answers, who give voice to harrowing and heartbreaking truths, who challenge their readers to think and feel in ways that are uncomfortable and enriching and vitally necessary. Their words have made me laugh out loud and cry into my tea, sometimes simultaneously. Their words have made me question my own assumptions, have put me to shame, and have given me hope. I can’t wait for you to read their books.

2. Amazing readers. Our authors often send us photos from their signings, talks, and other events. Nothing does more to assure me I’m in the right business than seeing a young reader who’s devoured all the books in a series, or who’s found just the type of book he was looking for after a long search, or who opened a book on a whim one evening and was glued to the same spot, still reading, hours later. I can pull up sales figures for our books whenever I feel like it, but the number of copies sold feels insignificant compared to the beaming face of one kid who saw herself in a character.

3. Awesome coworkers. Danielle, our trade art director, bakes incredible cakes and designs stunning book covers. Giliane, our senior photo editor, scours the photography world for the best images and then wrangles politely and diligently with the gatekeepers who license those photos; she may eventually leave us for a career as a diplomat. Carol, Millbrook Press’s editorial director, shares fascinating articles and books and anecdotes about her adorable children-slash-beta-readers. Vicki, our interim editor-in-chief, has a secret potions lab where she brews patience, a positive outlook, a sense of the big picture, and the ability to function without sleep. I picked those names out of a hat; everyone else is fantastic too.

4. Food. (See above re: Danielle’s baking prowess.)

5. Booksellers, librarians, et al. Without customers and advocates outside Lerner, many of our books would spend their lives moping in the warehouse. You know who you are. You know you matter. We know too, and we’ve got your back.

6. The past. This has been a year of self-examination for many of us in this industry. We’ve learned a lot. We see where we’ve gone wrong in the past, whom we’ve failed to include and represent, what we’ve neglected to tackle, how many unnecessary printouts we’ve circulated, how rarely we’ve used recycled paper in the printers. (Come on, guys. You remove any staples beforehand, and it goes in blank side up. We can do this. I believe in you.)

7. The future. Children’s publishing is all about small humans who are growing hour by hour toward adulthood–struggling with responsibilities and fears, wrestling with unruly hopes, facing a world that turns and tilts and throws curveballs. (And mixes metaphors.) Words can help. Words have power. I have faith in words and in the small humans who read them. And I’m very grateful for the chance to continue investing in our future through the work that Lerner does.

So whatever’s coming at us in 2017, I’m thankful for 2016. And I’m ready for the work ahead.

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