Meet PW Star Watch Honoree Carol Hinz

Meet Editorial Director Carol Hinz, one of Publishers Weekly‘s 2018 Star Watch honorees! Carol’s list includes National Book Award Longlist selection Sachiko, Sibert Honoree Sea Otter Heroes, and Orbis Pictus Honoree Dazzle Ships

Q&A with Carol Hinz

Carol Hinz

When you’re at work, you are the editorial director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books. When you’re not at work, you are . . .

Trying to keep up with my children! My sons are currently 8 and 5, and they do an excellent job of ensuring there’s never a dull moment in our household. My older boy is currently into baseball, football, and basketball, as well as designing elaborate houses in Minecraft. My younger son loves Legos, dinosaurs, The Nutcracker ballet, baseball, and Peppa Pig.

I try to sneak in a little time for my hobbies when I can, which include taking ballet classes, baking, photography, and knitting.

How did you start your career in publishing?

My first exposure to working in book publishing came thanks to a summer internship with Graywolf Press, a nonprofit literary press based in the Twin Cities. My supervisor there was the incredible Jeff Shots. He continues to inspire me with the work he does there, including editing On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

After graduating from college, I enrolled in the Radcliffe Publishing Course (which has since become the Columbia Publishing Course), and from there I was hired as an editorial assistant at Callaway Editions in New York City. I was fortunate to work closely with editor Antoinette White, who taught me a great deal about both editing and working with authors. I had the opportunity to work on quite a range of books, from Little Miss Spider: A Christmas Wish by David Kirk to A Nation Challenged: A Visual History 9/11 and Its Aftermath, which was created in close collaboration with the New York Times, to The English Roses by Madonna, illustrated by Jeffrey Fulvimari.

What brought you to Lerner?

After nearly three years in New York City, I was ready for a slower pace of life. I knew I had at least a chance of finding a job in book publishing in the Twin Cities, which is also where I’d grown up. I found an online classified ad for an opening in the editorial department at Lerner and figured since I had some experience with children’s books I might as well apply! I got the job and have now been at Lerner for 15 years.

I began by editing a lot of series nonfiction, particularly in the Sports Heroes and Legends series. I worked with a lot of different authors and enjoyed that I was always learning something new.

Lerner acquired Millbrook Press in 2004. When editor Jean Reynolds was ready to scale back her role several years later, I became editorial director of Millbrook Press. In the last year, I’ve also begun overseeing Carolrhoda’s picture book list, which is an incredibly fun challenge.

With the Millbrook Press imprint, you focus on presenting curricular concepts in playful or unconventional ways. What is it about this sort of nonfiction that appeals to you so much?

I like the challenge! I enjoy both nonfiction and poetry because they require authors to be creative within certain types of constraints. When writing a work of nonfiction, authors need to remain true to what we know about a given topic, and they need to find a way to present information that’s both engaging and works with the topic. Plus, they need to find ways to weave in whatever background information or context young readers might need so they can fully understand the topic at hand. That’s not easy!

I acquire and edit both nonfiction picture books and middle-grade nonfiction, and the visuals in these books are just as important as the words. It’s a treat to work closely with illustrators, photographers, and graphic designers to figure out how the visuals can work with the text to communicate the concepts we’re trying to get across. Ideally, the visuals don’t just replicate what the text is saying; they add new layers to the story. I am at my best when collaborating with others. Art director Danielle Carnito, production designer Erica Johnson, and I have worked closely for a number of years now, and with every book I learn something new from them about the role art and design can play in making a book the best it can be.

Carol Hinz with Leigh Walton, Congressman John Lewis, and Caren Stelson
Carol Hinz at the 2017 ALA Annual Sibert breakfast with Top Shelf Productions’ Leigh Walton, Congressman John Lewis, and Sachiko author Caren Stelson

And do you know what else I love about nonfiction? Back matter! I love all the different ways back matter can add to the information in the main text. I probably occasionally drive colleagues and authors crazy because I don’t have a set “formula” for what should be in a book’s back matter. To me it’s all about what the topic is and what sort of information will best enhance the book and extend the content so a curious reader can learn more—and then find other resources if they still want to explore a topic further.

For more about my thoughts on poetry, by the way, check out an interview I did last year with Michelle Heidenrich Barnes on the Today’s Little Ditty blog.

What was your favorite genre to read when you were a kid?

I wasn’t hugely concerned with genre as a kid—mostly I just liked to read. At breakfast, I’d read the entire text on my cereal box! I particularly remember reading The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett as well as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, my mom’s copy of Heidi by Johanna Spyri, every horse book I could get my hands on, and The Babysitters Club books by Ann M. Martin. Outside of school, the main nonfiction reading I did was thanks to our set of World Book Encyclopedias at home.

photo of Carol Hinz, age 13
Carol at age 13

In high school, one of the most significant things my Language Arts teachers did was to assign books by Native authors and authors of color. Some of the books I first read in high school include The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Black Boy by Richard Wright, Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, Sula by Toni Morrison, and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.

What do you love to read now?

As an adult, I read a fair amount of nonfiction, some related to work and some just out of interest in the author or the topic. Over the summer, I’ve read:

  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
  • Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge
  • Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden
  • Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Next up is The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison.

When I read adult fiction, it is most often contemporary realistic. I recently read and really enjoyed Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A favorite from earlier in the year is Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney.

Some recent nonfiction children’s books I’ve enjoyed with my boys include:

  • Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
  • Earth: My First 4.25 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield
  • Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy
  • The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel

Love, Agnes coverI try to read as much children’s nonfiction (picture books, MG, and YA) as I can get my hands on, and then round things out with a variety of other books. You just never know what’s going to come in handy later on!

For instance, while Irene Latham and I were working on her new book, Love, Agnes: Postcards from an Octopus, at various points, we referred to The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kauffman Orloff, illustrated by David Catrow, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, and an article about 4 things dying people need to say/need to hear.

You’re currently raising two readers. How have they changed your perspective on children’s literature? What are some of their favorites from your list?

They certainly give me a good excuse to read children’s books outside of work! I read to both of them pretty much daily. As a picture book editor, it’s enormously helpful to not just read books but to read them aloud.

I don’t think children’s book editors need to have kids to be good at what they do, but I do think my children have had an effect on how I approach to making books. I value my work differently now—I feel I have to make the most of the hours I have available when I’m not with my kids to make the best books I can.

I don’t aim to make books that will appeal to my kids specifically, but I aim to make books that will really speak to a wide range of young readers (and adults!) and offer them fresh ways of seeing the world. I want to put my energy into books that share ideas or perspectives that aren’t already out there; books that will help shape this generation of children into curious, perceptive, thoughtful adults—whatever they may grow up to be.

O’s favorites

Photo of O with Dazzle Ships spread
Dazzle Ships spread

My 8-year-old told me his favorites I’ve worked on are: Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, because he really likes the poems, and Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai, because he really likes the patterns on the ships.

Regarding Can I Touch Your Hair?, I think we’ve read it together at least 30 times by now. I first read it to him as a not-quite-final PDF of my computer. I was certain my son (who was 7 at the time) would be too young to understand the book. But he listened closely, and it has sparked all kinds of wonderful conversations between the two of us about race, mistakes, friendship, and more.

M’s favorites

Photo of M with his favorites
M with his favorites

My 5-year-old says: Bone by Bone, Tooth by Tooth, and Fossil by Fossil, all by Sara Levine with illustrations by T.S Spookytooth. He’s also been really into “the blood book” lately, also known as Clot and Scab: Gross Stuff about Your Scrapes, Bumps, and Bruises, by Kristi Lew, illustrated by Michael Slack.

He’s very curious about about how stuff works at the moment—from the human body to octopuses to volcanos. While it’s not included in the photo, I should also mention that he also adores The Ghostly Carousel: Delightfully Frightful Poems by Calef Brown. Funnily enough, I was certain he was too young for that book, but we’ve read it so much he even has portions of the poems memorized!

photo of Carol Hinz with her kids
Carol and her helpful children

The moral of the story: pay no attention to the recommended age ranges from book publishers. Kids live to prove us wrong. 😉

[Read Carol’s interview with her kids.]

Learn more

Click here to read Carol’s blog posts about picture book pagination, poetry, the creative process, and more.

Meet all of the PW Star Watch 2018 Honorees in this Publishers Weekly article.

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