alexandra alger


Listening to Betsy Bird

I had the honor of attending Pat Cummings’ children’s book illustration class at Parsons yesterday Not only did I get to see student writer-illustrators discuss the first pages of the stories they are working on, but I got to hear the down-to-earth-yet-droll Betsy Bird tell kid-lit publishing stories for more than an hour.

Betsy Bird writes a hugely popular blog for the School Library Journal, Fuse #8 Production, and is the city’s children’s librarian extraordinaire. She’s the New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist, which in plain English means she picks the children’s books carried at all the city’s public libraries. Wowza. And, naturally, she writes books. Her first picture book, Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman, came out last year. She’s also co-authored, with Julie Danielson and the late Peter D. Sieruta, Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature.

Betsy is a font of information, some of it rather mind-blowing. To whit:

It can take years to get a picture book published. Betsy’s manuscript was ready to go in 2009; it wasn’t in bookstores until 2013. What happened? For one thing, her editor left (or got fired), and the new editor made all kinds of changes. I can see how that could happen. Still: four years? That’s nothing, apparently. She’s heard of people waiting ten.

If Barnes & Noble doesn’t like your book cover, the publisher is more than willing to change it.

She hates horse books! If she’ve been wondering (as I have been) why the heck no one seems to be reading Black Beauty anymore, Betsy Bird is at least partly the reason. I knew why my daughter wasn’t reading horse books—she’s scared of horses, for no good reason, mind you—but I was wondering what had happened to the whole category….

If you’re writing for kids, you’ve got to get Betsy’s book. It offers up a satisfying trove of insider stories, as well as a meaty discussion on censorship and the obstacles that have faced and still face GLBT authors.

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