With Editor and Author, Harold Underdown
Friday, December 22, 2017
The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all.
My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.
Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!
Today’s contestant is editor and kidlit resource favorite for authors and illustrators alike who runs The Purple Crayon…Harold Underdown.
Harold is also the author of THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS. http://www.underdown.org/cig.htm Along with colleague, Eileen Robinson, he runs the Kids Book Revisions Workshops.
Below is Harold’s category list A – Z with his answers off the top of his head:
ARTIST: Fine artist: Turner / Children’s book artist: Virginia Lee Burton
COLOR: Purple, of course!
DAY OF THE WEEK: Friday, because it means freedom
FLOWER: Morning glory (on our backyard fence)
GEM: Two picture book gems: The Snowy Day and A Chair for My Mother
HAPPINESS IS: A good book to read
ICE CREAM FLAVOR: Coffee
JAZZ GREAT: Ella
KNOW HOW TO: play cricket
LANDMARK: the High Line, where I walk whenever I can
MUSICAL: Classic: Singing in the Rain Recent: Candide
NON-FICTION BOOK: Minn of the Mississippi
OMINOUS SOUND: Does a Dementor make a sound?
POINT OF INTEREST: The Cloisters, in upper Manhattan, for their unicorn tapestries and herb garden.
QUOTE: Readers are not passive sponges, but active collaborators with writers.
REPTILE: Tree frog
SYNONYM FOR AWESOME: brilliant
TRAIT: stubbornness (or perhaps bloodymindedness would be a better term–see also Eloise)
UNUSUAL ANIMAL: axolotl
VILLAIN: Robert Mercer
WEATHER TERM: Changeable
X WORD: eXtraordinary
YEAR AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Please don’t ask this question of a historian’s son. He could easily spend days determining the best answer.
ZODIAC SIGN: Pisces
ME: One of my categories for you was actually a tad tortuous based on your answer. 😉 And that category is YEAR AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT. How about if I made it more specific? YEAR IN YOUR CAREER AND IT’S SIGNIFICANCE:
HU: I could say 1987, which was when I started in my first job in publishing, as an editorial assistant at Macmillan Children’s Books, but everyone had a first job. Instead, I’ll say 2000, which was when I decided to leave a wonderful job at Charlesbridge in Boston, to which I commuted long-distance from New York, so that my wife and I could have a child. The job I took so that I could be in New York full-time was with a start-up, ipicturebooks, with a mission of bringing ebooks to children.
ipicturebooks was about ten years ahead of its time and ran out of funds not long after our daughter was born. Since then, I’ve been working independently, combined with a day job with an educational publisher. So that decision led to my daughter (now a teenager!), and was entirely worth it just to that. But it’s also meant a sea change in the work I do. I am not involved in acquisitions, which is my one regret. I am working with authors on manuscripts, providing help at every stage. so I haven’t lost that. And I’ve been able to work with Eileen Robinson on Kid’s Book Revisions [ http://www.kidsbookrevisions.com/%5D, offering workshops, webinars, and retreats on revision, which I doubt I’d have been able to do if I had stayed in-house.
ME: 2000 was indeed a remarkable year then for you and your family!
Another family, amphibians, are also brilliant, in more ways than one…tree frogs and axolotls. They are part of a larger species, reptiles. If you had to choose between the two for whatever reason, which one would you choose and why?
HU: I’ve been stuck on this for some time. If I figure out a basis for choosing between the two of them, I’ll come back to it. Otherwise, I’m refusing to choose. I want to have both of them in our world.
ME: Fair enough. I could not choose either without a basis of how to do the choosing. If the basis was cuteness though, I would choose the axolotl. 😊
Regarding days of the week though, my favorites are Fridays. You wrote ‘Friday, because it means freedom,’ as your day of week answer. Please elaborate on this.
HU: For a school-age child, Friday is the last day of the week. Even if they love school, Friday means two days of NOT having their lives determined by the school schedule. For their parents, if like many people they work 9-5 jobs, it can mean freedom in a similar way. And so for families, Friday means more time to be together…
ME: Perfect answer in my book. That is exactly how Fridays came to be my favorite day of the week!
I am leaving your OMINOUS SOUND question to the readers to answer in the comments section.
I follow you on Facebook and see some of your walking the High Line posts.
Recently you posted a photo of the morning glories making their appearance. Do you walk the High Line in all seasons and what natural ambience can a person expect to see on the High Line in late autumn?
HU: I try to walk on the High Line whenever it’s not actually raining or snowing, so I do walk on it in the fall and winter. It’s carefully planted so that there is [photo credits: Harold Underdown] always something to see, and in the late autumn that is colorful leaves (still on some trees and shrubs as I write this the first weekend of December), berries, interesting seedpods and dried grasses. Someone walking the High Line this time of year will see a lot of brown, of course, but there are birds hunting food, and a quiet, restful feeling.
ME: Walking the high line should be on everyone’s bucket lists. It’s on mine!
What age did you start playing cricket and do you still play now?
HU: My dad was born in England, and my brother and I must have started playing it in the backyard, before I can remember. I went to a college that actually has a cricket team, and played it seriously while I was there, but I don’t anymore. I do follow cricket as a fan–like soccer, it is an international sport with fascinating inter-country politics and dramas.
ME: I had never heard of the non-fiction book, MINN OF THE MISSISSIPPI so I reserved it and read it and really enjoyed it! My family and I are captivated by this mighty river as it borders Wisconsin and we also like to fish on it. What made you think of this book as your answer?
HU: I discovered the books of Holling Clancy Holling, originally published in the 1950’s, when I was a child, and they are still, for me, a model for what nonfiction can be. MINN and his other books tell a factually possible but dramatic story, in this case about a snapping turtle and her adventures on the river, while Holling fits all kinds of information and drawings into the margins.
I’ve always edited fiction and nonfiction, and when I edit nonfiction I have watched out for books that take this approach. I was able to acquire AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Bob Marstall, when I was at Orchard Books. It applies a Hollingesque approach to the life of a monarch butterfly and won the Orbis Pictus Award. And Charlesbridge will be publishing a book in 2018 about the life and migration of an osprey that I did some work on: BELLE’S JOURNEY by Rob Bierregaard, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky.
ME: Like the weather, the world of children’s publishing (publishing in general) is changeable. If you had magic powers to stabilize just one thing in the world of children’s publishing, what would it be?
HU: I would like to see funding for schools and libraries stabilized, which of course would require an understanding on the part of our political leaders of their importance. Schools and libraries are crucial to the health of the children’s book business, because their demand for quality enables publishers to find a market for books that are important and needed, but that might not be a best-seller in the bookstore market.
ME: This is the exact insight that we can share on our social media to get the word out as well as contacting our representatives and get proactive in this endless battle which we can win if we all unite. Thank you for sharing this with us!
This was a fun week Harold! Thank you for being a contestant. 😊 Any final thoughts you would like to share?
HU: Yes, the advice that I am always giving writers: don’t stop reading. Read new books, read the classics, think about how they work.
ME: Excellent advice Harold!
Readers, you can find Harold on social media at:
And of course at the Purple Crayon: www.underdown.org
And if you happen to be a writer as well, check out his and Eileen Robinson’s:
Quote for writers from Harold, ‘Readers are not passive sponges, but active collaborators with writers.’
Thank you stopping by today. May you all have a fantastic weekend!