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Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom Paperback – March 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (March 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0064462358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0064462358
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ursula Nordstrom, editorial director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 and a formidable creative force in 20th-century children's book publishing, was responsible for polishing and shepherding countless dog-eared classics from Where the Wild Things Are to Charlotte's Web to Harriet the Spy. One of the most remarkable things about this extraordinary woman was her prolific correspondence with her cherished team of children's book authors and illustrators, all of whom she liked to call "Genius." Fortunately, many of her letters--warm, witty, temperamental, flattering, extravagant, self-deprecating, sympathetic, and always human--have been culled from HarperCollins's archives, gathered from many generous individuals, and arranged in chronological order by the noted biographer and critic Leonard S. Marcus. The result is Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, complete with black-and-white photographs, extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

In this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at children's book publishing, letters to Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Steptoe, and Kay Thompson reveal a woman on an unorthodox quest to wrench children's literature from the stultifying clutches of sentimental illusion and false piety. Her dedication to creative, honest, original, non-condescending books for children changed the landscape of children's literature forever. As Marcus writes in his introduction, "...her letters have much to tell about the arts of writing, illustrating, and editing; the social history of the twentieth century; and the pivotal role that books, and a love of books, can play in children's lives. To read the letters is to receive a many-faceted education from a teacher of rare insight, good humor, and lively humanity. I am glad that readers will now be able to share in the experience." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Although her name may not mean much to the general populace, few adults have influenced the lives of children as deeply as has Ursula Nordstrom. As the editor of Where the Wild Things Are, Charlotte's Web and Goodnight Moon, she instilled in generations of readers a love of books and imagination. Here Marcus (Awakened by the Moon) takes readers behind the scenes to view the inner workings of the creative process. Like A. Scott Berg's biography Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, this meticulously researched collection offers the lay reader a rare view of the writers and artists who have largely defined American children's literature, and the woman who helped shape it. Although he has the deepest respect for his subject, Marcus is not awestruck and includes letters that show her more human side (e.g., in a letter to writer Janice May Udry, she says "I may have tried to have you understand that I am surrounded by moon-flowers. That is balderdash, dear... I am a real mess.") For the modern minions of corporate publishing, Marcus also offers evidence that Nordstrom, the first woman vice-president to head a Harper publishing division, also struggled to keep her books above the bottom line (e.g., from a letter to Robert Lipsyte, "I am going to stop going to a lot of budget meetings, sessions about inventory revaluation?and this summer will become an editor again"). An epistolary history of some of the highlights of children's literature, this extraordinary volume speaks to anyone who loves words, books or children. Photographs not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I love going back to this book, to reread or just browse - so inspiring!
Deborah Freedman
Editor Leonard Marcus has taken the most delicate clippings and applied the most exquisite cuts to these letters.
E. R. Bird
This book is a wonderful gift to anyone who writes or reads books for children.
J. L. Porter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Melanie Gilbert VINE VOICE on July 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
In "Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom," biographer Leonard S. Marcus allows his subject to speak for herself. By doing so Marcus mirrors the woman he profiles and the symmetry between biographer and subject sets the dynamic tone for this book.

Nordstrom's editorial prowess is evident in the correspondence she carried on with her authors during a publishing career that spanned over 30 years. She provided gentle and insightful guidance to Margaret Wise Brown, Syd Hoff, Maurice Sendak, and E.B. White among many others.

Nordstrom's genius was that she recognized and fostered it in others. Her letters reveal her to be an editor who respected but didn't pander to her sometimes temperamental talent. She knew when to cajole, inspire or reprimand them; she was awed by their gifts without being infatuated by them. Nordstrom forged a bond of artistic integrity with her authors and illustrators that gave rise to some of the best voices to be found in children's literature between 1940-1973.

This is an insider's look at someone's life work and abiding passion - classic literature for children.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
Ursula seemed to know EVERYBODY. While this book is a fascinating look at some of the "big name" writers of children's literature, I really was hoping for more biographical data to accompany the letters. It was a frustrating reading experience at times. Ursula seemed to be "treading on ice" when she wrote letters to E. B. White and Laura Ingalls Wilder, but totally free and breezy (and perhaps bordering on rude at times) when writing to other authors. I was puzzled from time to time at the complete changes in Ursula's tone . . . and I am more curious than ever about Louise Fitzhugh, writer of "Harriet The Spy." Something went wrong in Louise's life after writing "Harriet," but there are few clues in this book to explain what happened. Ursula apparently took some of her most interesting knowledge to the grave; I wish I knew more.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
No matter how tastefully collected or carefully presented, no book of letters exists without offering its readers the forbidden thrill of dabbling in someone else's mail. All the better if that mail comes from a single amusing and informative source like legendary Harper children's editor Ursula Nordstrom, eh? I am young and untrained in the world of children's literature. As such, it seemed a very good idea to find out as much as I possibly could about the field. There are certain texts out there that are prerequisites to knowing ANYTHING about kiddie lit and the first and foremost amongst these is, "Dear Genius". Being a person far more used to a 150 page children's book than a 406 page tome of adult correspondence, I was tentative to begin. For those of you who are like me, I come to reassure you that as companions go, you couldn't ask for a better source of solace, bullying, and undeniably funny jokes than Nordstrom herself. From her discovery of Maurice Sendak to the betrayal of Meindert DeJong to her own children's book imprint, and finally an uncommon adulation by artists and authors everywhere.... well the book packs a wallop. Editor Leonard Marcus has taken the most delicate clippings and applied the most exquisite cuts to these letters. The result is a book that says a lot about what the relationship between children's authors and their editors used to be, and speaks brilliantly of Nordstrom's own innate abilities without becoming gossip-laden or tawdry.

The book spans a good 45 years, beginning when Ms. Nordstrom was a mere assistant to the director of Harper Books for Boys and Girls and ending after she has received the Curtis Benjamin Award. Between 1937 and 1982 we are treated to front row seats in the world of children's publishing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. L. Porter on February 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
Ursula Nordstrom may not be a household name, but the pantheon of children's books she had a hand in publishing surely contains some of the greatest literature for young people ever written. In her charming, funny, and insightful letters, we see a great mind at work, a skilled editor, confidant, and cultivator of talent, and a true risk-taker and innovator through a time of great change in the world of children's books. Some of the best letters are the ones she writes to children themselves who have questions or concerns about the books of her authors. She never ceases to see the value of their opinions, the wisdom in their reading of the work, and the beauty in their imaginations.

In addition to the letters themselves is Leonard Marcus' wonderful introductory essay and accompanying notes. He has been careful to provide context everywhere it's needed, and it makes reading the letters that much more enjoyable.

This book is a wonderful gift to anyone who writes or reads books for children. But it is also more - it is a how-to book of sorts of how to work with people to get their best out of them. If Ursula Nordstrom teaches us nothing it's that you must show love for the work and the creator, a shared sense of purpose, and an unending respect for the artist's process. Treat yourself or your friends to Dear Genius!
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