Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
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Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom

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4.41 of 5 stars 4.41  ·  rating details  ·  337 ratings  ·  78 reviews
She trusted her immense intuition and generous heart--and published the most. Ursula Nordstrom, director of Harper's Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, was arguably the single most creative force for innovation in children's book publishing in the United States during the twentieth century. Considered an editor of maverick temperament and taste, her...more
Paperback, 406 pages
Published March 31st 2000 by HarperCollins (first published April 1st 1998)
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Shelley
Jun 12, 2008 Shelley rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who's ever read and enjoyed a children's book.
Shelves: history, literature
This is possibly the best book ever. Ursula Nordstrom was the head editor at Harpers for many decades, and this is a collection of her professional letters to the authors and illustrators we all love. Her letters themselves are fantastic, witty and intelligent and so very interesting. The topics managed to be even better - I loved seeing her editing in action, and seeing how she shaped all those books into their final versions. Not to mention getting to "know" all of the authors and illustrators...more
Dave
If I were stranded on a desert island with only five books, this would be one of them for sure. Not only was Ursula a daring, ground-breaking editor who revolutionized children's books, but she was also a brilliant communicator. If she was writing about the color of orange juice, she'd still be a hoot.

But lucky for us she wasn't writing about citrus fruit—she was writing about kids books, and publishing and personalities. Sometimes we even see her frustrations with politics and culture (a great...more
Rachel
Nov 02, 2010 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Rachel by: Julia McGill, my YWW writing teacher
Shelves: 11th-grade
Stuart Little. Charlotte's Web. The Runaway Bunny. Little House in the Big Woods. Bedtime for Frances. Where the Wild Things Are. A Kiss for Little Bear. It's Like This, Cat. Freaky Friday. Harriet the Spy.

It's hard to imagine that a single individual was involved in the publication of so many beloved childhood classics, but Ursula Nordstrom was such a woman. As director of Harper Publishing's childrens department from 1940 to 1973, she was friend and mentor to some of the most creative writers...more
Barb Middleton
For some reason, I didn't reign in my compulsive eating of enticing Christmas desserts this year. The cookie tray jump starts my pistons for shoveling sugar from hand-to-mouth in a blur. You'd think my pistons would have slowed down now that I'm old, but NOOOOOOOO. Now because of my lack of self-control, I'm an irritable, hamster-type pedal-pusher on an elliptical machine, who is horribly sick of salads and can't eat anything because she gained 10 freaking pounds in two weeks! I have since lost...more
Dasha
One of the more inspiring books I have ever read - I started out just wanting to see how this woman [the editor of most of my favorite children's books of 1950-1980:] talked to her authors and illustrators - I made mental notes - oh see she sounds cross, but she is just being supportive and constructive, etc.
But the more I read it, the more Ursula's own personality was fleshed out - these letters do really give a sense of what a force she must have been - she doesn't give too many personal detai...more
Courtney Johnston
I'm not usually a big fan of collections of letters, but living with Ursula Nordstrom and her many close, occasionally combative, frank and loving letters to the writers and illustrators she worked with for 30 odd years the past two weeks has been an utter delight.

Nordstrom's voice is quite unique: eloquent, warm, frisky. After a couple of hectic, focused months at work, having this voice inside my head - a voice that's miles away from workaday client correspondence - has broken open the linguis...more
Claire Grasse
Ursula Nordstrom is wonderful: witty, self-deprecating, kind (mostly). Think of a children's book author or illustrator that you've read, and this former children's editor with Harper & Row probably mentored them: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, EB White, Garth Williams, H.A. and Margret Rey, Margaret Wise Brown... If you grew up on these peoples' books (and pity you if you didn't) you'll love this behind-the-scenes peek at how their books were created. Ursula Nordstrom was an open-min...more
CLM
Delightful, although at times disjointed. My two favorite parts were where Ursula is describing how she had to explain to industry professionals that The First Four Years cannot be edited to be made more cheerful as that would not be faithful to what LIW wrote (although as I said to my mother the other night, that may well be what Rose did) and the letter Ursula wrote to Russell Hoban when he is working on Bedtime for Frances (then titled Who's Afraid?)
Jennifer
If you love children's books, this is the book for you. Ursula Nordstrom was the head of the Harper's "Boys and Girls' Department" from 1940 to 1973 and is credited with being one of the most creative forces in children's books. She had an uncanny ability to recognize talent and potential in writers and illustrators. She worked with people such as Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Shel Silverstein, Garth Williams, John Steptoe, Mary Stolz, and on and on. She was a magnificent ment...more
Susann
May 04, 2008 Susann rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Susann by: Melissa and Laurie
Laurie was so right; I loved this book. Ursula Nordstrom was the editor for Harper's children's books for decades, working with Margaret Wise Brown, EB White, Maurice Sendak, Louise Fitzhugh and a bazillion others. She shaped 20th century kidlit and happened to be an excellent letter writer to boot. It was fascinating to watch how she worked with all those writers and illustrators. I had never really thought about illustrator-editor conversations and I was especially interested in her Garth Will...more
Melody
What I liked about this collection of letters is the way UN's wry wit was always in evidence. It was fun to read some of the letters to authors I know and love.

What I didn't like was the lack of context, the disconnected nature of only getting one side of the conversation.

What drove me crazy is maybe only something I don't understand, perhaps some scholarly convention- but I found it maddening that the editor assigned "short" names to some of the authors as if he would be referring to them by...more
Joseph
Ain't it always the case? I just wrote what was - by my standards - a long, thoughtful review of this wonderful book. I included the context of why I think reading collections of literary correspondence is a wonderful activity. I included wonderful links to wonderful authors and their wonderful books. I even included a wonderful quote from the editor's wonderful introduction to this volume that sorta summed up why I thought Ursula Nordstrom was so - well, wonderful.

Then I hit "save" to share thi...more
Elaine Ruth Boe
May 17, 2014 Elaine Ruth Boe rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Elaine Ruth by: An editor in children's publishing
This took me a few months to get through, so I don't have as comprehensive of a view on Nordstrom's evolution as I would have liked (there was a lot of stopping and starting on this, and some extra books in-between). This is partly due to my few and scattered moments of reading in school, and also because of the nature of the book. There are nearly 400 pages of letters, and I found that I couldn't read more than around 15 pages at a time without beginning to skim. It takes a letter or two to get...more
Dianna
How I enjoyed this book! All it is is letters written by one of the most notable children's book editors ever, Ursula Nordstrom, who worked for Harper. The letters go from 1937 until 1982. This really was a golden age for children's literature, and it was so fun to see letters and production details about some of my favorite books. Laura Ingalls Wilder, E B White, Maurice Sendak, Meindert DeJong, Margaret Wise Brown, Ruth Krauss, Garth Williams, and many others are all there.

I loved reading acc...more
Lora
To know of Ursula Nordstrom is to long for an editor worth writing. Nordstrom, the director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940-1973, is responsible for the careers and celebrity of many writers and artists during her tenure. From Maurice Sendak, who she “discovered” in an FAO Schwartz window, to E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Shell Silverstein, and more, there are her collected letters in Dear Genius. Thanks to Leonard S. Marcus, the title is apt, as review of a few...more
Jennifer
I have a new heroine, and her name is Ursula Nordstrom.

I first became aware of Nordstrom a few weeks ago when Elizabeth Bird of the Fuse #8 blog on the School Library Journal website was counting down the Top 100 Picture Books Poll. Of the 100 books on the list, Nordstrom edited 12 of them, more than any other single person.

Nordstrom was an editor for Harpers from the 1930's-1970's. She is considered a pioneer in the area of children's books. She edited many of the children's books we have com...more
Lexish
This book was recommended to me by a friend whose mother did some freelance editing of it years ago. Ursula Nordstrom was the editor of the children's division of Harper Books when that publishing house was handling the development of classic books like Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Charlotte's Web, The Giving Tree, Harold & the Purple Crayon, A Birthday for Frances (and the other Frances books), Little House on the Prairie, and so many others.

This is a compilation of Ursula No...more
Paul
An interesting read to see, from the editor's point of view, how some of the most famous children's books came into being. Works by authors like Sendak and Shel Silverstein, and books like Harriet the Spy and Charlotte's Web abound here in the Nordstrom letters, with the authors' careers forming, and the books themselves being jiggled back and forth until both editor and author felt they were just right.

Nordstrom had a very cajoling style to her editing, but also quite a force coming through he...more
Phoebe
If you're part of the world of children's literature in any capacity, you need to read this book. Not only is it filled with brilliant editorial insight (really, Mr. Sendak, are you sure you don't want to change the last word of Where the Wild Things Are to "warm"?), but it offers a unique glimpse into the birth of children's literature as a significant genre. Before Ursula, it was all saccharine sweet. She was a pioneer who suggested that instead, we write "good books for bad children"--books a...more
Susan Katz
For anyone who loves children's books, this collection of letters by a genius of an editor is absolutely indispensable for its insights into writing, illustrating, editing, and publishing. It also contains many fascinating tidbits about a host of famous authors and illustrators. Best of all, the voice in those letters is that of a funny, smart, irresistible human being whose amusing comments often made me smile. Of a sales manager who responded with intense emotion to a reading of Bedtime for Fr...more
louisa
Mar 09, 2011 louisa is currently reading it
In my hands now, and I'm so excited:

"December 9, 1949

Dear Nowell:
(1). Please don't address me as "Dear Baby." I was young and eager when you knew me but now I'm a large, middle-aged woman even though my last anguished letter to you didn't sound very mature. (2). It was wonderful to have your good crazy sensible letter."

Now that's a letter from your editor. Or:

"Dear Mick,

The copy-editor brought the revised ms. of Cat back this morning and I've been gulping it down with such excitement that I'm al...more
Rory
I cannot express how wonderful this book is. ESPECIALLY if you're into children's literature. My co-workers are going to go gaga over it; I can't wait to pass it on. Ursula Nordstrom (what a name!) was the head editor for children's books at Harper's for more than 30 years. She ushered so many classics into the world: Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Charlotte's Web, Harriet the Spy, Goodnight Moon, the Little House books, and so many more.

This book is a collection of he...more
Susan
This was a fascinating collection of letters from the famous children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom to many of "her" authors, including Maurice Sendak, Louise Fitzhugh, Robert Rey, etc. Amazing to see her commitment to their talent and to read her encouraging words, as well as her more specific notes about specific manuscripts. I don't know if this was ever common or if it is simply unique to Nordstrom, herself -- an editor so involved and supportive of the nurturing of the talent of writers --...more
Maggie
This is another "speciality" book, so I'm not sure of the appeal to civilians in the same was it appeals to foot soldiers of the of the publishing industry. For the illustrator I think it is essential, particularly if you are going about the dreary business of waiting on correspondence from busy people.

I am not certain any of the art directors, publishers or editors have the same enthusiastic conviction that Ursula Nordstrom had, but I for one will pretend they do until I hear from them otherwis...more
Scott Longo
It's crazy to peer into someone's direct words like this.. as most of the writing is uncensored business correspondence. It's straight up like reading a person's selected email archive (I hope the day never comes ^.^). But Ursula comes off as such a sweet and smart and empathetic woman.. strangely guarded but in such a subtle way. Shedding light for me on the weird mix of traits that make a good editor.. and just a great lesson on how to conduct oneself with a large scope of unique and terribly...more
Laura
I LOVE letters!! (Is it the nerd form of reality TV?) I laughed out loud in this one and was astonished to watch some of my favorite childhood novels come to life under UN's direction. I've added her to my fictitious list of dinner guests!
Sarah
These collected letters of one of the most formative figures in children’s literature were interesting on many levels. The letters themselves were fun to read: Nordstrom certainly had a flair for the dramatic. They provided an insider’s glimpse of the making of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, and E. B. White, to name just a few. The manner in which Nordstrom communicated was also educational: especially in delicate situations she displayed much of the graciousness and tact I aspir...more
Gwenda Bond
A must read for anyone interested in children's literature, the editorial process, or who is into witty, fantastic correspondence.
Kyla
I couldn't stop saying as I read "This is the perfect book for me!" She is my hero and my idol and my dream editor - the way she nurtured and pushed people along and cared for children's books and offered encouragement and praise - really astonishing. The people she worked with are all gods in my mind: E.B White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, Charlotte Zolotw, Louise Fitzhugh - on and on. E.B White is the only manuscripts she never had to make a change to, which confirms my suspicion tha...more
Ann
Love this book, a definite especially for anyone interested in writing books for children.
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381134
Ursula Nordstrom is primarily known as one of the twentieth century's great editors --- as many have remarked, "The Maxwell Perkins of children's literature." Yet besides being an editor, she was also the author of two remarkable novels, one published, The Secret Language (1972), and the second --- now lost forever --- unpublished.

She was publisher and editor in chief of juvenile books at Harper...more
More about Ursula Nordstrom...
The Secret Language

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“I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing.” 7 likes
“The creative artist is the one wanting to make order out of chaos. The rest of us just accept disorder -if we even recognize it- and get a bang out of our five beautiful senses, if we’re lucky.” 2 likes
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