Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom” as Want to Read:
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  555 ratings  ·  113 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Dear Genius, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Dear Genius

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  555 ratings  ·  113 reviews

More filters
Sort order
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Ursula Nordstrom (not of Nordstrom department store fame); held the position of children’s editor at Harper’s publishing house for over three decades. Her legacy includes having worked with some of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators including Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, and Shel Silverstein; among a plethora of others. Nordstrom kept on-going streams of communication with these authors/artists in the forms of typewritten letters which were archived and rem ...more
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?)
Barb Middleton
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult
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
Courtney Johnston
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm not really finished but five stars it is and I'll pick away at this all summer. Library books are coming in fast and furious and I have to get started on them.
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
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
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Claire Grasse
Jun 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Sophie Brookover
It's impossible to overstate the significance of this book, and the work of Ursula Nordstrom, in my life as a reader & librarian.
Catherine Read
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took so long to finish this book, but I love every minute I spent with it. It was too heavy to lug around in my travels, so it was my "at home" book for months.

These letters written by the iconic children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom are so rich in every conceivable way. They are written to the many writers she worked with in a career with Harper & Row that spanned the 1930s to the end of the 1970s. The footnotes are in a class by themselves and they are on every page. I was never at a
Kris Dersch
This book is just plain delicious.
If you were touched by a children's book of the 20th's worth the read just for the behind-the-scenes on those. "Harriet the Spy," "Where the Wild Things Are," "Bedtime for Frances," "The Giving Tree," "Freaky Friday,"...the list of books and their creators discussed in this compendium just goes on and on and on. If it were just that, it would be well worth the read for any book lover.
What makes it delightful, though, is that it goes beyond th
Sarah Nelson
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
So interesting and inspiring to read the letters of legendary Harper children's book editor, Ursula Nordstrom. She edited many kidlit classics and worked with authors and illustrators like E.B. White, Ruth Krauss, Maurice Sendak, Charlotte Zolotow, and Shel Silverstein . . . She was part coach, part cheerleader, and part (sometimes) tough school marm. I learned quite a lot of industry history, was introduced to some new (old) authors, and enjoyed getting an insider's perspective. Though children ...more
Apr 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: about-books, 2016
Fascinating read for those of us wanting a peek behind-the-scenes in children's literature and publishing.

Who better than the influential Ursula Nordstrom herself to reveal a bit of historic reality about the writers, illustrators, editors, and publishers who gifted the world with many twentieth century American children's classics: chapter books like Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy, I Can Read Books like the Little Bear series, and picture books like Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Mo
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Garth Williams, Maurice Sendak, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Margaret Wise Brown, EB White, Charlotte Zolotow, John Steptoe, L Fitzhugh, Shel Silverstein, Ruth Krauss, the Heys, Crockett Johnson, Mary Stoltz, the Hobins, M DeJong, Hilary Knight, and SO MANY OTHERS. These are just a few in the kidlit pantheon that Ursula Nordstrom helped, harassed, and huddled with during her decades with Harper. This compilation of her letters is a landslide of insight to her successes (a 'few that got away' scenarios, ...more
A.V. Dalcourt
Purchased this book based on the word of a popular creative podcast to help inspire writers.
I was looking for insight in the communications between the creative and writer to help grow the writer's skill and craft. What I got was some superficially delightful letters of fluff that danced around the creative work as those the quality of the work was somehow secondary to the writer's ego.

The name drops were nice to give context to the letters and added a sort of historical nostalgia, especially i
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memior
Ursula Nordstrom's story is fascinating. Her letters to authors and illustrators of children's literature - many of whom you would recognize - are businesslike, descriptive, funny, personal, caring and all around really great. The only downside is that we only have one side of the correspondence recorded here. Overall great glimpse into this woman's business life and dealing with her creative genius friends. Great read.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I REALLY enjoyed reading the letters of a children’s book editor to her writers and friends. Many of the letters were funny, and they introduced me to many authors, illustrators, and books I’d otherwise have missed. This is my 200th book to finish this year — 48 of them were related to her letters and read while this one gathered late fees at the library. I still have another 20-plus books in my library queue written by her writers.
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such a wonderful book! Read it back when I was teaching children's literature to elementary ed students at the university. Told them about it. Maurice Sendak, Louise Fitzhugh, EB White, Mary Stolz, who else? Everybody! This woman changed the face of literature with her insight, encouragement, bravery. Thanks to Leonard Marcus for all the work he does promoting and explaining and excavating the history of children's literature.
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent history of children's book publishing from 1930sthrough 1980. We only read Ursula's letters to authors and illustrators and not responses. I want to check my books to see how many I have. Cultural ltural history along the way
Amanda Rowe
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating peek into the life of a strong, clever woman who was way ahead of her time. Loved it! Also, as a writer, I really enjoyed learning more about the world of publishing and the authors who inhabited it at the time.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a wonderful collection of letters.I can't believe I hadn't heard of her before:
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a preK teacher, and a lover of children’s literature, this was a fascinating look into the publishing world. This prescient editor had her hand in so many children’s classics! A great read.
Sarah Lewis
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Necessary reading for anyone in children's editorial (or writing). I found a hero in Ursula Nordstrom....
Carrie Brown-Wolf
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're a writer, you'll especially enjoy this.
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature
  • Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
  • A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature
  • Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration
  • Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
  • Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication
  • Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft
  • From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books
  • Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books
  • Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature
  • Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling
  • Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know about What Editors Do
  • The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic
  • Stet: An Editor's Life
  • Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book
  • Writing Irresistible KidLit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers
  • Love from Nancy
  • Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature
See similar books…
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
“I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing.” 27 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.” 7 likes
More quotes…