What are some upcoming trends?
I certainly can’t claim to be a big trend spotter/chaser—my main goal in acquiring new books for young readers is to find those that will stand the test of time, not flame out with the latest craze. But I do hope some of the current positive trends about reading continue—young readers still prefer reading print books to e-books, and reading is still the top leisure activity for ages 2 to 10.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I am always on the hunt for character-centered picture books with lots of heart—those that make you want to start reading again from the beginning the moment you get to the end. I’d also like to see more picture-book texts with diversity built into the fiber of the story (rather than as an overt “topic” of a book). A recent example: Linda Ashman’s lively update of the classic song “Over the River and Through the Wood” included four different families attempting to reach Grandma and Grandpa’s house in time for a big holiday gathering. Linda indicated in her art notes for illustrator Kim Smith that the families should be as diverse as possible—adopted children, two moms or two dads, ethnic variety, etc. The book is a warm tribute to all sorts of different families without ever mentioning diversity directly in the text.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Anthropomorphic objects as main characters. No more submissions that feature talking bellybutton lint, toasters, or basketballs, please! There are always exceptions, of course. One of my favorite picture books of all time is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovelby Virginia Lee Burton. And who doesn’t love the hardworking tractor in Otis by Loren Long? These are great examples of breaking the rules brilliantly.
How are you working with self-published writers?
I wish there were more hours in the day for searching out self-published gems—we are always alert to online sources that positively review self-published authors who might be seeking wider distribution. One example of this sort of collaboration was the publication of Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse series. Colleen originally self-published the first two volumes as e-books, and then Sterling acquired and published the whole series as jacketed hardcovers. All four books were New York Times bestsellers, and they continue to receive rapturous fan mail.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I love being part of a small, supportive team of acquiring editors that is given a lot of creative freedom. We are an extremely collaborative group, meeting every other week to discuss new submissions and brainstorm ways to strengthen manuscripts that have a kernel of something wonderful but are not quite “there.” While we work with many splendid agents, I’m also proud that we are one of the very few children’s houses that continues to have an open submission policy—we find too many fabulous projects in the slush pile to turn away unsolicited/un-agented authors.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel so privileged to be in the position of constantly seeking stories that will delight, educate, and entertain young readers. Much of my time is spent writing rejection letters, but I’d like prospective authors to know those letters are always written in the hope that the next submission will lead to a yes, not a no. Some writers have been sending submissions to me for years, and it turned out to be the fourth or 12th or 20th submission that struck just the right chord.
Meredith Mundy, executive editor at Sterling Children’s Books, just celebrated her 10th anniversary with the company and her 22nd anniversary in publishing. She is nuts about picture books with strong emotional centers (recent projects include Your Alien by Tammi Sauer, This Old Van by Kim Norman, Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim T. Griswell, and Normal Norman by Tara Lazar), but she is also seeking everything from funny, original board books to unforgettable middle-grade novels to gripping contemporary YA fiction. While she enjoys editing lively nonfiction, she wouldn’t be the right editor for poetry collections or a project geared primarily toward the school and library market.