Margaret K. McElderry

Ten years ago, I was part of a group planning an event that I couldn’t believe was going to happen until it did: Susan Cooper’s 2001 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture at the Scottish Rite Center here in Portland. It seemed impossible that the person who’d written my beloved, frequently-reread The Dark Is Rising sequence was real, and that I would actually get to meet her.

It turned out that I would also meet Cooper’s legendary editor, Margaret K. McElderry, who had presented her own Arbuthnot Honor Lecture in 1994. I didn’t know much about her, except that her name, as part of the phrase “A Margaret K. McElderry Book,” was on many books I loved. I’m sort of glad I didn’t realize the extent of her fame in the world of children’s publishing; I might have been too intimidated to speak.

As it was, I happily chattered at Cooper and McElderry, who were friendly and gracious. After Cooper’s eloquent lecture and the associated festivities were over, I gave them a ride to the airport. I remember pointing out various sights en route, including the jug-shaped strip club, which amused them both.

So the news of McElderry’s death hit me with a special poignancy. I remembered that Cooper’s lecture had to do with age, and the circle that connects writers and readers. I looked up the full text in Library Literature; you can too if your library subscribes. Here’s a bit from the lecture, “Time and Again”:

We make a circle linking the child we once were, all those decades ago, with the child who will read our stories. It never ceases to amaze me that we are able to do that. Most adult novels, except for really major works, have a relatively short life; they go out of print as they go out of fashion. But a good children’s book can go on for decades and decades; that circle of connection keeps sparking and resparking like an electric circuit, linking the reading child’s imagination with the book written before he or she was born. Linking the child of today with the child that we, the writers, used to be.

R.I.P. Margaret K. McElderry, who made so many of those links possible.

I found a 1996 article that describes her career and influence, published in Library Trends by Betsy Hearne. It’s a long article, well worth reading in its entirety. In PDF: “Margaret K. McElderry and the Professional Matriarchy of Children’s Books.”