The new children’s book editor at the New York Times Book Review Sarah Harrison Smith’s first reviews were of two picture books from the Canadian publisher, Simply Read Books. The message was quiet, but clear: recognizing the importance of the youngest readers of all, Sarah is continuing the weekly online picture book reviews begun by her predecessor Pamela Paul, and paying close attention to titles from publishers small and large, near and far. Recently I chatted with Sarah about her background, books (of course!), New York City, and some of her ideas for children’s book coverage at the Book Review.
Sarah grew up among book lovers and creators. Her grandfather co-published the Babar books, she knew Rumer Godden’s editor, and illustrator Pamela Bianco was a family friend. After graduate studies in English literature at Columbia and Oxford she spent several years at The New Yorker as one of its famed fact checkers and later joined the Times in a similar role. The result of her expertise was The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting it Right. After some time as managing editor of the New York Times Magazine Sarah moved to the Metropolitan section where she has enjoyed exploring New York in all its variety. Sarah’s love and appreciation of the city comes through loud and clear when you speak with her. During one of our conversations she spoke with such excitement about the Brooklyn Navy Yard — a place she had recently visited for an article — that I wanted to put down the phone and go there immediately.
Books that she remembers with special fondness from her childhood are those that incorporate art, a favorite illustrator being Edward Ardizzone. Christina Brand’s Nurse Matilda books (on which the recent Nanny McPhee movies are based) were cherished; her children have also relished their naughty sensibilities. Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House books had a tremendous impact on her; they provided a great view for her on how a family lived with so little. Having noticed a tweet of hers about one of my childhood favorites, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, I asked Sarah about it and she spoke with enthusiasm for author Betty MacDonald’s ability to write for children while including clever touches for the adults reading the books aloud, say naming characters after the colleges Bryn Mawr and Cornell.
Sarah is excited about the potential for more online multimedia features such as podcasts and videos celebrating the artistic process. She is also eager to make more connections with related Times content, for example centralizing all articles about Roald Dahl’s Matilda from those related to the current Broadway show to others about Dahl and the book’s illustrator Quentin Blake. No doubt because of her love for New York City, Sarah is also interested in organizing information about children’s literature set there so that you could easily find material about such iconic literary spots as the pond in Central Park where Stuart Little sailed his boat.
Something that I found especially exciting was Sarah’s interest in looking into ways for children to contribute their own opinions about books on the Book Review site. Certainly, I know my students would love such an opportunity. Both of us admire the Guardian’s children’s book site where young readers are already writing reviews. I also encouraged Sarah to check out the Carnegie Greenaway Shadowing site, an ambitious program where groups of children read and consider the shortlists for those two prestigious awards (comparable to the US Newbery and Caldecott Awards).
Upon the announcement of her new position, Sarah tweeted “I’m VERY excited to be joining the Times Book Review as children’s book editor! #dreamcometrue” I think so too and wish her well as she goes forward in this new role.
Also at Huffington Post.