Good Books for Bad Children: The Genius of Ursula Nordstrom

Random/Anne Schwartz. Sept. 2023. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593379578.
Gr 2-5–Kephart writes worshipfully of Ursula Nordstrom, an only child whose parents divorced when she was quite young. Nordstrom was a quiet, imaginative reader who ended up at boarding school (an experience she recreated in The Secret Language). Afterwards, she was too poor for college and went to work at a publishing house. Upon transferring into the department for young readers, she was eventually promoted to run the place. Bristol’s stylized, almost Gothic portraits of Nordstrom amplify the lingering melancholy of Kephart’s telling; included are reports of Nordstrom’s laughter and pleasure in the many books that so delighted child after child, but the general mood is one of a solitary soldier, bringing out the best in her troops, demanding, yelling, insisting, coaching, and working long into the night to do it. For educators and other adults reading along, there will be the game of picking out familiar book covers, writers, illustrators, and names that appear in these pages; Nordstrom had true reach and a lasting impact on the field in books that are in print today. Her retirement to the country with her partner Mary Griffith is noted; an author’s note and resources follow.
VERDICT A full life through a picture book keyhole, this is a well-done and rare glimpse of book publishing few children see, and a career path that turns serendipity, acute intelligence, and hard work into what only seems like fate.

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