In a world where publishing companies are being swallowed by huge corporations, “editors still care about books,” insisted Margaret K. McElderry ’33. She became a legendary figure in children’s literature, but knew that publishing kids’ books wasn’t child’s play.
Growing up, McElderry sat in the garden and listened to stories her mother told while she planted flowers. She knew her dream job was in publishing, but didn’t pursue this career right away. After graduating from Mount Holyoke, McElderry went to work at the New York Public Library as a children’s librarian. By the time World War II ended, McElderry mustered up the courage to explore the world of publishing, and she never looked back.
She started at Harcourt, Brace, and Company and soon her career was decorated with a list of firsts. In 1952, McElderry became the first editor to have two books win the top honors in children’s publishing (the Caldecott and Newbery Awards) in the same year. She was also the first children’s book editor to have an imprint named after her: Margaret K. McElderry Books (MKM Books).
McElderry was one of the first editors to coproduce her books with European and Asian publishers. While her industry became more focused on the bottom line, McElderry persisted in publishing only books she really liked, and championed little-known authors she admired.
McElderry had such enthusiastic dedication to children’s literature that she continued to work part-time for years after she officially retired at age 86.