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Meet the Woman Behind Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are"

Ursula Nordstrom changed children's literature. During her time as the editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row, she helped nurture the talents of many authors, such as Shel Silverstein author of The Giving Tree and Maurice Sendak illustrator and author of Where the Wild Things Are.


Ursula Nordstrom changed children's literature. During her time as the editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row, she helped nurture the talents of many authors, such as Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree, and Maurice Sendak, illustrator and author of Where the Wild Things Are. Without her editorial efforts we may not have grown up reading many of these and other childhood classics.


Hardly anyone has raised more conscientious imaginative children than the legendary mid-century children's book editor Ursula Nordstrom,” says author of Brain Pickings Maria Popova.

''With her incomparable editorial genius, Ursula Nordstrom transformed the American children's book into a genuine art form,'' Sendak told the New York Times following her death in 1988. ''I was there, one of her eager apprentices, profiting immensely from her intuition and her generous heart. She was the best of mommas, the best of teachers, the best of friends.''

She was a champion for authors and children during her tenure at Harper & Row, which began in 1936. This was a time when storytellers were being pressured to commercialize their material to fit a certain market. These tales for children often had a genteel, polite boredom to them, which featured nuclear families and gender stereotypes. She much preferred the stories, which featured mischievous children, like Max from Where the Wild Things Are, and their adventures.

When asked what qualified her for this job, she said, ''Well, I am a former child, and I haven't forgotten a thing.''

“Miss Nordstrom is credited with helping to change children's books from moralistic works written for adult approval to works directed at the emotions, imaginations and problems of children,” Susan Anderson wrote in her obituary. Nordstrom took on authors who preferred to confront readers with controversial topics, like E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. She chose to publish books that would endure.

Nordstrom even put her own pen to paper and published her own book, The Secret Language, about a shy young girl attending boarding school.

“And so the most benevolent patron saint of modern childhood ended up being a gay woman working at the height of consumerism and somehow managing to publish and envision and defend books that were not forgettable commodities but extraordinary masterworks that stood the test of time and moved and inspired and enchanted generations,” says Popova.

***

Photo Credit: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

In article Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

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