The successful publication of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus and published by HarperCollins, has sent researchers on a veritable panty raid of publishers’ archives in hopes of illuminating another era of literary history through the correspondence of a noted figure in the field of children’s books. While clearing out the New York office of recently retired editor Edna Albertson, cleaning woman (now literary maven) Dotty Pound discovered a file containing carbons of numerous rejection letters Albertson wrote during her long career at Cottage Press.
Albertson joined Cottage Press in the postwar era, and retired in 1997 after a career spanning over fifty years. None of the books published during her generally undistinguished tenure won major literary awards or achieved classic status, though she was responsible for publishing such nonfiction backlist staples as Pipefitting for Preteens and the enduring “Footwear from Many Countries” series. In retrospect, her legacy is perhaps most notable for the books she chose not to publish, as evidenced in this sampling from Dear Clueless: The Rejection Letters of Edna Albertson, selected from the dumpster and edited by Dotty Pound, and published this season by Cottage Press.
January 10, 1946
Dear Miss Brown:
Thank you for your submission to Cottage Press. While you do a good job describing the great green room and identifying its contents, your story ends before anything happens. Since I cannot publish what is essentially half a story, I must reject your manuscript. Sorry, dear.
February 21, 1951
Dear Mr. White:
Thank you for sharing your manuscript, but I’m afraid it’s not for us. While your writing shows an adequate level of literary polish, pigs and spiders just don’t rank very high in the “cuddle quotient” which is such an important factor in youth books.
April 4, 1954
Dear Mr. Gipson:
Now did you have to go and kill off the dog?
December 23, 1957
Dear Mr. Bond:
There is only room for one friendly English bear in children’s literature, and I’m afraid Mr. Milne beat you to it.
January 8, 1959
Dear Mr. O’Dell:
Karana’s story is not right for us. I think the fundamental flaw in your manuscript is that you leave the poor girl all alone on that island without any human companionship. If you plan to do some rewriting, I’d suggest giving Karana a group of loyal chums with whom she could have some jolly island adventures. Now there’s a story I’d like to publish!
December 31, 1962
Dear Mr. Alexander:
Llyr? Prydain?? Eilonwy??? If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t publish it.
May 20, 1966
Dear Mrs. Konigsburg:
Thank you for showing us your two manuscripts. Unfortunately, we must say “no” to both. I feel the story of the runaway children will only encourage others to emulate their behavior. Dear, we can’t have the Metropolitan Museum filled wall to wall with runaways, can we? As for the story about the new girl at school and the young witch, I note in the illustrations that Jennifer is a Negro. We are not publishing books about Negroes at this time, as we feel the trend may blow over. Also, have you considered shortening your titles? How about simply The Mixed-up Files and Me, Elizabeth (or perhaps just Me, Liz)? Think about it.
February 5, 1969
Dear Mr. Lobel:
I can’t quite understand why you made one character a frog and the other a toad. Most young readers would have a hard time distinguishing between these amphibians. The book would be too confusing. And far too green. Instead, how about Frog and Pig? Frog and Spider? Frog and Pig and Spider?
January 27, 1971
Dear Mr. Marshall:
I am returning your manuscript George and Martha. We are overbooked on presidential biographies at this time, so there’s no point in my even reading this.
December 17, 1972
Dear Mr. Cormier:
Your title is delightful and I turned the page expecting to read a cute tale of chocolate soldiers, jellybean-popping cannons, and gumdrop land mines. Imagine my disappointment! What your story lacks, dear, is any sense of fun.
April 23, 1977
Dear Ms. Lowry:
The name “Anastasia Krupnik” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it, dear?
January 10, 1979
Dear Mrs. Paterson:
Some chapters appear to be missing from the manuscript you submitted. I skimmed your novel twice and never did encounter a character named Jacob.
September 2, 1983
Dear Mr. King-Smith:
I enjoyed your story about Babe, but there seems to be something lacking. Have you thought about giving him an eight-legged pal?
February 18, 1984
Dear Mr. Van Allsburg:
I’ve reviewed your story about the Christmas train and am returning it for several reasons. First, sending a child on a train trip without parental supervision is a real no-no in my book. Also, I think your story is too seasonal in its appeal. It might sell a handful of copies at Christmastime, but for the other eleven-and-a-half months of the year, the books would just be cluttering up my warehouse.
October 30, 1988
Dear Mr. Stine:
Thank you for sending in your proposal for the “Fear Street” and “Goosebumps” series. While I feel that you are without peer as a stylist, and that your prose literally sings with lyricism, I find the subject matter to be questionable. Children just don’t like to be scared, dear! So while I’d love to publish your fine writing, I really don’t think it would be a moneymaker for my firm. I’m truly sorry.
May 24, 1991
Dear Ms. Meddaugh:
There is one fundamental flaw in your book: most animals in children’s books already know how to talk.
July 18, 1996
Dear Ms. Hesse:
Your manuscript about the dust bowl era is quite a depressing little thing! And, dear…? You really need to do something with the margin controls on your machine—a word here, two words there, no more than fifty or sixty words on a page! I’d run it through the typewriter again, with two-inch margins all ’round, for a more professional appearance. Good luck in placing your story elsewhere, but don’t expect miracles.
January 13, 1997
Dear Leonard Marcus:
Never heard of her.
A freelance writer, Peter D. Sieruta works for the Wayne State University Libraries in Detroit, Michigan. He is the author of Heartbeats and Other Stories, which was originally rejected by Edna Albertson
From the November/December 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.