Why Can't the English?

whitemountainsWe saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last night--ehh. Some the intra- and inter-species encounters were quite moving and dramatic but the plot was on automatic and the fabulously watchable Judy Greer was wasted (she could have been completely blotto given that all she had to do was lie there with a suffering look in her ape-eyes). Before the movie began there were about five different plugs for The Giver, including three of the quiz questions, so somebody is looking out for you, Lois*.

Courtesy of the Kindle Daily Deal, I'm re-reading one of The Giver's greatest antecedents, John Christopher's The White Mountains, first published in 1967. Boy, is it good (I use the interjection advisedly). The text used in the Kindle edition is from 2003, and it includes a preface by Christopher, "What Is a Tripod?," about how the the book came to be. While Christopher had only written adult novels until then, a London publisher suggested he try his hand at a book for children. He did, the London publisher accepted it, an American publisher had questions:
"Basically, what she said was that she loved the first chapter but the rest of the book was a mess: it would need a complete reworking from Chapter 2 onward. This was something that had not happened to me before. My adult novels had either been taken or rejected as they stood. I was not used to rewriting and certainly not eager to start doing so with a mere children's book."

Christopher goes on to berate himself for his patronizing attitude and thank the editor who made his first children's book so much better: Susan Hirschmann (sic). But the anecdote makes me think of the murmurings I've heard about the more interventionist editing of U.S. publishers as compared to that of their colleagues across the pond. Still true?


* And, Lois, I love you, but don't think for a moment we're going to let you claim that The Giver (the novel) does not end ambiguously just because you changed your mind. In your Newbery acceptance speech for the book you allowed that thinking Jonas and the baby are dead was a valid way to read the ending. So why are you NOW telling the Times "they are not!"?

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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Elizabeth Law

As a former publisher who has tried to repackage old series and reignite interest them, it's hard indeed--and believe me, we try. There is a brief window when a very popular TV series or film can pull a lot of things along with it, but the most successful examples I can think of for that are in picture books,. Finding Nemo came out and we spent that summer selling out of anything with a fish on the cover. ANYWAY what Roger wrote about in his blog post is quite true. British children's and YA editors, who are also trained copyeditors (unlike their US counterparts) are fastidious about small details but not taught to give detailed structural feedback, ask questions about the characters and go through lots of rounds to make the book better. I am very impressed that John Christopher (Sam Youd) was smart enough to take Susan Hirschman's notes. We once re-edited a Michael Morpurgo book at Viking, and he was gracious enough, once he got over his shock, to let us do it. And we re-edited, mostly for pace, a British novel on Egmont USA's debut list, which truthfully caused more consternation with the originating publisher than it did with the author. The thing that interests me now about The Tripods books is how hard it is to find a British series these days that will become popular in the US. Everyone's trying, but the trend is US to Europe and not the other way. Since Harry Potter, what other significant British hits have we had over here? Maybe Louise Rennison in YA, but I can't think of more. And it's not for lack of titles being made available.

Posted : Jul 30, 2014 02:40

Roger Sutton

Well, there goes my afternoon, JH, thanks!

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 08:09


I just...SO MUCH your footnote.

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 07:22

Roger Sutton

Jonathan A., I can think of times when an expression of enthusiasm by a popular author (Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Daniel Handler) has brought about a flurry of interest in an under-appreciated older book but these books seem only to bob briefly among the waves before going back into the sea. If anyone can think of an example where I'm wrong please add. Jonathan H., that sounds awesome. In our March/April 2012 issue, M.T. Anderson wrote a terrific essay about first encountering H.G. Well's The Time Machine as an LP and as a comic book. I found lots of books through Classics Illustrated but don't remember The White Mountains in Boys Life.

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 03:13

Jonathan Hunt

Gotta love the internet! Found it. http://the-haunted-closet.blogspot.com/2010/03/white-mountains-boys-life-mar-1981-july.html

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 03:13

Ron McCutchan

Loved the Tripods series as a child (first read in junior high) - and those trippy early cover illustrations (which, in retrospect, remind me of Friso Henstra's art, which I also loved, courtesy of CRICKET). Jonathan Hunt's comment about finding books in serial really speaks to me, since I discovered both Herge's Tintin and Tolkien's Hobbit in Children's Digest and Lewis's The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe in my weekly Sunday School handout. First- and second-serial were also a big part of CRICKET's editorial mix back in the early days (before it became cost-prohibitive); I remember reading the opening of Astrid Lindgren's The Brothers Lionheart in CRICKET and having to track down the book to read the rest.

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 03:13

Jonathan Hunt

I got turned onto this series because it was serialized in comics form in Boys Life, the Scouting magazine. Anyone one else find the books that way?

Posted : Jul 28, 2014 02:24

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