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If you’ve been in children’s publishing for any length of time, then you know Margery Cuyler. Margery served as an executive editor for decades, at Holiday House, Marshall Cavendish and finally Two Lions before recently retiring. But she’s also a very accomplished author in her own right. Margery has published over 50 books for children, including the popular THAT’S GOOD! THAT’S BAD! series and one of my favorites, THE BIGGEST, BEST SNOWMAN, with frequent collaborator, illustrator Will Hillenbrand.

She also seems to be quite fond of skeletons. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Halloween classic?

A couple of years ago, Margery came on the blog with her newest skeleton character, Bonaparte, illustrated by Will Terry.

Bonaparte is a skeleton whose loose bones occasionally fly off. In the first book, BONAPARTE FALLS APART, Bonaparte is reluctant to start school because he worries that the other “kids” (different monsters) will make fun of him. His friends try to help ease Bonaparte’s worries, but none of their suggestions work. Bonaparte finally adopts a dog named Mandible who retrieves his bones and accompanies him to school. They both turn out to be popular!

And now…Bonaparte is back in a second spine-tingling adventure.

Margery, why did you decide the follow-up Bonaparte book should be about baseball?

Before writing  the second book, I thought of different situations that would be challenging for Bonaparte, even with Mandible’s help. At the same time, I was hearing from bookstores that there weren’t enough sports stories for the picture-book set. Bingo! Why not put Bonaparte in the middle of a baseball story? Surely he’d be stressed if he had to bat and run.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing a baseball story?

Learning about baseball! There are a lot of rules that I had to bone up on. Also, baseball has its own language. For example, “moon shot,” “bouncer,” “slider,” “shutout,” “pop-up,” “dinger,” and “swing for the fences.” I worked them into the text whenever possible. In addition, I tried to include puns if they made sense. For example, the Mighty Aliens “orbit” the bases. All in all, it was quite a challenge to hold it all together, but my editor, Emily Easton at Crown/Random House, was very helpful.

What do you think makes Bonaparte a better baseball player than soccer star or basketball champ?

Well, truthfully, Bonaparte would have been anxious playing any sport. I picked baseball because I thought it would be cool to have a game in the World Series which became the Weird Series in my new book.

The Weird Series! My kind of championship! Which teams are playing?

The Little Monsters (Bonaparte’s team) vs. The Mighty Aliens.

OK, I’m rooting for The Little Monsters!

Is Bonaparte nervous for the big game? What does he do to calm his bones? 

You bet Bonaparte is nervous! He’s a “jittery jumble of bones.” And so he practices the drills assigned by the coach to get prepared, but that isn’t enough to calm his nerves. Maybe if I were to rewrite the book, I’d have him do some mindfulness exercises! Or yoga. Or drink some herb tea (which would go right through him). In any case, most of the book is about what happens during the game.

As you know, a lot of kids can’t play baseball with their teammates right now. What words of wisdom do you have for them?

There’s no substitute for being outdoors and playing baseball! My heart goes out to all baseball players, no matter what age, who have to self-isolate and/or postpone games till the virus calms down. My advice would be to continue with drills, just like the ones Bonaparte does, to stay fit. There are also plenty of videos on game strategy that would be helpful to watch. Or, players can have vicarious pleasure reading BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

What else will Bonaparte be doing to keep busy?

Bonaparte is considering starring in a third book in which he discovers that his house is haunted. Is it being haunted by a ghost who wants to be accepted into his group of friends? Or does the spirit have something else in mind? Whatever the case, the ghost’s presence makes Bonaparte rattle and shake, losing bones along the way until he discovers that his bones can be useful.

OK, finally I have to ask about your interest in skeletons!

When I was five years old, I had several ribs removed during an operation. I remember becoming fascinated by the fact there was this invisible, bony frame under my skin and I started drawing skeletons. It’s actually quite amazing I didn’t grow up to be an orthopedic surgeon! Then as an adult, I wrote a children’s book called SKELETON HICCUPS which generated and continues to generate mail from children. Often I received requests to write another skeleton book and that led to SKELETON FOR DINNER. (The paperback edition will be released in August 2020). The BONAPARTE books came about because I made a life-sized skeleton as a Halloween decoration and it fell apart. Rattle-clatter! (I’m really not very good at crafts!) That’s when the name “Bonaparte” popped into my head, a character begging for a story.

Margery, that’s an awesome story-behind-the-story! I love that your five-year-old self is still fascinated and I’m thankful that curiosity brought us such a winning character.

Blog readers, you can win a copy of BONAPARTE PLAYS BALL!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Let’s play ball!


Margery Cuyler’s career has been devoted to children’s books. She has written more than 50 books, served at the executive level in the children’s divisions of several publishers, and continues to enjoy interacting with children, teachers, and librarians on school visits. She and her husband, the parents of two grown sons, live in Lawrenceville, NJ. Visit her at margerycuyler.com and on Twitter @cuylermargery.

Photo credit: Richard Trenner

Margery Cuyler, editor extraordinaire, was the featured professional at a NJ-SCBWI first page session nine years ago. That evening I listened to everything this sharp kidlit veteran had to say and left with a notebook full of invaluable tips. Her comments about my writing gave me the confidence to keep working toward my dream of becoming published.

Although she no longer edits books, Margery Cuyler has continued to write them—and this fall she’s releasing three new titles, including her 50th, the humorous monster tale BONAPARTE FALLS APART, illustrated by Will Terry.

     

I was eager to talk to Margery about her career because she has ridden all the ups and downs and twists and turns of the children’s book market…and come out with her name ABOVE the title.

Margery, you have been successful in this business for more than forty years as an author and editor. What is different in children’s publishing now that you are launching your 50th book as opposed to when you were releasing your first book?

When I applied for my first publishing job in 1970, publishing was mainly a cottage industry; children’s books depended largely on library sales. Most publishers, for example Charles Scribner’s Sons and Harper & Row, focused on acquiring excellent books, not necessarily books that would elicit strong sales. The editors, such as Ursula Nordstrom at Harper, had a powerful voice in deciding what should be acquired, not necessarily consulting with the sales/marketing divisions.

All that changed when independent houses were sold to publicly traded corporations whose eye was mainly on sales growth. In addition, the chains—Borders and Barnes & Noble—became a significant vehicle for selling books as library funding contracted due to governmental budget cuts. Sales and marketing became increasingly involved in editorial decisions, thinking about the consumer as well as the librarian as their end customer.

Today, of course, publishers are selling books through many venues, maximizing exposure through online marketing. In addition, authors are expected to do more of their own marketing, utilizing social media as a tool by which to communicate. It’s really a whole different ballgame, although I firmly believe that editorial, design, marketing, and sales teams continue to work toward publishing excellent books, but excellent books that will sell. That’s the difference between now and 47 years ago.

I have heard recently that the market is saturated with picture books…but with good reason. What makes them more relevant than ever? What makes them the bright spot in publishing today?

I hear the same thing—that the picture-book market is robust. I think it’s for several reasons: parents/grandparents seem to prefer to introduce their children to literature by offering them books that allow for a cozy, intimate reading experience. In addition, a finely produced picture book might be a child’s only exposure to high culture. Stunning artwork, a well-written text, and high quality paper and packaging could contribute to a child’s ability later to discriminate between good quality and poor quality books. I guess I sound like an elitist, which isn’t quite accurate because truthfully I’m happy if kids are exposed to any kind of book rather than no books at all. Still, I am partial to picture books that are works of art. I firmly believe they help build the interior architecture of a child and I think many adult buyers and librarians know this.

Finally, publishers have their eye on China, as China has woken up to the importance of picture books and has been active in acquiring the rights to English-language books to translate and sell in the Chinese marketplace. And last, a beautiful picture book is the perfect antidote to the hatred and tension in the larger world. Picture books are a great escape, and I’ve noticed that recently more have been published on the themes of kindness and peace.

What theme most often recurs in your work and why do you keep coming back to it?

biggestbestsnowmanI tend to write about friendship, perhaps because I remember how important my friends were when I was a child. I think all children value good friends, but as with adults, friendships can be challenged when trust is violated or circumstances, such as a friend moving to another community, destroys the relationship. Conflicting loyalties, shyness, lack of confidence are other psychological barriers to forming strong friendships. I strive for psychological verisimilitude and happy endings, which I hope helps give children the courage to overcome obstacles that impinge on their positive feelings about a friend. And then, too, I like to write humorous stories, since I think children—and the adults reading to them—need a pleasant way to escape some of the raw realities surrounding them in the larger world.

skeletonhiccupsOften my humorous stories (i.e., SKELETON HICCUPS or BONAPARTE FALLS APART) are populated with ghosts, monsters, skeletons, etc., perhaps because I grew up in a house that was built in 1685 and was allegedly haunted. I came from a family of storytellers and artists who loved to make the most of scary characters when we played, and some of those characters have popped up in my books.

Next time you will have to come back and tell us all about that haunted house!

But for now, let’s give away a copy of the punny BONAPARTE FALLS APART, which is now available from Random House/Crown.

bonaparteint

This is the tale of friends who try to help BONAPARTE from falling apart, leading up to the first day of school. It combines Margery’s love of friendship stories with her monstrous sensibilities.

Leave one comment below to enter (US only)...and a winner will be randomly selected before the end of the month! Good luck!

Margery Cuyler has had a distinguished career in the children’s book field. In addition to being the author of 50 children’s books, including the newly released Bonaparte Falls Apart, The Little Fire Truck, and Best Friends (a Step Into Reading title), she has held executive positions at Holiday House, Henry Holt and Company, Golden Books Family Entertainment, Marshall Cavendish, and Amazon Publishing. Although she retired from full time work in 2014, she continues to write and also consults for a variety of companies, including digital llc and PJ Library, a division of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Visit her online at MargeryCuyler.com.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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