A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JUNE 26:

  • Happy birthday Nancy Willard (A Visit to William Blake’s Inn) and Robert Burch (Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain).
  • It’s the birth date of Walter Farley (1915-1989), The Black Stallion and Lynd Ward (1905-1985), The Biggest Bear.
  • Athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956) was born on this day. Read Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion by Russell Freedman and Babe Didrikson: The Greatest All-Sport Athlete of All Time by Susan E. Cayleff.
  • It’s National Chocolate Pudding Day. Read The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay and The Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter.

Today marks the birthday of Charlotte Zolotow, legendary publisher, editor, and writer. Sometime in the late seventies I first met Charlotte; Bill Morris, Harper’s devoted head of Marketing, adored her and wanted us to get to know each other. From that day on, I suddenly had a new goal—I wanted to grow up to be Charlotte Zolotow. Her grace, intelligence, sparking eyes, sly sense of humor—and her talent—simply won me over.

In her career, Charlotte excelled as both an editor and a writer. As an editor for one of the great children’s imprints in the history of publishing, Harper & Row during the forties through eighties, she made her mark by encouraging writers and bringing books into print that otherwise would not have existed. Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was drawn from the author by conversations with Charlotte and Ursula Nordstrom, the latter then head of the department. Harriet the Spy did not arrive as a book, but became one under Charlotte’s direction. She helped find talent for the emerging young adult arena, often locating writers who were doing other kinds of work, such as playwright Paul Zindel. His My Darling, My Hamburger, is dedicated simply to “My Darling, My Charlotte Zolotow.”

When the brilliant group of Harper illustrators needed new picture book texts, Charlotte wrote them. Examples include: The Park Book for H. A. Rey and The Storm Book for Margaret Bloy Graham. In William’s Doll, illustrated by William Pène du Bois, she took a stand against gender stereotypes. Gentleness, a sense of the joy of life, and a beauty of phrasing exists in these texts—qualities very difficult for picture book writers to achieve.

Best known for a book that won a Caldecott Honor for Maurice Sendak, Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Charlotte wrote the text when she became aware that her three-year-old daughter Crescent was attempting to locate the perfect birthday present for her mother. Charlotte started to think about the Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Harvey, about a six-foot invisible rabbit, who was the companion of a good-hearted inebriate. Well, if the rabbit were visible, he could help a little girl find the perfect present for her mother. As Charlotte has said about the writing process, “All children’s books, really, are made up of double and triple exposures, pieces of this and that that you carry around….one day they take shape and become a book.”

I can think of no better words to celebrate Charlotte Zolotow’s birthday than a quote from one of the great Harper classics, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Here’s a page from Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present:

“There are red roofs,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“No, we have a roof,” said the little girl. “I don’t want to give her that.”

“There are red birds,” said Mr. Rabbit, “red cardinals.”

“No,” said the little girl, “she likes birds in trees.”

Originally posted June 26, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Caldecott, Imagination, Rabbits
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
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COMMENTS

  1. suzi w. says:

    Happy happy birthday, Charlotte, may this day be full of thoughts of parks and storms and beaches, and those lovely lovely tulips.

    Anita, oh what a joyous day!! Charlotte is one of my favorite writer/editor/publishers. I have been working my way through any book that she might have had a hand in, my most recent read was Arthur, For the Very First Time. (So! Wonderful!)

    How neat to find out the beginnings of Mr. Rabbit…

    How amazing, Anita, that you had the chance to meet her, get to know her. I want to be like her when I grow up too, just from my research. The website that Crescent put together was one of my primary sources for a paper about Charlotte when I was a green library school student, still learning how to do research. I wonder now how different that paper would have been had I known more, and I am missing pieces of research that I didn’t footnote well,wondering, as I reread the paper, what was my source, for instance on her influence in Stevie.

    Oh dear, I’m writing a novel in this comment box. I could just go on and on about this dear woman, who is such a treasure. Thank you for this post, Anita!!

  2. Barbara Gogan says:

    Ah, synchronicity!
    The following column was just put up by a male knitting designer who discusses the influence of William’s Doll–in this era of It Gets Better, I hope you can read it, if you have time.
    http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEff11/FEATff11SIT.php

  3. G.Perry says:

    This wonderful story was a great way to start my day Anita, especially about an author I had not come across yet, and such a light-filled new edition to the heart.

    The artwork on this book alone captured by immediate attention, and I can’t wait to start reading Zolotow.

  4. Anita says:

    As all of you suggest, Charlotte is a treasure — a National Treasure. Suzi I would look at the Nordstrom letters, edited by Leonard Marcus. I think Steptoe her author.

  5. Helen Frost says:

    Anita, do you think (or know if) E.B. White named Charlotte after her?

  6. Anita says:

    Helen: I was going to look at the new Michael Sim’s book on Charlotte’s Web book on this point. Ursula Nordstrom was White’s editor on CW. I have alway thought it more a coincidence than an influence.

  7. Myra says:

    Lovely sentiments for Charlotte.! I enjoy your blog and have shared it with the teachers in my K-3 building. I learn something new everytime I visit. Today is also my dad’s birthday. He’s 83 and a lover of books! His passion for reading has now become mine!

  8. suzi w. says:

    Anita, I combed Dear Genius. I thought I saw somewhere that CZ had an influence on Steptoe and Stevie but I couldn’t find it in Dear Genius this time around. Leonard Marcus signed my copy when he came to Pittsburgh a few years ago. But, if it’s true, it will rise to the top eventually. (The truth shall set you free.)

    Fascinating, wonderful to think that Charlotte could be CZ’s namesake.

  9. Anita says:

    Suzi: There isn’t anything to indicate that she influenced White in the choice of name. It is just a nice coincidence that she worked at Harper while the book was published.

  10. suzi w. says:

    re: White and Charlotte, I know. But what a happy coincidence. And something to wonder about…

    (unfortunately, wondering about facts doesn’t get you anywhere…that’s why there’s fiction!)

  11. joycee says:

    Charlotte Zolotow was a gifted publisher, editor and writer. Her gifted style has inspired so many other writers and on this her birthday I find it amazing that she gifted us with her lifelong works! Happy Birthday Pretty Lady!
    Joycee in Arkansas

  12. I had The great honor of being Charlotte’s secretary and then her author. She was beautiful in every way.

  13. Anita says:

    Fran: Thanks for the post. I knew you were at Harper during those great days — but I am glad to remind my readers.

  14. Charlotte also published my SURPRISES – the first I CAN READ book of poetry illustrated by Megan Lloyd.

  15. Laura Fahrner says:

    I love Charlotte Zolotow’s work as well. I collect rare children’s books and one of my greatest little treasures is one of Ursula Nordstrom’s business cards from Harpers that signed by her, Charlotte and a few other editors in the children’s department! Thanks for this blog! I am learning so much from each entry.

  16. Susannah Borysthen-Tkacz says:

    Happy birthday, Charlotte! Having just read “Dear Genius,” I feel like I intimately know Zolotow now (at least through Nordstrom’s eyes). I somehow was never exposed to this book as a kid, but it looks like something I would have adored. That anthropomorphized bunny is a riot. Is this book still in print?

  17. Anita says:

    Susannah: Yes, still in print and has been so since published.

  18. Suzi W. says:

    Anita, what a treasure to read these comments again after so many years.

    xo,
    Suzi

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