Week of July 8, 2012—An Interview with Frances Gilbert
Thursday, July 12—Frances, the Editor
This is the final installment in a four-part interview with Frances Gilbert, Editorial Director at Doubleday Children’s Books, Random House.
Rob: Frances, what have you acquired recently that you love and why?
Frances: My last two years when I was at Sterling were in management so, alas, I didn’t get to acquire much then, which is why I’m so excited to be acquiring again at Doubleday. I love authors and missed working with them so much. My flat-out favorite author to work with is Tammi Sauer. I published her first picture book, Cowboy Camp, after pulling it out of the Sterling slush pile, and went on to publish Chicken Dance and its sequel, Bawk and Roll. I knew Tammi was a gifted writer from the first page of Cowboy Camp. She has impeccable timing, tells a rollicking tale, crafts very sympathetic characters, and is just ridiculously funny. Also, as a published author, she really gets out there and sells her books. She makes it her business to know everyone, which is a publisher’s dream.
Rob: Are there any great picture books out there that you wish you had acquired? If so, what and why?
Frances: Ooooh, there are so many! Knuffle Bunny is a perfect picture book: funny, crisp, loving, stylish, approachable, identifiable, and unique. And Olivia, which came out when I was a buyer at Scholastic Book Fairs. The rep from Simon & Schuster presented it and I remember thinking, “Damn, this changes everything.” Like Knuffle Bunny, the art and story are so cool and smart, but also warm and funny. They stimulate the way a kid thinks about art and color and design but they also just make that kid crack up. Flawless.
I’ll also put in a pitch for my all-time favorite picture book, the incredibly trippy Rain Makes Applesauce, which won a Caldecott Honor in 1965. It has lines like “I wear my shoes inside out, and rain makes applesauce.” What does any of it mean? I have no idea. But when my kindergarten teacher read it to us in 1974 it did something to my brain. I especially loved getting to scream out loud, “Oh you’re just talking silly talk!” The sad thing is, it would have trouble getting acquired today. It’s just so darned weird.
Rob: What percentage of your authors are new writers?
Frances: At Sterling I published a number of first-time writers. It’s a joy to find someone new. It’s what we’re here for.
Rob: What percentage of the books on your list are by author/illustrators?
Frances: Finding that double-threat is, for me, the Holy Grail. Like Ian Falconer and Mo Willems and Rosemary Wells and David Shannon, whose work I adore, author/illustrators fundamentally understand how art and story are intertwined.
Rob: Tell us what’s coming from Doubleday Children’s Books that we should be watching for, and/or what direction you see Doubleday is headed under your leadership.
Frances: One of the fun things about my new job is digging into the Doubleday backlist, which is storied and rich, and finding some older gems to reissue that could use a little loving. Doubleday was the first publisher of The Velveteen Rabbit! How lucky am I to have that on my list?! At the same time, I’ll also be acquiring new picture books and fiction, and will hopefully find this generation’s The Velveteen Rabbit along the way.
Frances, thank you for an incredible interview. I am grateful for your time and the attention you gave to your responses. Thanks for helping us all grow as writers.