While many establishments are currently closed for business during the coronavirus pandemic, we are fortunate to be able to keep our VIRTUAL cafe open. I recently invited Eerdmans editor Kathleen Merz to join us at the Eastern Penn Points Café for a quick chat. Kathleen will be presenting at our virtual Pocono Retreat on April 18. If you haven’t already checked out the details for our online conference, click here.
Laura: Hi Kathleen! Welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Café. Before we get started, would you like something to drink or munch on?
Kathleen: I’ll never turn down a good cup of tea!
Laura: We’ll make that two! First off, can you tell us more about Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. What kinds of books do you publish and who do you work with?
Kathleen: We’re a small independent publisher based in southwest Michigan. We do mainly picture books, with occasional middle grade titles. Over half the books we publish are international books that we bring to the US—often in translation. We do also work with authors, illustrators, and agents in the US to originate books—and we’re one of the publishers that still accepts unsolicited submissions. All of the books we publish aim to open up a wider world for young readers—we have a strong historical, multicultural, and global focus in the books we publish. We look for books that both delight us and also offer something unique.
Laura: What are some things on your personal wish list?
Kathleen: Like most publishers, we’re looking for diverse authors and artists who can speak to the wide range of experiences our children have. I’m also always looking for authors with a strong, distinct voice and a good sense of character development. And I’m especially excited about exciting ways that kidlit creators are using narrative techniques to bring nonfiction alive.
I also want to say that the projects that most catch my attention are the ones I never would have known to ask for. I often use the example of our book Nile Crossing (Eerdmans 2017, written by Katy Beebe, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport), which is about a young boy leaving the only life he’s known—fishing the Nile with his father—to start scribe school. It’s a sort of off-to-school book, but set in ancient Egypt. I would never have thought of that! But it’s got great historical information and a relatable storyline—and a wondrously strong, lyrical voice.
Laura: I will definitely have to check that one out. So, lately I’ve been kind of obsessed with the DC character Harley Quinn. What’s your current obsession? It can be book related, a hobby, or anything!
Kathleen: I’m writing this while Michigan currently has a stay-at-home order because of Covid-19. So the things I’m taking joy in right now are the quiet bits of home-life that I don’t always spend enough time noticing. I’ve been getting my garden ready for spring, and I just put in an order for far more seeds than I’ll probably have room to plant. I’m finding a lot of hope in growing things.
Laura: One of the projects you worked on was the award-winning book The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, which was written by one of our own Eastern PA SCBWI members, Jen Bryant (published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014, illustrated by Melissa Sweet). Just for fun, and in honor of this book, what are some of your absolute favorite WORDS?
Kathleen: Ooh, I love this question! I studied linguistics and I’ve dabbled in as many languages as I could. I love etymology! But it’s also a hard question because there are just so many good words! Here’s a few that I love: Scintillating. Impetuous. Widdershins. Ember. Kerfuffle. Nefarious. Delve. Dazzle. Catkin. Liminal. Syzygy. Incandescent. Nestle. Ineffable. Glow. Twitterpated. Azure. I could go on all day . . .
Laura: Those are some excellent words! I’ve always been partial to the word “elbow.”
You’ll be joining us at our virtual Pocono Retreat later this month. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be presenting there?
Kathleen: I’m going to be giving a talk on revision—which is one of my favorite topics, since it’s a major part of what I do as an editor! I’m hoping that attendees will come away with a new appreciation for seeing their work in fresh, helpful ways—re-envisioning it, if you will.
Laura: Thanks so much for chatting with us. We can’t wait to hear more from you at our online conference!
Kathleen Merz is the Acquisitions & Managing Editor at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She has worked on a number of award-winning titles, including books that have won the Caldecott Honor, the Batchelder Award for translation, the Sibert Medal, and other honors. She studied English and linguistics, and especially enjoys working on translated books and nonfiction picture books. As an editor, she is always looking for stories that tackle unexpected subjects and have a strong, unique voice. Kathleen lives in Michigan, and when she’s not at work editing she can usually be found outdoors biking or kayaking.