McElderry, Margaret K. (1912—)

views updated

McElderry, Margaret K. (1912—)

American children's editor and publisher . Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1912; graduated from Mt. Holyoke College, 1933.

Margaret K. McElderry was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1912, and graduated from Mt. Holyoke College with a major in English and a minor in economics at the height of the Depression in 1933. Upon informing her career advisor that she wanted to go to New York City and "work with books," McElderry was told that she had absolutely nothing to offer the publishing industry. Nevertheless, she set off to pursue her dream. After one year at the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburgh, she obtained employment with the New York Public Library System as an assistant to Anne Carroll Moore , the system's superintendent of children's works. For the next nine years, McElderry filled increasingly responsible positions in the children's works area of the system, and eventually assisted Moore in the preparation of the New York Public Library's prestigious annual list of best children's books.

McElderry left the library in 1943 to participate in the Allied war effort during World War II, and served in the Office of War Intelligence in London, England, from 1944 to 1945. At the war's end, she returned to New York City, where she became the head of the children's department of the Harcourt Brace publishing house. The first separate department for children's literature in American publishing had been founded in 1919, and McElderry, along with May Massee , Ursula Nordstrom , and Elizabeth Reilly , was largely responsible for shaping the field of modern children's literature. In 1952, works she had edited won both the Newbery Medal, given by the American Library Association to the year's most distinguished American children's book, and the Caldecott Medal, given by the association to the most distinguished American picture book; no other editor had won both awards in the same year before that, and no other would again until 1994. She edited Mary Norton 's classic The Borrowers, and was a champion of both picture books and stories by foreign authors at a time when few American publishers looked beyond their own shores.

After 25 years at Harcourt Brace, in 1972 McElderry, at age 60, was told by the publishing firm that "the wave of the future has passed you by" and unceremoniously forced into early retirement. Rather than taking up gardening, however, she moved to Atheneum (later Macmillan and currently, Simon and Schuster), where she became the first children's editor to receive her own imprint. In the year 2000, Margaret K. McElderry Books was still publishing some 25 titles per year. McElderry, who has an apartment in Greenwich Village and a summer cottage in Nantucket, is also a frequent speaker before publishing and library groups; many in her audiences were not even born when she began her career.


The New York Times. November 17, 1997.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

About this article

McElderry, Margaret K. (1912—)

Updated About content Print Article