Thursday, November 3, 2016

Spotlight on Ann Rider + DMC Challenge


Ann Rider is an executive editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Here is a small sampling of the incredible books that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers has published within the last few years:

Browse their full selection of books at the HMH website.

Ann has been working in the field of children's literature since college, landing her first internship at The Atlantic Monthly Press in the children's book division. She's been editing books for young readers at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the last twenty years. Prior to that, she was at Little, Brown, Knopf, and The Horn Book. She works out of her home in northern Minnesota.

Once in a while you happen on a book that really speaks to you. Sometimes you seek out certain authors and illustrators for their storytelling and visual renderings. But if you start poking around behind the scenes, letting yourself get lost in the "who's who" labyrinth of children's publishing, you may discover other hidden voices you relate to. Editors are the alchemists who stir up the ingredients and ignite book magic. While you won't find their faces on book jackets, an editor's vision of what a book can be is as important as that of any other creative player.

For me, Ann Rider is such an editor.  I knew I wouldn't have difficulty connecting with whichever books she chose to showcase today, because, quite frankly, I have yet to find a book of hers I haven't fallen in love with. Ann's artistic vision speaks to me as much as the über-talented authors and illustrators she works with. Before we begin our interview, let's meet a few of the 2016 books she's helped bring to life.

Find at, Barnes & Noble,
or via
Garnering multiple starred reviews and a Publisher's Weekly "best book" pick for 2016, BEFORE MORNING by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes is spare, musical, and astonishingly beautiful. At her website, Joyce describes how the book came to be:

In the New England winters of my youth, snow days were coveted because they didn’t happen very often. (Snow happened, but the buses drove right through it.) I loved the way a big snow slowed everything down, brought families and neighborhoods together. I first wrote this invocation poem as part of a larger collection. It was my editor, Ann Rider, who visualized it as a picture book. She knew that Beth Krommes would create the perfect flake-filled world to accompany the words. And she was right!

Find at, Barnes & Noble,
or via

Also earning several starred reviews, CRICKET SONG is written and illustrated by Anne Hunter. An evocative bedtime story, it connects two sleeping children—from different cultures and across an ocean—with the sounds and smells they both experience through their open windows.

"The language is as lulling as an evening breeze, but it’s the illustrations that make this book truly extraordinary . . . [Hunter's] watercolor and ink renderings of the landscape and the sea, the animals, and the purple-gold sunset clouds are an exquisite journey into the most restful part of the day."
                      – School Library Journal

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or via

HENRY & LEO, by two-time Caldecott Honor winner Pamela Zagarenski, doesn't just delight, it transports the reader. Though only the second book she's written as well as illustrated, don't think for a moment this book doesn't come with its own stash of starred reviews. The theme is a familiar one—a well-loved toy becomes lost and must find its way home—but the journey that ensues between the first and last page is nothing less than entrancing.

Described as "stunning," "sumptuous," and "dreamily evocative, with a delicious sense of mystery and enchantment," HENRY & LEO blurs the line between what's real and imaginary, and explores friendship and love in a way that children can grasp hold of.

Find at, Barnes & Noble,
or via
I woke up early on a Saturday morning to enjoy SOME WRITER! while the rest of my family slept in. It was heavenly. I've always been a fan of Melissa Sweet's artwork, but she totally outdid herself with this incredible biography of E. B. White. Another magnet for critical acclaim, the Horn Book sums it up nicely:

Sweet raises her collage skills to new heights while bringing her love and admiration for fellow Mainer E. B. White to the page for everyone to appreciate. Just as her astounding collages blend materials that might have been found in a barn in Maine, the text carefully blends her words with those of the beloved writer of children’s books... Sweet has written and drawn a fast-moving, thorough, deeply researched, and accessible biography.

Ann Rider and her dog Rosie

I lost count after the first dozen starred reviews, but what do you say we find out more about this editor with the golden touch?

We'll begin, as always, with five of Ann's favorite things... besides the north woods, morning walks with Rosie, and a mug of hot coffee to go.

Favorite color:

Favorite sound:  
lake water lapping – or the call of a loon

Photo: Joyce Sidman — listen to the loons HERE

Favorite pastime:  
swimming in lakes – or cross-country skiing

Favorite children's poet: Joyce Sidman (and I know I am biased)

Joyce Sidman and Ann Rider at the 2011 Newbery-Caldecott banquet

Favorite teacher in school:  
Mrs. McElvenna in high school, who taught me that poetry is about freedom of expression, not adhering to rules and conformity. And she made us memorize poems, which is of course the best way to appreciate them.

Early on in your career you felt an immediate bond with children's literature. You've described it as "a rich field." What made you fall in love with children's books and what makes the genre so fertile?

When I was in high school, I started reading PETER PAN in the library one day and fell in love with Barrie's writing.  It struck me as better written and more imaginative than much of what I’d read in adult literature.  Later, right after college, an internship in children’s publishing crossed my path and I was smitten once again with the field.  I felt I belonged in this diverse field that creates books for the very young through young adult.  So many possible expressions!  So much to communicate! And as I believe Ursula Nordstrom once said,
creating books for children is ever so much more interesting than creating books for already grown-up folks.

Many of the projects you take on are evocative and lyrical. What kind of role has poetry played in your life? Were you exposed to poetry as a child or did you grow to appreciate it over time?

My high school teacher Mrs. McElvenna taught me that poetry is the highest form of literature.  She taught me to pay attention to strong language and carefully considered words.  I wasn’t really exposed to much poetry as a child, but early on I remember studying word choices in books. Words struck me as powerful, even magical. And then, when I took a poetry writing class in high school, I began to learn how to use words to express what I was trying to say.
Though I never wanted to end up in that poetry writing class, I have to say that it changed my life.

Would you share a poem that's meaningful to you?

Because of its sublime language (“of clay and wattles made!” “the bee-loud glade!"), because it is about a lake as a place of refuge and solace, I choose “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Yeats:

Photo: Kenneth Allen

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
                              – William Butler Yeats, 1888

Finding the right illustrator for a manuscript is so important, especially with picture books, which are meant to be a 50/50 partnership.  One of your gifts as an editor is your keen ability to visualize a book's potential —to meld an author's vision with an artist's vision to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Yet some might argue these days, with word counts lower than ever and a rising demand for author/illustrators, that the scale is tipping toward the art being more important than the words. What are your thoughts about this?

Thank you—what a nice compliment!  I don’t think I could ever say that the art is more important than the words in a picture book.  Nothing happens without the words.  They provide the building blocks for the art, the essence and heart of the story.  I think of BEFORE MORNING by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes.  Though Joyce’s text is very spare and Beth imagined the setting, characters, and much of the plot, the words are pure poetry and gave Beth such powerful images to work with.  That’s why publishers always split royalties 50/50 between author and illustrator—the picture book is a true partnership between them.

What is one of your biggest job challenges?

The biggest challenge is to clear my desk of the many distracting things (hello, email?) in my job so that I can focus on what I really love:  reading and editing and working with authors and illustrators to see how their books slowly take shape.  And I love, really love, hearing from our readers about how a book has affected them.

Ann Rider's charming office—a home away from home

Where the magic happens: an inside look at Ann Rider's office

Using your 2016 titles as examples, can you give us an idea of the qualities you look for in a project? What specifically excites you about these books?

I think I always look for originality of expression, in both text and art.  That freshness makes a book feel truly genuine, as if the author and artist are reaching out to readers with the best words and images they have, to communicate exactly what they are trying to say.  For me, Pamela Zagarenski’s HENRY & LEO, has that originality of expression.

From HENRY & LEO by Pamela Zagarenski (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge
From HENRY & LEO by Pamela Zagarenski (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge

 So does CRICKET SONG by Anne Hunter.

From CRICKET SONG by Anne Hunter (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge
From CRICKET SONG by Anne Hunter (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge

I also look for quality of expression. (I can’t help it—I’m an editor!) In BEFORE MORNING, I love how the art and text work so beautifully together.  What a dream team for me—Beth Krommes and Joyce Sidman!  They both blew me away with their talents here.

From BEFORE MORNING by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016)
From BEFORE MORNING by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016)

I think editors are also trained to look for conviction and passion, because we know how conviction translates to create the best books.  In SOME WRITER, Melissa Sweet brought her very best instincts to her biography of E. B. White, masterfully melding her words and stunning collages  and archival material  to create one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. (And check out E. B. White’s lovely poems in the book!)

From SOME WRITER! by Melissa Sweet (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge
From SOME WRITER! by Melissa Sweet (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016) – click to enlarge

Whet our appetites. What are some books we can look forward to in 2017 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers?

Focussing on my more poetic titles, please look out for and let me know what you think of:

ROUND by Joyce Sidman, with adorable illustrations by Taeeun Yoo, a very young and affectionate celebration of round things in nature. 

[Coming March 7, 2017, available for pre-order]

GONE CAMPING by Tamera Will Wissinger, with art by Matthew Cordell, a companion to the novel-in-verse GONE FISHING and a sheer delight in how it experiments with so many forms of poetry, in such an accessible way, with pitch-perfect illustrations.

[Coming March 28, 2016, available for pre-order]

TRAINS DON’T SLEEP by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, with illustrations by Deirdre Gill.  This one makes me want to grab the nearest train-loving two or three year old and see how they respond to the spare rhymes and stunning paintings.

[Coming May 2, 2017, available for pre-order]

If you had all the world's children in one room, what would you tell them?

Don’t give up. Be kind. Try to remember that the world is always bigger—more diverse with many more perspectives—than we think.

Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month's ditty challenge.

Returning to my appreciation of Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," I would like your readers to write a poem, in any style, about a place of refuge and solace that is important to them.

My imagination is running wild thinking about all the wonderful places we'll go this month!

But before we take that first step . . .

Please join me in thanking Ann Rider for letting us get to know her better, sharing her editorial insights, and giving us a peek at all of these gorgeous books from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers! 
(Holiday shopping, anyone?)

And one more thing... Ann has sent me a copy of BEFORE MORNING to pass on to one very lucky DMC participant, selected randomly at the end of the month!  That is, assuming I can part with it. (wink)


Post your poem about a place of refuge and solace on our November 2016 padlet. Stop by any time during the month to add your work or to check out what others are contributing.

By posting on the padlet, you are granting me permission to share your poem on Today's Little Ditty.  Some poems will be featured as daily ditties, though authors may not be given advanced notice. Subscribe to the blog if you'd like to keep tabs. You can do that in the sidebar to the right where it says "Follow TLD by Email." As always, all of the poems will be included in a wrap-up celebration on the last Friday of the month—November 25th for our current challenge.

TEACHERS, it's great when students get involved! Ditty of the Month Club challenges are wonderful opportunities to learn about working poets and authors while having fun with poetry prompts. Thank you for spreading the word! For children under 13, please read my COPPA compliance statement in the sidebar to the right.

FIRST-TIMERS (those who have never contributed to a ditty challenge before), in addition to posting your work on the padlet, please send your name and email address to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com. That way I'll be able to contact you for possible inclusion in future Best of Today's Little Ditty anthologies.

BLOGGERS, thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that!  Please also remember to include your poem (or a direct link to your post) on the padlet in order to be included in the wrap-up celebration and end-of-month giveaway.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks once again to everyone who participated in last month's challenge to write poems for our mothers. After last Friday's post, I added three more—from Matt Forrest Esenwine, Violet Nesdoly, and Sarah Ragsdale—to the final presentation. I encourage you to have another look at this remarkable collection of tributes. has determined that an autographed copy of ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME: 60-SECOND POEMS TO SEND YOU OFF TO SLEEP selected by Kenn Nesbitt with art by Christoph Niemann will go to. . .

MARGARET SIMON – congratulations, Margaret!

Join poetry royal Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids. She shares an original poem about hope and hosts this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. Wonderful interview! What a lovely woman. Who wouldn't want her for an editor?! Yes, brain spinning going on over this ditty challenge. Thanks, Michelle and Ann.

  2. Thanks for another wonderful interview. Ann's love of children's literature is so evident in her responses. Such an amazing glimpse at books she has edited. I will be adding them to my ongoing, very long list.

  3. I love the pictures of Ann Rider, especially with Joyce Sidman, and the office looks like a magic cottage in the woods. Best of all are the great books that emerge from that magic cottage. Thanks for collecting all this inspiration in one spot, Michelle. The Ditty challenge is a good one. I'll have to think it over. My children have taken over most of my nooks. :-)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing such an in depth interview with the marvelous and wise Ann Rider. She truly is a Dream Editor!

  5. Thanks for the wonderful interview, Michelle and for your wise words, Ann. It is terrific hearing your thoughts about picture book publishing. The books shared are simply lovely to read. I can't even choose a favorite! Looking forward to the challenge!

  6. I've been a fan of Pamela Zagarenski’s work since falling in love with THE WHISPER. In this lovely sneak peek at HENRY & LEO, I just adore how the boy clutches his stuffed lion facing forward, so they can share the sights that surround them!

    Thanks for this lovely interview with Ann.

  7. Wonderful interview !! I have a few of the book Pamela helped bring to life such a honor to get to read about her incredible journey in publishing Thank you Michelle for sharing her story with us

  8. Such a helpful, informative interview and overview of titles. I want each one!

    I would love to know if Ann is open to unsolicited submissions at this time.

    1. I'm not sure, Lisa, but you should check the HMH website and submit through normal channels.

  9. Such a wonderful interview Michelle and Ann! It was great to get some insight into Ms. Rider's life and work! Such remarkable picture books pictured here!

  10. I am lazily going through this post because there are so many exciting parts to it: interview, illustrations, poems, books! I will think about a place of solace and refuge and be prepared to write, Michelle. Thanks.

  11. Thanks for this terrific post. Ann is on my short "someday" editor list :>) Loved getting this insight and putting several more books on my tbr shelf--looking forward to the magic.

  12. What an inspiring interview with a true champion of children's literature, thank you for sharing this and giving us an inside look at the behind-the-scenes of bringing a picture book to life!

  13. What a lovely interview. Seeing all of Ann's gorgeous books has put me in the mood to create. I'm off to write!

  14. Thanks for a stellar interview, Michelle. I love getting glimpses into the lives of some of the important behind-the-scenes book people like Ann Rider. And what a fun challenge to mull over.

  15. I love to see how Ann appreciates the artists who work with real materials as opposed to the strictly digital. There is a richness to the illustrations (such as the ones you posted today) that is becoming increasingly rare.

  16. Now I want to go re read all my E.B. White as well as explore the beautiful works she mentions. Thank you for sharing this!

  17. I loved this interview. It struck me in the same way a beautiful book strikes me--because you were discussing beautiful, magically worded books, of course, but also because I love hearing about other people who find words to be magical.

    Thanks for an inspirational interview , Michelle!

  18. Fantastic post, Michelle! What a wonderful glimpse of the editor's role and passion. I want ALL of these books!

  19. Swell post - it now feels as if I've met this wonderworking poem midwife in person, because of you Michelle. The nourishing Innisfree poem by Yeats, the forthcoming, or ready to cuddle at home p.b. titles (& novels- in-verse!) plus the fly on the wall photographs & the poem prompt are treats. I already began poem lines with Ann Rider's prompt. And cheers for Margaret's win of the Kenn N. collection. Most of all appreciations to the hard-working Crew of One at TLD, who surely deserves a promotion.

  20. This post reminds us of the full gamut of creativity it takes to make a picture book!

  21. Thank you, Ann and Michelle, for the amazing spotlight interview. So many good books by so many amazing authors and illustrators guided by the insanely talented, Ann Rider. We readers are so lucky.

  22. It's November9th....I posted my little ditty on the padlet. I had no intention of it relating to this election. However, this morning, the sweetest, most well-mannered young person from West Africa checked out a book and said politely, "I'm very disappointed with the election results". I love how librarians get to know students in a different way. We do provide a safe place for kids.

  23. Wow. What a beautiful collection of books! Thank you for this interview and for introducing us to Ann.

  24. Thanks Michelle for this rich review of books and look into Ann's creative space!
    I loved reading about the power of poetry spilling out over these books and beyond!

  25. What a feast of wisdom and beautiful images! "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is one of my all-time favorites. Thanks so much for this fabulous interview, Michelle!