Throughout my career and certainly in these last eighteen months with the launch of my imprint, my goal has been to develop new talent and help to shape writers and artists into prominent presences among readers. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to watch a writer I admire grow stronger with each new book and push themselves in ways they never thought possible. Laurie Keller, Kimberly Willis Holt, Elise Broach, Janet Tashjian, and Hope Anita Smith are among those writers whose first book I published many years ago and who I have the pleasure of still working with today. Why do these relationships work? My guess is that we share the same thoughts and ideas on what makes successful books for kids -- books that are imaginative and thoughtful. Books that explore the feelings of children and the milestones they encounter as they grow.
There’s no question that I have a real affinity for middle grade fiction. What I especially love about this genre is that there is often a sense of innocence captured and explored that isn’t present in young adult titles simply due to the maturation of the reader. A couple of novels that I have greatly enjoyed working on that seem particularly representative of the kinds of stories I find most engaging are When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt and Masterpiece by Elise Broach. While these books are vastly different in everything from setting to plot, they are essentially stories about friendship and the struggles that come with caring about someone, human or insect. Middle grade fiction resonates deeply with me and I’m always looking forward to the next great manuscript.
In addition to editing novels, I love working with picture book author-illustrators. There’s some kind of organic energy that is captured when the writer is also the illustrator. This has certainly been the case with Laurie Keller whom I’ve been working with for close to fifteen years now. I especially love how she brings her own point of view and quirky sense of humor to every book she creates and manages to seamlessly incorporate educational elements into her stories to boot. I’ve recently started working with Brian Karas and Tom Lichtenheld on their own books and the process has been inspiring not to mention just great fun. I’m also extremely excited about a new author-illustrator, Ryan Heshka, whose book Welcome to Monster Town is on our fall 2010 list and has just sold to Dreamworks for film animation. Ryan has an eye-catching style all his own, a contemporary-retro look that I find very appealing. I’m always attracted to books that meld together captivating subjects and arresting art along with an underlying curriculum connection. Some examples here are Gene Barretta’s Inventor series (Now and Ben and Neo Leo) and Elizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Stone and Rebecca Gibbon.
In general, I place little stock in overly sophisticated picture books that seem to appeal more to the adult market but rather seek out books that children and older readers will find curious, challenging, and ultimately satisfying. Of course, I am greatly influenced by my own interests and certainly those that inspired me as a child – but I have eclectic tastes so that’s why you’ll find a ghost story collection on my list as well as a coming of age historical novel. (In grade school I was reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books alongside paranormal titles and even Stephen King -- which I secretly plucked from my older sister’s bookshelf). Without question, my three children -- two boys and a girl, ages nine, six, and four -- have greatly influenced my taste. I doubt I would have pursued the good number of “truck” themed books or even Sean Kenney’s LEGO series had I not experienced first hand what pull these subjects had on boy readers. As my children continue to grow I know I’ll continue to be inspired by their reading interests, and that just makes the publishing process all the more exciting to me.
My goal for the future? As it has always been -- to continue to work with wonderful authors and illustrators and help them create the best stories they can for children and young readers. It’s a real privilege and a pleasure to say the least!
For a full list of Christy Ottaviano's titles, click here