MARILYN BRIGHAM is an editor at Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, where she has been working for over 5 years. She edits everything from picture books and chapter books through novels for both middle grade and young adults. In addition, she oversees Marshall Cavendish Classics, a line of previously out-of-print titles by award-winning authors and illustrators, as well as Board Buddies, Marshall Cavendish’s board book line. On her own time, she loves sports, concerts, the beach, cooking, watching television shows meant for teenagers, and reading magazines while taking a nice hot bath. She wishes she had time to read adult books . . . but there are just too many fabulous kids’ books to be reading. . . . She is enjoying life as a newlywed and lives in Tarrytown, NY, with her husband.
How do you define your role as a children’s book editor at Marshall Cavendish? What have been some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I definitely think of my role as an editor as a helper and co-conspirator with the author; I love the relationships I have with authors where we discuss our vision for the book and I help the author get it there and make it the best book possible. Sometimes the editing process can be a seemingly endless process and takes a while to come together, and sometimes the pieces of a book just fall into place really easily; either way, though, it’s always this great journey and so much fun for me (I do have one of the best jobs on the planet…). And, of course, I love for the kids who read it to have the last word and for the books to really speak to them and who they are right now in their lives—that’s the ultimate goal with every book I work on.
One of my favorite projects to work on was the first novel I ever edited, RETURNABLE GIRL by Pamela Lowell, which followed a 13-year-old foster child in middle school, who ultimately has to decide between her birth mother and her foster mother, and between “being popular” and being true to her best friend, an emotionally disturbed girl who is bullied incessantly for being overweight. I think this book has stuck with me for so long not only because it was my first book, but also because it spoke to the universal experiences—trying to fit in and the need for all of us to have a safe place to call home. It also showed how one person can make a huge difference in your life—the main character and her foster mom really develop this amazing relationship, which is also scary for the main character because loving someone puts you at the risk of being hurt by them as well. I do have a thing for books about foster children—WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch is another amazing book (although that one’s for adults).
Another book I edited that’s definitely high on my list of favorites is PRINCESS PEEPERS, a picture book by Pam Calvert, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning. This is a quirky tale of a not-so-average princess—she’s kind of clumsy and she has this fabulous collection of funky glasses. But when she starts attending school with other the princesses, they make fun of her glasses, which forces the princess to go without them. Well, our clumsy princess is even clumsier without them and has all these funny mishaps . . . until the day she runs into Prince Peerless. Turns out the prince wears glasses too. In the end, Princess Peepers snags the princess and sets off a new trend at the castle (last illustration shows the other princess, royal horses, and other characters from the book, all donning funky glasses). The illustrator did a great job of capturing our special princess, and I loved that overall the story had a great message about being true to yourself and defying stereotypes but that it got across the message without being preachy. It was a familiar concept for a picture book, but it was written and illustrated in such a way that it stands above the competition and has lasting power; I think kids will come back to it again and again and that’s the true test.
We know that all editors are looking for well-written stories, but could you summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or possibly send you fleeing down the hallway ;-)?
I love edgy YA fiction with contemporary settings/issues, chick-lit for MG or YA, funny boy books (particularly for middle grade—see THE ADVENTURES OF BENNY, written and illustrated by Steve Shreve), and books with sports themes (see THROWING LIKE A GIRL, a novel by Weezie Kerr Mackey, and my forthcoming picture book WHEN JACKIE AND HANK MET by Cathy Fishman, illustrated by Mark Elliot, about Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg). I am also developing a taste for sci-fi and fantasy, as long as it’s not too high-fantasy (talking animals don’t really do it for me in older fiction, but I love interesting worlds and futuristic societies in which the rules have changed). I also like books that have a multicultural angle or unique perspective (see THE FIESTA DRESS by Caren McNelly McCormick, illustrated by Martha Aviles—sibling story but with multicultural angle). I tend to veer toward quirkiness and humor in picture books, although I also have some picture books coming up that are very sensitive and sweet. I’m not currently looking for folktales. I’m not hugely into rhyming picture books—I think so much more can be done with the language when you’re not confined by rhyme schemes. I’m also not really into historical fiction or nonfiction—but occasionally the right subject matter can grab me.
What is your favorite children’s joke?
Oh, man. This is a toughie. Well, the first thing I thought of was not actually a joke but something my big brother would sometimes sing to my mom when I was a kid: “Hey, Mom, what’s for dinner? Go up your nose and pick a winner…” (How’s that for boy humor?) I think he had a few other rhyming sayings like that. My mom would always laugh it off and tell him to stop being gross. I thought it was pretty funny, too.
Also, my grandfather used to tell a joke about a man who meets a genie and gets to make three wishes; I don’t remember the whole story, but somewhere in the midst of trying to think of his third wish, an Oscar Meyer Weiner commercial comes on the TV. The man starts singing along: “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, oh, that is what I’d truly like to be…” and he gets his wish. That always cracked me up, picturing a grown man in a wiener costume.
Actually, any joke featuring an adult in a compromising position is pretty funny to me, even today.
Thanks so much, Marilyn!