I am thinking of New Years, Anniversaries, and Birthdays.
My father’s birthday falls during the first week of January. This year he turned 82. A fragile 82. But 82 nonetheless. I know he never expected to be around this long, but here he is, the birthday giving me and the rest of our family a moment to think of him. That’s the way with a birthday once you get past the age where it’s a moment to be the star in your elementary school classroom — to go first to recess, maybe, to be the first to eat the cupcake your parent made for you, or to hope, hope, hope for a particular present. Once the concept of mortality actually enters one’s awareness, though, birthdays become an opportunity to think of what we’ve done with our lives, how far we’ve come, how much more we want to accomplish. When it’s the birthday of someone I’m close to, I always think about what that person’s life has meant to me; I flip through the mental, emotional scrapbook of the time we’ve had together and think of how that person has affected my life. I’ve got a birthday coming up February 27th, which puts me at a nice, round number. I’ll be doing some emotional scrapbooking of my own soon.
New Year’s celebrations turn that reflection inward. As a Jew, in fact, I do this twice a year, looking back on what I had hoped to do to be a better father, husband, friend, writer, publisher. Inevitably I have fallen short, but I try to use that knowledge not to let myself off the hook, but to remind myself to keep striving. My big brother Dan sent me a postcard once when we were in college (pre-Internet, obviously!) with the quote: “Life is a series of surfaces; the key is to skate over them gracefully.” (That’s at least how I remember the quote now.) I think my experience would add a few things to that quote: Yes, life presents surfaces, but if you don’t look down through the top layer and see what’s below those surfaces, you’re missing the point. Also, when you’re skating you’re bound to fall on your butt repeatedly, so you have to keep getting up and moving even if you’re sore.
Which leads me to Anniversaries.
2012 marks the fifteenth anniversary of Arthur A. Levine Books. Holy Moley!!
At this time of year in 1997, I was working with Norma Fox Mazer to polish the text of WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, a novel with a main character — Em Thurkill, who was so tender, her innate sweetness folded into a tiny nut that was somehow protected from the brutality of her circumstances — that I read the entire book with a lump in my throat. It was the kind of novel that reached out to the part of you that feels battered by life, that acknowledges our deep bruises by fearlessly showing us those of its protagonist. But it did so with an undeniably beautiful, luminous prose that came straight out of the emotional core of Em Thurkill. I wanted the part of me that was like the best part of Em to survive, and reading that novel, PUBLISHING that novel, made me feel as if it might.
By the end of 2012 we’ll have published more than 200 titles at Arthur A. Levine Books. Other survivors have joined Em Thurkill — Thomas Klopper in Guus Kuijer’s The Book of Everything, Marley Sandelski in Lisa Yee’s Warp Speed, Re Jana in Anne Provoost’s In the Shadow of the Ark, the unnamed immigrant in Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Marcelo Sandoval in Francisco Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World, and Lida Wallace in Erin Saldin’s The Girls of No Return, to name just a few.
Oh, it hasn’t all been “survival”! We’ve had our laughs (read Andy Rash’s The Robots Are Coming: And Other Problems with a straight face — I dare ya!). We’ve had our explorations of nonfiction (from masters like Russell Freedman no less). And sometimes both at the same time, as in the work of the genius biographer for young people, Jonah Winter (could anyone else make you laugh at Pablo Picasso??).
Over the course of this year, I hope to be celebrating many of the aspects of our publishing program at Arthur A. Levine Books. Every month, we’ll feature a different interpretation of the Lantern Logo as our profile picture, created by some of the brilliant artists who’ve contributed to our list; this month’s lantern is from the delightful Steven D’Amico. (All you artists out there: Feel free to post your own Lantern Logo interpretation and share it with us!!)
But here, just post-Valentine’s day, close to the start of the year, celebrating the start of our imprint, it seems only fitting to give a special note of thanks and appreciation to all the authors and artists whom we were so proud to introduce to American readers with their debuts (or their debuts in English!):
Elizabeth C. Bunce
Laura Gallego Garcia
Quiara Alegría Hudes
J. K. Rowling
Thank you for trusting us to bring your work to an American audience with the passion it deserves. I hope that you all will take our Imprint Anniversary as a chance to think of your own beginnings, as I am doing now with gratitude.