Alexandra Cooper is an editor at Simon and Schuster. I met Alexandra at a recent SCBWI Writer’s Retreat. She was kind enough to answer some questions about Jewish books, and her role as an editor. Many people wonder about the editor’s perspective, and I’m delighted to share Alexandra’s thoughts on Jewish literature for children.
As an editor in a mainstream publishing house are you able to produce books that fit into the genre of Jewish children’s literature?
I think so. Every editor has to have a balanced list, between novels and picture books and also between more commercial and more literary projects. I would count Jewishly-themed books as a part of my mix, and I am definitely enthusiastic about editing books of Jewish interest. It’s about striking that balance–no editor can publish books meant only for one audience, unless that editor is at a publishing house exclusively devoted to that particular audience. As an editor at a general trade house, I think I have the opportunity to raise awareness and bring books I love to a wider population.
Are there any unique marketing issues with a book that has a Jewish thread?
The Jewish community in particular has some wonderful resources, so there are a number of opportunities for books of Jewish interest to reach their target audience. But what about expanding beyond that base? I wouldn’t want a person to pick up a book, then realize that the book has some Jewish content and think, “That’s not for me.” Every book has a specific theme, but the challenge is to make that translate universally so the book speaks to a wide audience, not just those readers who could directly relate to the protagonist.
Is there a Jewish topic that is not well represented in mainstream books that you would like to see?
That’s a tough question! I’m looking for books that appeal to a wide audience, but at the same time, aren’t just another book that’s similar to what’s already been published, or to a book I’ve already edited. There are all kinds of topics, Jewish and not, that aren’t necessarily what I’d call well-represented by general publishers, but that’s also not the mission of a mainstream house. I think that more and more, specialized publishers are going to gain traction, because they will be able to put out strong books meant for a specific audience, books that will be found and embraced by that specific audience. It’s already happening with the recording industry and with movie-making–smaller companies are finding it easier to brand themselves by creating niches.
Do you have any books in your previous or current list you would like to mention?
I edited a middle-grade novel called THE TRUTH ABOUT MY BAT MITZVAH, by Nora Raleigh Baskin, that I’m really excited about. It centers around a girl who is just discovering her Jewish identity–her mother is Jewish but her father isn’t, and her best friend is starting to plan her own bat mitzvah. I think Nora absolutely captured how it feels to be in seventh grade and confused about everything, trying to navigate friendships and boys and school, and the character here is also struggling with religion, tradition, and family.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I couldn’t pick only one–I think that’s part of the reason I work in children’s books now! I remember loving Ferdinand the Bull, Caps for Sale, and the Frog and Toad stories, to name a mere
Alexandra, thanks so much for sharing your words of wisdom!