It is such a pleasure to introduce Margie Blumberg from MB Publishing. MB Publishing publishes picture books through YA. It is always interesting to learn about the business side of book publishing. Margie is also an author, so her insights come from a wealth of experience. If you aren’t familiar with MB Publishing please visit www.mbpublishing.com.
Margie’s recent book, BUNNY ROMERO’S WHITE HOUSE ADVENTURE: THE WHOLE MEGILLAH illustrated by Renée Andriani, is a charming story of Bunny’s visit to the White House with her second-grade class. Bunny, a Jewish immigrant from Mexico, finds a special way to feel at home in the White House.
Your first steps into publishing came as the result of a family story. Can you tell me a bit about your experience?
Love, luck, good timing, and one special Rosh Hashanah lunch swirled together to help create a story, Avram’s Gift, and launch a book publishing company. It all began over New Year’s lunch at my family’s house, when my great-uncle, Morris, came face-to-face with a large, wood-framed photo of his beloved grandfather, Avram, whom he had sadly parted from at the train station in Russia 88 years earlier. That stern-looking man’s photo had been hanging in our hallway for years, but now, my great-uncle was actually smiling at that face. As he held the framed photo aloft, I asked him to tell us about his grandfather. His first words were as surprising as they were wonderful. Without taking his eyes off Avram’s face, he said, “You know, I’ll bet that if you were to look up the word love in the dictionary, you would find this man’s picture right next to the definition.”
The next morning, an idea for a story came to me. But for details, I would need to interview Morris about his early life—in Russia, on the ship from Germany, and in America. A couple of months after we sat for that interview, Morris was, tragically, diagnosed with cancer. He was able to read my first draft, and when I visited him shortly after, he told me how much he loved the story, which meant a lot to me. When the final version of the manuscript was done (I worked with Ellen Roberts at the time, a very encouraging editor), the search for an illustrator began. We (that is, Jim Catler and I; Jim is my partner in life and my VP—and a VIP!—at MB Publishing) stumbled upon a beautiful book called Polar the Titanic Bear and fell in love with the paintings. Fortunately, the book’s illustrator, Laurie McGaw, agreed to illustrate Avram’s Gift, and she recommended a graphic design company in Toronto, too (PageWave Graphics), with whom she’d worked for years. A few years later, we had a finished book in our hands and MB Publishing was born.
You are in the unique position of being an author and a publisher. How do you separate these roles?
Because we usually don’t take on more than one new author’s project at a time, it’s easy to separate the roles. It’s akin to how waves come to shore and then roll back out: each day, each week, each month, this rolling in and out of waves is happening, so my workday is always interesting and stimulating. Creatively speaking, I love to have a personal manuscript percolating behind another author’s project. And I enjoy taking breaks from both to phone friends, relax, and exercise (though, I’ll often type into my phone and email myself if I think of something that should go in or come out of a manuscript while on my stationary bike). Having a phone—or a pen and a pad of paper—nearby is a must because even while you’re eating, pedaling, drifting off to sleep, or just waking up, an idea is busy forming in the background, informed by everything you’ve been thinking about, until suddenly, there it is—that very important thought—and you have to jot it down in a hurry before it rushes back out to sea!
MB books are beautifully designed and illustrated. Do you have a design background?
Thank you, Barbara—what a lovely thing to say! We’re lucky because we get to work with wonderfully gifted, inspired artists and a team of talented graphic designers at PageWave Graphics. I have learned a tremendous amount from all of them—and they’ve also become dear friends, which is icing on the cake! While I myself don’t have a design background (my graduate degree is in law), I was surrounded by art while growing up—art on the walls, art on the stage (i.e., colorful set designs and costumes in the theatrical productions I saw with my family), art on TV (for example, Marlo Thomas’s fabulous outfits on her series, That Girl), and art in my favorite books: No Roses for Harry, Put Me in the Zoo, Snow!, and Charlotte’s Web, to name a few. All of these have influenced my love of color and characters and my desire to produce the kinds of books that brought me so much joy when I was little.
What inspired your newest book, BUNNY ROMERO’S WHITE HOUSE ADVENTURE: THE WHOLE MEGILLAH? Will there be more adventures from Bunny?
For a long time, my dream had been to eat my favorite sandwich, tuna fish, in the White House kitchen. As that lovely song “Happy Talk” (from South Pacific) says, “You gotta have a dream.” And this was mine. I told people about it whenever the subject of dreams, the White House, or tuna fish came up. One day, my sister was eating dinner in a restaurant, and seated at the next table was the White House chef. When she told him about my dream, he said he would be delighted to give us a private tour of the White House—and that it would include the kitchen! Now, after I had heard this incredible news, I was quite certain that I was not going to be sitting in the kitchen for a leisurely lunch—though that would have been terrific!—so I prepared a one-inch square sandwich. Good thing, too, because our tour of the kitchen was not long, so I had just a moment to pop the sandwich into my mouth. Jim snapped a photo to capture this “historic” moment, so I have proof that, indeed, my dream came true. This happened on September 10, 1995. From there, a story took form, and it eventually became Bunny Romero’s White House Adventure: The Whole Megillah!, featuring Purim, Thanksgiving, our first woman president, and hamantaschen—my favorite cookie!
I don’t know if there will be more adventures from Bunny, but it’s fun to think about!
What are you looking for in terms of submissions from authors and illustrators? What are the benefits of working with a smaller publisher like MB?
For a picture book, the story and the language should be such that children beg to have the book read to them over and over again. The most wonderful compliment authors can hear is that a child insists on having their book read every night. Happily, I have heard that more than once from parents and grandparents, and I can tell you that it makes every moment that went into creating that book feel so worthwhile.
For a novel, it’s the characters and the story itself that need to be relatable and compelling. With our first middle-grade book, Celtic Run: A Jake McGreevy Novel, by Sean Vogel (we’re very excited about his soon-to-be-released third book in the series, Paris Secrets, and its Jewish themes!), I knew I was in love with his adventure story after I read his synopsis. I confirmed this initial impression when I finished chapter one. Sometimes, you just know you’re going to love a story from the author’s opening words. My cousin Leon Uris’s book Battle Cry is a good example: “They call me Mac.” I can’t explain why I was hooked after that opening line. But that’s the magic between a writer and a reader. To this day, Battle Cry remains among my top five favorite books, which include Marjorie Morningstar and Gentleman’s Agreement.
Regarding illustrations, we look for characters who relate to one another the way real people do—who look at one another in the eye to express genuine emotions and, thereby, effortlessly draw the reader into their world. From the cover to the last page, it’s the book’s detailed tangibles (people, animals, places, and things) and intangibles (such as humor, joy, and sadness) that, when they blend together well, create a memorable and enjoyable experience.
From the moment we fall in love with an author’s story, we work tirelessly to make it the best it can be. In addition to doing our own in-house editing, we work with two extraordinarily talented editors—Emma Walton Hamilton and Anne Himmelfarb. Also, if a book is historical in nature, we do our own research and fact-checking and then hire a historian to vet the manuscript. It takes time to create a book. And it takes a village. We’re just lucky to have a community of professionals who have joined us on this adventure and make every day a dream come true.
Thank you, Margie!
Margie Blumberg is an author and a book publisher. A native Washingtonian, she resides in Bethesda, Maryland, where she enjoys baking, biking, backgammon, books—and movies!