The license plate that watches over Cheryl Klein and her computer belonged to her grandfather, Philip Sadler, a “Kid-Lit” original. It is an expression of the love of words and adventures—both real and imaginary—that Sadler bequeathed to his granddaughter.
Klein, who joined Scholastic as an editorial assistant in 2000, is Executive Editor of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. I recently spoke with her about her work and how she is addressing what illustrator Christopher Myers, son of renowned children’s book author Walter Dean Myers, has called “the apartheid of literature.” Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Who are some of the writers you work with?
I work with authors from many different backgrounds, including Varian Johnson, who published a wonderful novel called The Great Greene Heist last May; Eric Gansworth, who grew up on the Tuscarora Reservation in New York State and wrote If I Ever Get Out of Here; and Trent Reedy, whose Words in the Dust is inspired by his experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan. I feel privileged to be able to bring so many unique stories to American readers.
Why does giving a voice to writers of diverse backgrounds matter so much to you?
Like most children, when I was growing up I had a keen sense of what is fair and unfair. That has stayed with me. It has always seemed unfair to me that there are so many stories that haven’t been heard. I find it unfair as a reader who hasn’t gotten to read those stories. And I think it’s unfair to writers who haven’t always gotten a fair shake. I want to be the person who fights to make things fair.
Could you describe your role in the Harry Potter series?
I served as the continuity editor on the last two books of the [seven-part] series. And I assisted Arthur Levine with the overall editing of the series.
As continuity editor, I kept track of the recurring names, terms and facts. For example, with “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans” I had to make sure that “Bott’s” always had an apostrophe and “Every Flavor” never had a hyphen.
We couldn’t transmit any of the manuscripts via email because the stakes were too high. So during the editing process, I flew to England several times. In 2007, I was at London’s Heathrow Airport with the final manuscript, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which no one was allowed to know I had. At security, I got pulled out of line for a random bag check and was told to open my bag and empty it. There was a pile of paper about five inches high. I was so afraid that the guard would look down and see the names “Harry,” “Ron” or “Hermione.”
“Wow,” the guard said, “you have a big pile of paper here."
“Yes,” I said nervously. But she just pushed it back at me. She didn’t know that at that moment, she had her hands on the most valuable manuscript in the Western Hemisphere.
What were you thinking?
That if anyone questioned me about the manuscript, I would say that I had written a work of fan fiction. No one would have known otherwise.
First, I’d like to talk to them about their experiences as readers. I’m curious to know about the books that inspired them to become writers, the books they first saw themselves in, and the teachers who inspired them to take up writing and then cultivated that love for writing in them.
I’d also like to know what qualities they try to bring to their books that readers from all ethnicities could relate to.
How do you envision bringing more diversity to children’s literature?
This is one of those topics that I’ve been talking about for so long I almost think: “Hasn’t everybody just accepted this by now?” But we have a real opportunity [with this panel] to discuss the challenges and complexities of discovering new voices. I’m excited to get to talk to teachers about this.
What would you say to young readers?
That your stories matter, and that you are the only person who can write them. That doesn’t mean you have to grow up to be a writer. But never think that your story—or anyone else’s—is worthless or that it shouldn’t be heard.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I grew up reading Jane Austen, and she is still one of my favorites. I also love the authors I work with, of course, including Trent Reedy, Bill Konigsberg, Karen Rivers, and Bethanie Deeney Murguia, who is an amazing writer and illustrator. She's working on a book called Princess, Fairy, Ballerina that we’re trying to sort out right now, which is really fun. We’re always working a year ahead.
Can you tell me about the original owner of your fancy license plate?
My grandfather was a professor of children’s literature at Central Missouri State University [now the University of Central Missouri], and he helped run one of the nation’s first children’s literature festivals.
Every year, about 30 authors came in to talk to kids. I ended up going to the event from the time I was a baby. From a very young age, I got to talk to authors. When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to be a book editor.
What matters most to me is empowering children as readers and writers. I grew up around writers. I grew up understanding that books are made by people. I want other kids to understand that too.