Elspeth Lorraine

Book Reviews

February 2, 2024

"Good Books for Bad Children: The Genius of Ursula" By Beth Kephart and Illustrated by Chloe Bristol

You may not know it, but you adore Ursula Nordstrom’s work. Don’t believe me? Ok, first of all wow. Rude. Why would I lie? Secondly, have you read “Goodnight Moon”? “Where the Wild Things are”? “Charlotte’s Web”? “The Giving Tree”? “The Runaway Bunny”? “Stuart Little”? “Harry the Dirty Dog”? “Harold and The Purple Crayon”? Oh you have? In that case I was right and you are the liar. I’ll forgive you if you get this book and educate yourself, because Ursula Nordstorm was undoubtedly the most important editor in all of children’s literature and she got every book listed above and many many other classics published. 

Ursula was a lonely child, after her parents divorce she grew up in boarding schools. Her dream to go to college was stopped short with the need to get a job. She started at Harper & Brothers as a clerk, made her way up to assistant of Ida Louise Raymond and eventually took her place as editor. It was now her job to find the best writers and cultivate their craft into classics. “Up to her to talk… about her favorite books of all - good books for bad children, as she liked to say”. She spent her career shepherding her “geniuses”, both artists and writers into creating many many many classics. She retired to the countryside to live with her great love Mary in Connecticut. Ursula was questioned as to why she as a woman, who never attended college should be in the business of children’s literature and she said “I am a former child, and I haven’t forgotten a thing”. 

Sometimes writing about people you admire is difficult because you want to talk ad nauseum about them. I adore Ursula. She died before I was born, and yet her life has touched mine in a poignant way. She was brave, she was fascinating. She asked important questions and really listened. If you ever need any Ursula facts please ask. A friend of mine has received many unasked for Ursula updates and is quite gracious about them. But she might want a break. And much like Ursula, I adore children’s literature far too much to stay quiet. 

Bits and Pieces: The artwork was made using Adobe Photoshop to create the digital illustrations. 

Not Sure About: Some people have said that they aren’t sure if kids will be interested in a book editor’s biography. Um. Excuse me. Picture books aren’t just for kids. That being said… I’m not entirely sure kids will be interested in this topic. 

Favorite Part: Mid-Century modern glam! This palette of tans and warm browns and fall colors is gorgeous! I don’t know if the real Ursula had such good taste in aesthetics and furniture… but let’s say yes since she had such great taste in literature. Chloe did a lovely job with her references and art easily interspersed from famous books. 

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