Interview with an Editor: Katherine Jacobs of Roaring Brook Press (plus a giveaway!)

Today I'm pleased as punch to welcome to the blog my friend and one seriously fabulous editor, Katherine Jacobs, to talk about work, books, and the wonderful world of middle-grade literature. (CUTENESS ALERT! Katherine was clearly born to be an editor, as is made clear in this insanely adorable photo of her reading in the closet in fourth grade.) To add to Katherine's awesomeness, she has also offered to give away a galley copy of one of her books to one of our readers (details at the end of the interview).

Let's get cracking!

Hi, Katherine! Just to start off on a formal note, what's the name of your publishing house/imprint and what is your official title?

I’m at Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, and I’m an associate editor.

What sorts of books do you edit? What titles have you worked on in the past?

I work on everything from picture books to YA, fiction and nonfiction.

A sampling of middle grade books that I’ve edited are Betty Hicks’s chapter book series, Gym Shorts, Don Brown’s nonfiction picture book, America Is Under Attack, Georgia Heard’s poetry collection, Falling Down the Page, and Gregory Mone’s novel set on board the Titanic, Dangerous Waters (giveaway alert!).

What made you decide to become an editor? What was your career path?

I always loved children’s books and kept reading them even when I knew they were too young for me, so I wanted to do something with children’s literature. When I was in college I was working at an independent children’s bookstore (shout out to Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, MI!) and we got in a copy of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. I was entranced. It had never occurred to me that there were people working behind the scenes involved in the creative process of making books. I guess I thought that they just emerged, fully formed from authors’ heads!

I did take a bit of a winding road on the way to the publishing business, however: first I was a Peace Corps volunteer and I taught English as a second language in Romania for two years, and then I got my master’s degree from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College. And then I started working at Roaring Brook where I’ve been for just over 4 years.

What are some of your favorite non-book-related activities?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years learning to lap swim and I love starting my day with a trip to the pool. I love to travel, especially internationally—the farther away and less developed the better. Although it hurts me to say it, I like many of the things that are trendy in Brooklyn like yoga and cooking (and eating!). I love watching television and going to the theater. I just got my grandmother’s old 1960s sewing machine and am determined to learn how to sew at least half as well as she could.

What is your favorite middle-grade novel from your childhood?

The book that was sort of a watershed moment for me—I distinctively remember that it changed the way I saw the world—was The Giver. I read it in the 6th grade and it made me aware of my own agency and the power of choices in a way I had never understood before. I can still quote lines from Sarah, Plain and Tall (I had it on book tape read by Glenn Close). Katherine Paterson was my hero, especially for Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins and, when I was older, Jacob Have I Loved. I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables (let’s be real, I still do!).

What would you say are some of the common pitfalls that you see in middle-grade manuscripts by new authors?

I think that new authors sometimes underestimate how astute middle-grade readers are. Some manuscripts I see are overwritten or do more telling than showing. Kids are actually remarkably able to fill in “gaps” in the story themselves. They can use context and character and plot to infer meaning in unfamiliar language or emotion filled scenes. Manuscripts that respect their young readers and their abilities always catch my eye.

Do you have any books coming out that you are particularly excited about and would like to share with us?

I have not one but three adventure stories coming out this year—and they’re all completely different. Into the Trap by Craig Moodie is sort of a Hardy Boys mystery meets The Deadliest Catch. It’s about a boy who lives on Cape Cod and discovers some thieves who are stealing lobsters and it’s up to him to apprehend the crooks. The Other Felix by Keir Graff is sort of a middle-grade reimagining of Where the Wild Things Are. It’s about a boy who goes to the land of monsters when he sleeps and he learns to tame the monsters by confronting some of the challenges in his waking life. And, coming in March of 2012, is Dangerous Waters—an adventure on the Titanic that also involves rare books and secret codes.

Lastly (and most important), would you rather be an astronaut or a deep sea explorer, and why?

Definitely a deep sea explorer. I love fish and whales and the mystery and depth and power of the sea. My dream is to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef someday.

Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with us, Katherine!



Katherine is giving away a galley copy of Dangerous Waters to one lucky blog reader! (Side note: How great is this tag line? "A stowaway, a stolen book, a murderous villain: an adventure on the most famous shipwreck in history.") To be entered in the giveaway, simply drop me an email at graff [dot] lisa [at] yahoo [dot] com with the subject line "DANGEROUS WATERS." The winner will be chosen at random on October 1st.

The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner, Darcy!


  1. Great interview. I laughed at this: "I guess I thought that they just emerged, fully formed from authors’ heads!" because I remember suffering from the same delusion - oh so many years ago =)


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