Sarah Harrison Smith – Children’s Book Editor, The New York Times
New York City is a common character in literature. Its nooks and crannies, parks and streets, buildings and hotels can serve as characters in the descriptive and imaginative world of children’s literature. These stories can make kids excited about visiting the Big Apple and see the places their favorite characters have experienced adventures, hoping to have some of their own.
Sarah Harrison Smith suggests using these places as a way to engage kids in exploring New York City and connecting the stories they read to real life places they can visit.
In June 2013 Harrison Smith took on the role as children’s book editor for The New York Times. “I think that this job is a wonderful culmination to a fairly long career in magazine editing and work at The New York Times,” she said.
She had previously been an editor and columnist for the Metropolitan section, and managing editor and head of research at The New York Times Magazine. One could say that The New York Times offices would be a major player in the story of Harrison Smith’s career.
Her career began in editing as a fact checker after she completed her education at New York’s Columbia University and Oxford University.
“I was able to write as well as fact check and I think being immersed in the excitement of a wonderful publication was quite addictive,” she said. “I can’t imagine working in an industry that someone like me would find to be more fun.”
Harrison Smith is looking forward to working with the other writers on staff, some of which she has known for most of her career. “The great writers are still the great writers, and there is always an upcoming generation.”
One thing that has defined this new generation of writers is online publishing and promoting. She is eager to bring more multimedia coverage to the online content. “I’m fascinated by children’s book illustration in particular, and would love to see video of studio visits to illustrators and interviews with some of the great illustrators.”
She is also excited for the possibilities that technology and social media allow to both journalists and readers to delve deeper into subjects of interest in ways that were not accessible ten years ago. For instance, with utilizing tools to enhance children’s use of The New York Times as a reference source for content that covers their interests.
“It’s true that the reader loses a sense of the publication being finite, but the reward for that is there is a tremendous potential for an enriched reading experience,” she said. “I would also like to see…a way for them to access a particular part of The New York Times’ online site to see integrated coverage of child related events and reviews relevant to them and suitable to their interests.”
Some of that integrated content could elaborate the message for the Broadway play, Matilda. “You could link to a review of that play, features about the people involved in it and pieces about Roald Dahl who wrote the novel it was based on, or Quenton Blake, who was best known as his illustrator.”
Additionally, Harrison Smith said multimedia coverage at publications like The Guardian is an inspiration, and she hopes to be able to provide readers with an enhanced experience. One idea is to create a New York literary specific section within the site. “Parents can say to their kids that they are going to Central Park…and can see where Stuart Little had his boat race.”
Harrison Smith also recognizes the benefits of social media and said that it brings a wider range of stories and topics into view that she may otherwise not see, especially in foreign media. “I find it very useful. It definitely increases my sense of the world and what is out there and I think that is marvelous.”
She also believes that promoting stories across social networks is becoming an important way to increase readership.
Harrison Smith is interested in the future of book apps and technology that will add to the reading experience for children. She looks forward to learn more about children’s literature from board books to Young Adult and Early Adult fiction.
Smith prefers to receive pitches by email.
“I’m very happy to receive pitches by email,” she said. And she’d like to receive any materials that cover children’s literature. “I can’t say there is anything related to children’s literature that I wouldn’t want to find out about.”
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