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A Day in the Life–1975

HOW GREENWILLOW BOOKS GOT ITS NAME, BY SUSAN HIRSCHMAN

For the first weeks—or even months—of Greenwillow’s existence, we had no name. We were called “them” or “you” or “the third division” (Morrow Junior Books and Lothrop, Lee & Shepard being the other two children’s book departments at William Morrow). And of course, we knew we had to have a name—and fast.

The first name I came up with was Hamilton, as a thank you to Virginia Hamilton for her loyalty and to Julia MacRae at Hamish Hamilton in London for her support. But it was felt that because Elizabeth Hamilton had been Morrow Junior Books’ first editor, her name should not be used by us. We suggested Barrow Books—an old Morrow imprint—but no one liked it. I thought of Drumlin Books—named for a geological formation I was fond of—but no one was fond of the name. Lawrence Hughes, the president of William Morrow, suggested Tree House or Treetops, but both seemed too young for a list like ours. Our managing editor, Ada Shearon, said, “Let’s name us for one of my two favorite authors—Henry James or Jane Austen.” But James Books was flat, and most people then connected Austen with Aston Martin automobiles.

One day I came up with a winner. I like water, and a wet-sounding name appealed to me. Harbor Books, I thought. It had a real ring. Harbor Books for Boys and Girls. It sounded established. It sounded classic. And then I realized why. For ten marvelous years I had worked for Ursula Nordstrom—at Harper Books for Boys and Girls. No wonder Harbor Books sounded good!

We went through the dictionary, and we went through Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. We found lots of good names—all previously used. And then one day at a meeting I thought, Willow. WILLiam MorrOW. Willow. Clever. But then I thought of the folk song about a willow—“First it bent and then it broke.” Oh, dear. And then I remembered the book by Elizabeth Coatsworth and illustrated by Janina Domanska that we had published at Macmillan several years before: Under the Green Willow. Both author and artist were close to me and to our publishing program. The name seemed a gift from each of them. And best of all, everyone who heard it, loved it. We became Greenwillow Books.

Ava Weiss, our art director, adapted Janina’s title page drawing of a willow to make our perfect colophon. B. J. Chute, who had written the novel Greenwillow from which the musical was made, became our enthusiastic godmother. Everyone who heard the name smiled. And now, incredible as it seems, it is Greenwillow’s thirty-fifth birthday. I couldn’t be happier—or prouder of the way it continues to grow and flourish.

Susan Hirschman started her career in children’s books in 1954 as secretary to the children’s book editor at Alfred A. Knopf. After ten years each at Harper and Macmillan, she founded Greenwillow Books in 1974 and was its publisher until she retired in 2001.

7 Comments

  1. Suzanne Crowley says:

    Great fun reading this story!

  2. Susan James says:

    Its a perfect name. I love everything to do with trees and can’t you just imagine sitting, reading and dreaming a bit beneath a willow tree?

  3. Jody Feldman says:

    You hit my button with this one. I love name genesis stories. Thanks!

  4. cindy says:

    it’s always difficult to come
    up with the perfect name–and i think
    greenwillow books is! so happy i know
    the story behind now!

  5. Marion Meade says:

    What a wonderful publishing memory. And just look at how all that thought paid off. Greenwillow was the perfect, and most evocative, name.

  6. […] the Greenwillow Books thirty-fifth anniversary blog, where all year long we’ll be celebrating the past, present, and future of Greenwillow. Filed under Anniversaries Comment (RSS) […]

  7. […] “The Third Division.” Both this answer and “Harbor Books” were suggested as names in Susan Hirschman’s blog post in January. So, congrats to you both! You will each receive a box of Greenwillow books—including an […]

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