Melissa Manlove: A Most-Marvelous Editor
It spoke to me very strongly—Cornelius’ courage, his humility, his generosity of spirit are all qualities that deserve to be celebrated as heroic. Our culture forgets, sometimes, that selfless service is heroic even when the spotlight does not find the hero—but it is!
Tell us about your Marvelous Cornelius pitch during the acquisition meeting. How did it go over?
I told my acquisitions group that I felt this was an unusual spin on a Katrina story, and that I loved that it focuses on the difference even the humblest of us can make to the people around us—but mostly I let the manuscript speak for itself. The people at Chronicle were moved by this story, and I knew it would move others.
What did you enjoy about working with John Parra and Phil Bildner in creating this marvelous picture book?
So much! John and Phil are two of the kindest, hardest-working people I know, and the fact that they’re so talented as well…it’s a gift to be able to make books with them. They were both very thoughtful and very engaged in the publishing process, and full of enthusiasm for the book we were making.
How would you describe the theme of Marvelous Cornelius? Did you act as a musical conductor, so to speak, to ensure that theme shined through on each page?
Heroism isn’t about power or breadth of impact, though it’s often mistaken for those things. I think Marvelous Cornelius is about the idea that heroism is essentially about humanity—and anyone who gives from that compassionate place inside them is a hero. Phil and John got that without needing any help from me. I pointed out to Phil that he had instinctually told the story in a way that channels the folk-hero storytelling tradition, and with that understanding we tweaked a few things to make the text more completely what Phil wanted it to be.
Why do you think picture-book biographies that highlight humble people like Cornelius Washington, people who do heroic things without accolades are important for children to read about?
Everyone feels small at some point in their lives--feels like they are no match for the problems before them. A book like this is a reminder that if we simply try, and start from the part of ourselves that is most generous, even the humblest efforts can become great.