July 28, 2015
Marge was warm, wise, witty, and intellectually sharp. She had very high standards and expectations, and when I began working at JLG, I was always a little intimidated to leave a note on her desk for fear of making a grammatical error. She would regularly send postcards when she was on vacation and, along with her friendly, funny greeting, she would correct the mistakes in the card’s printed descriptions.
I clearly remember during my job interview in 1991, when Marge said, “I see that you have a lot of computer experience, do you still remember how to use a typewriter?” Marge was old school. The department used electric typewriters and an abundance of carbon paper. Marge herself used a manual typewriter. I would often hear the impressively rapid (and accurate) clack of the keys coming from her office. We eventually got a computer to speed up the process of logging in submissions and creating our catalogue. But Marge continued to use the manual typewriter until she retired in 1994, after twenty-four years as editorial director of JLG.
While I wasn’t planning on switching to a manual typewriter, I appreciated many of the other old-school aspects of working at JLG. We had files going back to 1929 with correspondence from authors such as Theodore Geisel and E. L. Konigsburg, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Hayes, who had each been on the JLG editorial board at one time. Our library of previous selections was (and still is) a walk back in time, with many classics and many of my childhood favorites represented.
I remember Marge gleefully telling me about changing our categories (which when she arrived in 1970 included A, B, and C—with “B” books for boys and “C” books for girls) to age levels rather than gender designations (“A” was already for younger readers, without a mention of gender). She also added a book to the JLG list that she had edited in her previous job at Holiday House, The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide. (Our shelf copy is inscribed: “For all my friends at the Junior Literary Guild. Think Green! Florence Parry Heide [Treehorn’s Mother] January 12, 1972.”)
Marge put a value on hard work, quality, and integrity that I deeply appreciated, but she kept fun and humor in the equation as well. She had a sign in her office that read “Only the mediocre are always at their best,” along with cat-related trinkets and cards given to her because of her love of cats, especially her own. She often shared book-, library-, and cat-related cartoons in our circulating mail folder. I remember her pointing out that a particular character in a picture book was left-handed, as was she, and quoting characters from an historical novel who had “come a fer piece” from their native Ohio—as had Marge.
Lillian Gerhardt, former editor-in-chief of School Library Journal and a dear friend of Marge’s, contributed to a piece about colorful characters in children’s publishing, which appeared in Publishers Weekly in July 2011. The story is about children’s book editor Marjorie Thayer, and an incident in which Marge Jones played a pivotal role.
I was in Marge’s old Manhattan neighborhood the day after she died, thinking of her fondly and missing her, not yet knowing she had passed away. When she first moved back to Ohio to be near family due to illness, I wrote to her that all of New York City felt the loss. She once sent me a card for New Year’s wishing me “all the things that make a happy heart.” Knowing her was one of those things, and I will always be grateful to have had that opportunity.