The XX Factor

Remembering Eden Ross Lipson

Forgive me for injecting this note of sadness, but I’m mourning the death today of my friend Eden Ross Lipson. Eden was for a long while the children’s book editor of the New York Times . I knew her after she retired. She e-mailed me one day a few years ago about a piece I wrote on reading books to boys that are usually given to girls, like Little House in the Big Woods . I’d just started writing about kids and motherhood, and I felt the opposite of confident about whether I had much to say worth hearing. Eden’s brisk e-mail made smarter points than mine. But she didn’t point that out. She offered suggestions for the next piece, the best kind of deft encouragement. From then on, she wrote when she wanted to tell me I’d gotten a children’s book right, or when I’d gotten it wrong. She suggested topics. She became my literary fairy godmother.

I met Eden in person last summer, when I went to consult with her about the germ of an idea that has turned into the new website we launched today. Eden gave me peach tea, if I remember right, shooed her husband off on a walk, and reeled off the names of potential reviewers and contributors. To my delight, she said yes when I asked if she might herself contribute to the new site. Oh yes, she wanted to write about lost books - the ones that go out of print or fall out of favor but shouldn’t. “Here are four that come to mind,” she wrote in a follow-up e-mail. She continued:

“Tell Me a Mitzi by Lore Segal - a splendid picture book about childhood incident and ritual story telling with strange, haunting illustrations.

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden - a post World War II children’s novel about the arbitrary but abiding nature of a family… in this case the dolls who get to live in a restored doll’s house. The plain, simple farthing doll embodies courage and bravery, another is both beautiful and evil.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher - an old-fashioned, but always timely, “women’s novel” about stereotyped role playing in marriage. The first chapters capture the frenzy and despair of a stay-at-home wife who should be out at work brilliantly.

The American Table by Ronald Johnson - a truly great cookbook published in 1983 by a man better known in another world as an outstanding American poet. (On the basis of a tribute at Poets House in New York in 2006 I think it’s fair to say the poets don’t know he wrote cookbooks, the cooks have never read the poetry.) The hundreds of recipes from all over the country are deceptively simple and easy and charmingly sourced, collected from old ladies, pamphlets, friends and traditions. The Shaker vegetables are a special treat. He wrote four other cookbooks, all worth having nearby.”

I am so sorry that I won’t get to read those pieces. Eden took children’s books as seriously as they are meant to be taken. If we are very lucky, and at our very best, that spirit will infuse Double X. And still I will miss her.