Miriam Hodgson

Sensitive children's book editor
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The Independent Online

Miriam Rosenthal, children's book editor: born Manchester 10 December 1938; married 1969 Julian Hodgson (one daughter); died London 14 November 2005.

One of the most effective as well as best-loved editors in children's literature, Miriam Hodgson was the unassuming but invaluable mentor for numbers of eminent writers over the years. She was determined that they should always be left to find their true voice in their own time, and her faith in those she worked with was amply rewarded when many of them went on to win the highest awards in their field.

Born in Manchester of a Jewish family that came over from Berlin in 1933, she moved to Cambridge in 1948 when her father, Erwin Rosenthal, took up a lectureship in Oriental Studies at Pembroke College. A pupil at Perse School for Girls, she excelled in her studies, going on to read History at St Anne's College, Oxford. Inclined to be shy, happier reading books than going to parties, she benefited hugely from the friendship of Ruth and Rosemary Spooner, cousins distantly related to the famous clergyman who gave his name to those "spoonerisms" still often reprised today, however questionable their historical provenance. These two ladies, then in their late sixties, held open house every weekend, with Miriam Rosenthal a constant visitor.

Musical, passionate about the countryside and living out their Christian Socialist ideals at all times, these cousins were to be a permanent influence on Miriam for the rest of her life. Her other main figure was her father, a considerable scholar who was also consistently gentle and loving. Never rich, he somehow always found money for books, records and family visits to the theatre, as well as weekly flowers for his wife.

Leaving Oxford, Miriam thought of becoming a medical social worker, but was warned off by the Head Almoner at the Radcliffe Hospital, who believed that she would take her work so much to heart that her judgement might become clouded. Choosing publishing instead, following the example of her brother Tom, later to be a distinguished publisher himself, Miriam Rosenthal worked first for Ernest Benn before moving to Associated Book Publishers. There she met her future husband, Julian Hodgson, then head of the education department.

In the mid-Seventies, Miriam Hodgson gravitated to Methuen and by the time, in 1998, its children's books division was sold to Egmont, she was chief editor of the children's section. Working with Robert Westall, she persuaded him to turn what was previously a short story into his prize-winning, pacifist novel Gulf (1992), set in the first Gulf War of 1991 but still highly topical today. There were also long partnerships with Michelle Magorian, Theresa Breslin, Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo. The Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Award, the Children's Book Award and the Smarties Prize were all won at one time or another by books that Hodgson had worked on. A 20-year relationship with Jamila Gavin was particularly productive, with Gavin's novel Coram Boy (2000) first winning the Whitbread Children's Book Award and now stunningly adapted for the stage at the National Theatre.

Miriam Hodgson enjoyed another career as a gifted anthologist, specialising in collections that touched on teenage emotional highs and lows. The Teens Book of Love Stories (1988) was particularly effective. Its sequel Take Your Knee Off My Heart (1990) included stories by Jenny Nimmo, Pete Johnson, Mary Hooper and Monica Hughes. In Between: stories of leaving childhood (1994) was aimed at readers going through their own rites of passage, as was Mixed Feelings (1997) with contributions from Berlie Doherty, Anne Fine and Jean Ure, among many others. Remembering her own occasional feelings of doubt and inadequacy, she was keen to reassure young readers that this was a phase they could grow out of, just as she had herself.

In 1999 Hodgson was chosen as the Imprint and Editor of the Year at the annual British Book Awards, the Oscars of the book trade. This recognition gave her much pleasure in the years of her partial retirement. In 2003, she won the Eleanor Farjeon Award, presented by the Children's Book Circle for outstanding services to children's literature. In her acceptance speech, she described how the editor must always have faith in the writer, helping him or her to find their natural voice, if necessary over a series of novels. As the reader's representative, the editor must in their turn make sure that what the author is writing always remains clear, with the overall aim of making the good even better, while eliminating odd blemishes. They should also remind the author, should this become necessary, that he or she is after all writing for children, "who deserve to keep a belief in good defeating evil". Whether this last piece of advice will remain current over the next few decades remains to be seen.

Miriam Hodgson possessed a rare grace of personality that rubbed off on all her authors, as well as everyone else who knew her. Sensitive, quietly spoken, thoughtful and kind, this least threatening of people had an extraordinary knack of getting the best out of others while keeping her own contribution well in the background. A modest person with little to be modest about, she became a friend to everyone she worked with.

Nicholas Tucker

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