Born on July 29, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, Jean E. Karl was a legendary children’s book editor and author. She began her career at Scott, Foresman & Company working with the Dick and Jane readers, then moved to Abingdon Press as their children’s book editor. In 1961, she was asked to start the Children’s Book Department at Atheneum, where she eventually had her own imprint, and from which she officially retired in 1985. Ms. Karl continued to edit books for Atheneum as an editor-at-large until shortly before her death in 2000. Ms. Karl was president of the Children’s Book Council and very active in that organization throughout her career.
She founded the mass market imprint Aladdin and the young adult science fiction imprint Atheneum Argo. The books she edited won five Newbery Medals, six Newbery Honors, two Caldecott Medals, and one National Book Award. She was the editor for Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy and E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Atheneum, 1970).
Several of her books are classics in the study of children’s literature and writing. From Childhood to Childhood: Children’s Books and Their Creators (John Day Co, 1970) is a thoughtful tome on good children’s books which stands up well today—it provides a satisfying look into how publishing decisions are made. She wrote How to Write and Sell Children’s Picture Books for Writer’s Digest in 1994. Jean Karl also wrote science fiction for children and young adults. Two of her most memorable titles are The Turning Place: Stories of a Future Past (Dutton, 1976) and Beloved Benjamin is Waiting (Dutton, 1978).
Jean Karl died in March, 2000, at a hospice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.