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A bookshelf filled with some of the wonderful books that followed my first day of work.

Fresh out of college, I landed a job as “assistant to the editor” F. N. Monjo. This dear man was then head of Coward, McCann’s children’s book department.

Early on that first day, he asked what I thought of a picture book.

“It’s nice,” I said.

“Nice!” The word withered as it passed his lips.

“Nice” was banned. (Fourteen years later I said it again.)

Mr. Monjo returned from lunch in an expansive mood. He wondered if I knew Russell Hoban’s Frances books. I didn’t. To educate me, he retold Bread and Jam for Frances, acting out all the parts and reaching his peak on the line, “She liked to practice with a string bean….” If this was work, why had I dreaded it?

The editor-in-chief for the adult department was a tall, flamboyant woman. That afternoon in the ladies room she was describing a meeting she’d just attended. Arm swooping she declared, “We sat there like flies in amber.”

Flies in amber!

Would I get to go to meetings and feel like that? I certainly felt hopeful.

This was the stuff of fiction, and here I was in the midst of it.

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