Honoring Bernette G. Ford, a trailblazing author, editor, and publishing executive.
Bernette G. Ford was a trailblazing author, editor, and publishing executive who passed away in 2021. She was a determined advocate for over thirty years for increasing diverse representation in children’s books by ensuring that BIPOC authors and illustrators had opportunities to write and illustrate these books.
In honor of her legacy, friends of Bernette gathered to record a tribute to her, which Bernette’s daughter, Olivia, is pleased to share here on the CBC website on the occasion of her birthday, June 30. Speaking on the tribute are Olivia and George Ford, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Kelly Starlings-Lyons, Wade and Cheryl Hudson, Sonia Black, David Bennett, Phoebe Yeh, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Pat Cummings, Nikki Grimes, Joyce Hansen, Derrick Barnes, Ruby Bridges, Barbara Marcus, and Bernette herself. The video ends with a reading of Bright Eyes, Brown Skin by the four children, now grown, who were the kids in the book!
The CBC would like to thank the publishers at Random House, Penguin, and Scholastic for their participation in this celebration of Bernette’s legacy.
In addition, Boxer Books is releasing The Magical Snowflake this October. David Bennett, Publisher of Boxer Books, said, ‘Bernette used few words but spoke volumes, and so eloquently, in her life and work. The Magical Snowflake was completed just before the pandemic, so development was delayed. Sadly, Bernette had passed by the time we were able to continue, but I hope Bernette would be pleased with the outcome. I know she would have loved Erin’s work and would have longed to meet. I was always proud to be Bernette’s publisher, but this is a special moment.”
Leilani Sparrow of Boxer Books said, “Working on The Magical Snowflake has been quite a journey. Knowing it was Bernette’s last picture book text, we wanted it to be a real tribute to her. David Bennett and I wanted to pair her text with a young African American/BAME illustrator to celebrate her legacy, and we were thrilled when Erin K. Robinson came on board. Erin’s art is evocative and magical and a perfect fit for the text. When I read the text, I could hear Bernette reading it, too. It’s beautiful, poetic, and gentle, with a focus on community that mirrors Bernette’s own ability to include people from all walks of life and make them feel valued. The special finishes make this book a standout winter title, and we hope you all enjoy it as much as we do.”
Furthermore, Union Square Kids will be reissuing six of her previous books:
- Life’s Little Lessons: No More Hitting
- Life’s Little Lessons: No More Biting
- Life’s Little Lessons: Bye-Bye Bottle
- Life’s Little Lessons: Bye-Bye Blanket
- Life’s Little Lessons: Bye-Bye Pacifier
- Life’s Little Lessons: Bye-Bye Diapers
The CBC has compiled the most up-to-date bibliography of Bernette’s books in print, including the new Boxer titles.
David Bennett added, “If you want to know what Bernette was like as a person, read The Magical Snowflake and First Snow. These texts embody her gentle pace, style, expression, and thoughtfulness. Bernette applied these qualities in the development of authors and artists such as Britta Teckentrup and Sebastien Braun and many others whom she mentored at Boxer.”
About Bernette Ford
Ms. Ford, whose résumé included vice presidencies at Grosset & Dunlap and then at Scholastic Books, where she founded the Cartwheel imprint in 1991, was among the first Black executives at a major children’s book publisher. In 2002 she formed her own company, Color-Bridge Books, which consulted on and packaged a range of books for young people. She also wrote or collaborated on a variety of children’s books, including Bright Eyes, Brown Skin, written with Cheryl Willis Hudson and illustrated by Ms. Ford’s husband, George Ford. Bright Eyes, Brown Skin was published in 1990 by Just Us Books, a company founded by Ms. Hudson and her husband, Wade. Not all of Ms. Ford’s work was devoted to books emphasizing diversity. As head of Cartwheel, she was responsible for mass-market hits like the Clifford the Big Red Dog books and the I Spy series, and her own writing included books for the very young that used animal characters, such as No More Diapers for Ducky. But with Color-Bridge Books, she was particularly interested in books with diverse characters that were written and illustrated by people of color. One series she created, called “Just for You!,” featured both established authors like Derrick Barnes and relative newcomers (as well as several titles she wrote herself).