Alumnae/i Feature

From Simmons to the Caldecott Medal: Adventures in Picturebooks with Rotem Moscovich ’06MA

Rotem Moscovich standing in front of a shelf full of books

“I wanted to [study] where they could show me how to do children’s literature scholarship, for real.”

“I never stopped reading children’s books,” recalls Rotem Moscovich ’06MA, Editorial Director of Picturebooks at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. “At some point, I realized that maybe that wasn’t what most people did.”

During her undergraduate studies in Comparative Literature at New York University (NYU), she began working at Books of Wonder, a children’s book store in New York City. There, she discovered picturebooks. “I didn’t grow up reading Where the Wild Things Are,” notes Moscovich, who was born in Israel and moved to the U.S. at five years old, when she was just starting to learn how to read in Hebrew. “I had no memory of reading picturebooks in English. All of my [childhood] favorites were ones I read in Israel and the small stack I brought with me.”

The experience at Books of Wonder galvanized Moscovich’s interest, and she cobbled together a children’s literature focus for her studies. “I had no idea what I was doing, or how to conduct scholarship about children’s literature, and [my NYU professors] didn’t know either,” she recalls. “I had a professor from the School of Education as my supervisor for an independent study on [children’s author] E. L. Konigsburg.”

During her undergraduate studies, Moscovich held internships at a literary agency, a book packager, and a publishing house. “I got a 360-degree view of the industry,” she says, though her internship with Arthur Levine and Cheryl Klein at Scholastic was the most illuminating experience. “I knew that I wanted to be an editor. That was the most appealing to me. Because I had that opportunity to taste all [aspects of the industry], I knew that I was working toward being an editor, and that I would move back to NYC after getting my master’s degree.”

While her professors at NYU respected her academic focus, Moscovich was searching for a more focused, immersive experience. “I wanted to [study] where they could show me how to do children’s literature scholarship, for real.” That was how she found Simmons. “[Professor Emerita] Susan Bloom was the fairy godmother of children’s books,” says Moscovich. “[The curriculum] was all children’s literature! It felt magical.”

“Simmons helped me formulate my opinions and taste.”

One particularly magical course was The Picturebook course, then co-taught by Michael Patrick Hearn and Susan Bloom. “I loved learning the history of the picturebook,” says Moscovich, noting particularly the last page of R. Caldecott’s Hey Diddle Diddle (1882), after the dish runs away with the spoon. “The last page turn reveals the dish shattered on the ground. He imbued the text with layers of story. That image showed me the possibilities of picturebooks in a really profound way.” That course ignited her love for picturebooks.

Now, Moscovich has worked with many celebrated authors and illustrators. In 2023, one of her books — Hot Dog, illustrated and written by Doug Salati — won the Caldecott Medal, an annual award granted to the artist of the from the “most distinguished American picture book for children,” given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

“When we were working on it, it did feel special,” recalls Moscovich, who began the project while working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. “Doug, and art director Rachael Cole, and I were so tightly collaborating on this book. We talked about every single element. A lot. Where should the dog be on the spine? So many emails back and forth, so many options,” says Moscovich. “It’s gratifying to have other people see that all of those decisions you made were good decisions.” That said, winning awards isn’t her main goal. “I’ve done other really special books that didn’t win awards. As much work and talent you put into it, there’s also a bit of luck.”

As for the future of picturebooks, and children’s publishing in general, Moscovich is optimistic. “I’m really heartened by the approach that Penguin Random House has taken [in response to book challenges]. It makes me feel proud to work with them. We’re also seeing communities push back. Children’s books have always been used as barometers of morality — it’s a clearly political approach. People will always be trying to ban books, but I don’t think they will ultimately be successful. As long as there are enough people pushing back against it.”

Moscovich is grateful to Simmons, and not just for the academic rigor. “I learned the validity of my own opinion,” she says. “Not that I’m always right, but that I have the right to my own opinion. That’s how you learn what you value in art and literature, by seeing what works for you. Simmons helped me formulate my opinions and taste. For an editor, that is key.”

As for students vying to enter the publishing industry, Moscovich encourages you to be aware of the marketplace. “Be well read. Know what people are loving, talking about, and buying. Look at bestseller lists: New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly. Intern wherever you can! Remote work makes it possible to intern anywhere, but if there is an opportunity to do something in person, [go for it]. There is so much you can gain from being [on site]. Ask for informational interviews with people you admire, or people in positions you don’t understand. People love to talk about their jobs, so take that opportunity whenever you can. Walk into bookstores and libraries that offer a different perspective.”

Recommended Reading from Rotem Moscovich

  • Built To Last by Minh Lê, Illustrated by Dan Santat (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 2024): “Minh and Dan are at it again, this time chronicling a friendship as it grows from preschool up into elementary school, with the boys building together and making spectacular imaginative worlds as only Minh and Dan can make them. And check out the spot gloss on the jacket…”
  • We Are Big Time, a graphic novel by Hena Khan, Illustrated by Safiya Zerrougui (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2024): “This is a middle grade graphic novel about a girl who moves to Wisconsin to attend an Islamic school and joins the all-girls hijab-wearing basketball team,” says Moscovich. “The family banter and dialogue feels so natural. The author weaves in how discrimination can [occur] and how these girls don’t let it define them and own their own narrative.”
  • The Last Stand by Antwan Eady, Illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (Knopf Books for Young Readers, January 2024): “This was inspired by Antwan’s childhood in the low country in South Carolina, about a grandfather and grandson who have the last stand in a farmer’s market in a community that can’t afford to lose fresh produce. I connected instantly with the relationships, the bits of humor, the way they talk to each other…It doesn’t shy away from difficult [subject matter] but is also really affirming. In his author’s note, Antwan addresses how many Black farmers have had to abandon farming because of discrimination from the USDA, showing how complex the relationship to the land can be.”
  • The Teeny-Weeny Unicorn by Shawn Harris (Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 2024): “[This book] is delightful, silly and artful at the same time. With a quotable salty gnome, and a theme about perspective and relative size — as well as responsibility! — this incredibly original story will reel in unicorn fans and surprise them.”
  • Lucky Duck by Greg Pizzoli (Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 2024). “[This book] has the humor that we know and love from Greg, plus a fun, smart structure. Greg knows how to let kids be smarter than the main character, the oblivious Susan the duck, and the absolute joy they derive from that. The resolution, to me, is the perfect come-uppance for the conniving wolf, and so, so satisfying. Look for the never-mentioned-in-the-text bug throughout! The book is printed in four spot colors, so it’s especially vibrant and distinct in its palette.”

Publish Date


Alisa M. Libby