Story 05: Memoirs of a Bubble Blower

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Sidebar: Bernie's Books

Written by Patricia A. Steuert

When I worked at The Children's Museum, I was often asked at museum conferences, "How do you manage to fund so many subject matter specialists on the staff?"

Bernie came to the museum in 1970 and worked full- time or part-time for over thirty years. With the museum's relatively small budget, the only way this was possible was to distribute his salary between the operating budget and special projects funded by grants and contracts. In this way, subject matter specialists, who we called developers, were not as vulnerable to the cycles of soft money.

Bernie was so prolific in his development of physical science activities and curricula for school and afterschool programs that publishing his materials was one way to keep him at the museum. We began looking for publishers for his first series of children's books and later for educational publishers of middle school curriculum materials. Community Services Manager Jim Zien negotiated the first contract with Little, Brown and Company. After that contract ended and Bernie serendipitously made a connection with William Morrow's Managing Editor David Reuther, I negotiated a second contract and later a third with AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). Dottie Merrill kept this pattern going with the Cuisenaire Company of America after Jim and I left the museum.

This system worked to keep six to eight developers at the museum for many years. Although they often complained that they had too many tasks—exhibits, training interpreters, teaching in schools, writing books, conducting professional development programs for teachers, working at community centers—Elaine Heumann Gurian and I, who jointly managed their time, tried to match their talents with opportunities. So, some developers published, others did training, etc.

In the early years when Bernie worked part- time at the museum he wrote books both at the museum and on his own time at home. We established a system of joint copyright ownership between the museum and Bernie and, after the museum used the advance to pay for his museum time, we split the royalties with him. I later discovered this was an unusual arrangement. But, like many of our strategies, we invented this plan and continued it through a series of publishers with the goal of keeping Bernie employed at the museum so we could use his science activities in exhibitions and make them available nationally to families and schools.

Business arrangements aside, I also worked with William Morrow and the books' designer to diversify the covers. The early volumes showed only white boys doing science. They said, "This is what sells." We eventually persuaded them to include girls and kids of color on the covers. If you look at the series, you can see the change over the years.

The museum and Bernie published sixteen books and two national curriculum series in his time at the museum. These publications and the traveling exhibitions produced later brought increased visibility to Bernie's work and to the museum nationally.

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