Jill Santopolo, Philomel executive editor, always has her antenna up for a great story. So it’s no surprise that when she saw Chelsea Clinton on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Sept. 14, 2013, she knew Clinton had a great book in her. Two years later, almost to the day, “It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!” (Philomel Books, 402 pages, $18.99) — Clinton’s first children’s book — debuted, the result of Santopolo and Clinton’s mutual passion for work.
“I knew she was a natural storyteller,” Santopolo says of Clinton. “When I saw Chelsea talking with Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show,’ I was impressed by the way in which she was able to take an incredibly complex concept — noncommunicable diseases and their effects — and make it accessible and easily understandable. At that point, I knew she would be able to write a wonderful nonfiction book — for kids, for adults, for anyone really. I was lucky that she wanted to write one for children.”
Recently, Santopolo joined Clinton, an activist and vice chairwoman of the Clinton Foundation, at the Chappaqua Library, where more than 150 people flocked to meet the former first daughter; buy a signed copy of her book, geared to ages 10 to 14; and contemplate the ways in which they could make a difference. As it has done for Clinton’s parents, Bill and Hillary Clinton, The Village Bookstore of Pleasantville supplied the books.
“The book signing in Chappaqua was lovely,” Santopolo says. “The library staff, bookstore staff and all the people who came out to support Chelsea and ‘It’s Your World’ were so friendly and complimentary. I loved seeing the pledges people wrote on the ‘What will you do?’ stickers as well.”
The Sept. 30 event was another chapter in a beautiful collaboration.
“As an editor, I connect with my writers before we start the creative process to make sure that we have a shared vision for the project. Then once the process begins, I work with those writers to make sure that the book stays true to that vision and is written in the clearest, strongest way it can be.
“I’m probably a combination cheerleader/taskmaster,” Santopolo adds of her editing style. “Chelsea and I worked just that way. We connected before the creative process of ‘It’s Your World’ started in earnest, and then I gave her notes on her drafts, asking questions and starting conversations about the different ways to make our shared vision a reality.”
Santopolo discovered that she and Clinton had much in common. “When Chelsea and I first started talking about ‘It’s Your World,’ we discussed ‘50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth’, which is a book that both of us loved when we were children. That book changed my view of the world.”
She is hopeful that Clinton’s book will take it one step further. “My dream for ‘It’s Your World’ was that it would have the same kind of power —and I think that the finished book does. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, ‘It’s Your World’ does more than that. It doesn’t only have the ability to change readers’ views of the world but their views of themselves as well.”
Chock-full of facts, charts, photographs and personal stories, “It’s Your World” aims to inform and inspire young people to get involved in such issues as poverty, hunger, homelessness, gender inequality, disease and climate change.
Empowerment is a theme that comes up in Clinton’s book as well as other books that Santopolo edits.
“Whether it’s a book like Chelsea’s ‘It’s Your World,’ or a novel about contemporary teens fighting for their freedom like in Atia Abawi’s ‘The Secret Sky,’ or even a picture book about a small piece of bread who’s on a quest to find a friend like in Terry Border’s ‘Peanut Butter & Cupcake,’ I think almost all of the books I edit can be read as stories of empowerment,” she says.
Santopolo’s experience as a writer — she is the author of such works as the “Sparkle Spa” series and the “Follow Your Heart” books for middle graders and young adults respectively — contributes to her success as an editor.
“I think that working on both sides of the desk makes me very cognizant of what goes into the other job. When I’m writing, I often think about what my editor self would want from a writer, and, when I’m editing, I often think about what my writer self would want from an editor — and in both cases I do my best to deliver.”
For more, visit itsyourworld.com.