Without Emerson College, Michael Joosten ‘05 believes he never would have become a children’s book author.
Joosten said he begged his way into former affiliated faculty member Eden Edwards’s children’s publishing class for the sole remaining spot, as he was majoring in Musical Theatre and not Writing, Literature and Publishing. Edwards, an editor at Houghton Mifflin Children’s Publishing at the time, encouraged Joosten to try his hand in the children’s publishing industry.
“ That class in my last semester of my final year changed my entire life. It’s a bit crazy,” said Joosten.
“I wrote a book about a princess with an abnormally large nose. The kingdom wasn’t nice to her and she had this redemption story,” said Joosten. “It certainly wasn’t publishable, but at that point I was just trying to write something.”
But Edwards recognized Joosten’s talent.
“She pulled me aside and said, ‘If you ever get tired of acting, you could be good at this,’” said Joosten.
After graduating, Joosten worked as an actor in New York and Chicago. He realized he didn’t have the disposition for the actor lifestyle and got back in touch with Edwards. She provided him the introduction to get an internship at Clarion Books.
“The actor in me really responded to the blending of art and text together. In high school I was buying all the picture books I grew up reading. I thought one day when I have kids or my sister has kids, I want to have this great library for them. In the back of my mind, I thought it was a hobby,” said Joosten.
Joosten landed a permanent position at Scholastic in 2007, and made a lateral move to Random House three years later, where he honed his editing and writing skills.
Joosten said during the first years of his career he focused on editing; he started writing more in the last several years. That led to Random House publishing his books My Two Moms and Me and My Two Dads and Me.
“A lot of being an editor is researching the market and seeing what is new. Being a gay man, I wasn’t seeing a ton of representation in the children’s book market,” said Joosten. “There were definitely some books there, like the classic Heather Has Two Mommies, but there needed to be more.”
Joosten wanted to write a book that had a bit of a sense of humor and pair it with a really modern look, because there weren’t a lot of LGBTQ+ books for children with that combination on the shelves.
“The response to the books has been really, really lovely. I get occasional DMs on Instagram saying, ‘My child and I are reading this together. Now it’s my favorite book!’” said Joosten. “Over the years you’d typically find more [LGBTQ+] books being published for middle grade and young adults. I think people – including myself – were trying to find a unique way to approach it for a younger audience. To make that introduction at that age, it just shows the diversity that is within our communities. The sooner children are aware of that, I think it creates a more empathetic person.”
Joosten’s next book, Pride 1 2 3, was published in 2020 by Simon and Schuster.
“After writing My Two Moms and Me and My Two Dads and Me, I thought, ‘What else could I contribute to this genre?’ ” said Joosten. “I didn’t see any counting books with queer themes, especially in board book form. Not to say I was the first, but in my research, I didn’t come across it. There are so many things at pride parades – DJs, drag queens, motorcycles – and I thought about a counting book of all the things at pride. I wrote my first draft in a night.”
Unlike his first two books, Pride 1 2 3 is a rhyming book.
“I think all my years of musical theatre really lends itself to writing children’s books that rhyme. There’s that musicality that’s always been in my ear. There’s kind of an internal bounce needed for a rhyme meter,” said Joosten. “Being able to write in rhyme, and have it come out successfully, is more of a rarity than not. Trust me when I say that I’ve been on both sides of that coin.”
Along with his own books, Joosten is very proud of two books he edited. He found a very strong personal connection to Rob Sanders’ Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, and Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.
“Luckily, I knew when I came out I would have the unconditional support of my family. I thought … if friends of mine who didn’t have that same luxury had a book like [Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk] and had read it when they were younger – their family wasn’t supportive, but they would know they had family out there in the world waiting for them,” said Joosten.
When Stonewall came out, Joosten and Sanders went and read the book to a gay-straight alliance at a Brooklyn middle school.
“One of the boys said, ‘Books like this are great because I’m not allowed to talk about this stuff at home. Reading this really helps,’” said Joosten. “The teacher pulled us aside and told us that a couple of days before that boy came out to the gay-straight alliance.”
Along with writing his own books, Joosten said working on projects like those two books are incredible.
“To have my wildest dreams come true is mind blowing,” said Joosten.