I have been addressed as “Ms. Rhoda” in queries and other correspondence many times since I started here in fall 2008. I don’t mind at all, but I do think the true story of the name is worth telling. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it, since Harry Lerner, the founder of Lerner Publishing Group and of the Carolrhoda imprint, has released his memoirs, and there’s a fine chapter on the real Carolrhoda. So here it is, straight from Harry’s book.
Carolrhoda Locketz was a bubbly, perky girl who died too young. She was [my wife] Sharon [Lerner’s] best friend. Their mothers were close friends, and the two girls grew up together. They shared everything: stories, trips, and adventures. As students at the University of Minnesota, they spent a lot of evenings at the Ten O’Clock Scholar, a hangout on the West Bank of the university campus. They listened to the music of a young student dropout, Bob Zimmerman, later known as Bob Dylan.
While a university student, Carolrhoda worked part-time as a page at the Saint Paul Public Library. After graduation in 1962, she joined the Peace Corps. They assigned her to be a teacher-librarian in Harar, Ethiopia. Carolrhoda poured herself into the job and the people she worked with. She even set aside two hundred dollars of her own meager salary to create an educational fund for a twelve-year-old Ethiopian boy.
Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, visited Harar when Carolrhoda was serving there. Carolrhoda met with Shriver and talked about the great need for books in Ethiopian libraries. He obviously listened because back in the United States he began a book drive for libraries everywhere Peace Corps volunteers served.
After returning to the United States, Carolrhoda married Gordon L. Rozell, an army sergeant she had met in Ethiopia. She died of cancer in 1967, two years after her marriage. She was only twenty-eight years old.
After Carolrhoda’s untimely death, Sharon wanted to honor and pay tribute to her best friend, who was also Adam [Lerner’s] godmother. So in 1969, we named the Carolrhoda imprint after her. It was a beautiful way to immortalize Carolrhoda’s memory in a manner that exemplified her love of books and learning. Sharon envisioned Carolrhoda books as attractive storybooks, heavily illustrated with art or photography. The first books were This Is..., a rhyming story for beginning readers, and Have You Seen My Mother?, the story of a brightly colored ball that searches for its mother at the circus.
The imprint was Sharon’s hobby and passion, and she was thrilled each time a Carolrhoda book won an award or received a favorable review. Eventually, after Adam came on board, Carolrhoda became our trade imprint, and he added many new titles, including his first acquisition, the Little Wolf books by Ian Whybrow. I’m proud to say Carolrhoda is celebrating its fortieth anniversary [in 2009].