In England: Children’s Book Publisher Peter Usborne Remembered

In News by Porter Anderson

The founder of England’s Usborne Publishing, Peter Usborne, is said to have died ‘unexpectedly but peacefully,’ surrounded by family.

Peter Usborne in 2014 spoke with Camilla, now queen consort, at the Usborne Publishing stand at London Book Fair. Image: Anna Howorth, CC BY-SA 4.0

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A ‘Passion for Doing Things Better’
In England, Peter Usborne’s death on Thursday (March 30) has triggered an outpouring of fond comments in the industry ahead of London Book Fair (April 18 to 20).

Usborne’s company is reported by The Bookseller’s Sian Bayley to have said that he died “unexpectedly but peacefully” at age 85.

In February, he’d received the CBE from King Charles III, having been honored at Windsor with an MBE in 2011. Regular trade visitors to the London Book Fair will recall that he was given the International Excellence Awards’ lifetime achievement accolade in 2015. (The CBE is the Commander of the British Empire, and the MBE is the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In Usborne’s case, both honored his services to the publishing industry and literature.)

The company he founded in 1973, the children’s house Usborne Publishing, issued a statement, reading in part, “Peter was, in the truest sense of the word, a genius—his brilliance was matched only by his determination to make books accessible to all children. This determination was fueled by his passion for ‘doing things better’ than any other children’s book publisher, matched with a childlike energy and curiosity that made him light up every room he stepped into.

“He was an exceptional publisher, an inspirational leader, and a very kind, generous man who will be sorely missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.”

‘Ever-Curious, Ever-Enthusiastic’

As recently as November, Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, the company had announced its arrangement to have HarperCollins in the United States handle distribution of the Usborne canon to American trade and specialty retailers, schools, and libraries.

Brian Murray

At the time, Brian Murray, HarperCollins’ president and CEO, said, “We’ve worked with Usborne for many years in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and the United Kingdom, and know first-hand how their mix of creativity, extraordinary care, and fierce determination has made them one of the world’s leading children’s publishers. I’ve personally long been an admirer of Peter and Nicola Usborne, and what they and their team have accomplished.”

Usborne is survived by his Wendy, his wife, his daughter Nicola and son Martin, and their children.

Martin Usborne has co-founded and run Hoxton Mini Press in East London, an independent press focused on art and photography. Martin and Nicola–a filmmaker as well as publisher with Usborne—with Peter have jointly run the family’s charitable Usborne Foundation.

Nicola Usborne, whose own career was named managing director in October during Frankfurter Buchmesse, as Peter was made chairman.

Nicola Usborne

In comments carried by the BBC’s Steven McIntosh, Nicola Usborne—whose own career has included work with Scholastic—made an especially heartfelt comment, saying, “I am heartbroken that my beloved dad died this morning. We will miss him more than I can say.

“He was a brilliant, ever-curious, ever-enthusiastic man—who was also very kind, very generous and honorable and principled to his core. He was the best dad I could imagine.

“He always joked that he intended never to die, and we all hoped he would have many more years. We take some solace in the fact that he had such a very full life right up until the end.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on international children’s book publishing is here, more on Usborne Publishing is here, more on the United Kingdom’s market is here, and more on HarperCollins is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.