May Lamberton Becker
May Lamberton, born in 1873 in New York City, was destined to live a long life passionately dedicated to the world of books; she would generously share her interests with American and eventually English readers until her death in Epsom, England, in 1958. Perhaps an outstanding devotion to literature was May’s mother’s “fault”—for young May received her earlier education at home from her mother; and later, May Lamberton Becker made sure that her own daughter was also taught at home by this fine educator-grandmother.
May Lamberton, upon graduation from high school, immediately began writing for the Jersey City News. She became its music and drama critic. In coming years she was active as a lecturer on literature, and as an editor and book reviewer in periodicals for young people. Her husband, Gustave Becker, was a gifted musician; their daughter Beatrice Warde would win recognition as a leading advocate and educator for fine typography and printing both in the United States and in England.
Mrs. Becker wrote influential columns in the Saturday Evening Review of Literature and the New York Herald Tribune, but it was for her “Books for Young People” department in the Herald Tribune that she became most known. It established her, in her daughter’s words, as “that famous ‘Reader’s Guide’ whose advice on the choice of books was sought by thousands in every part of America and in other lands. The secret of that long success is not simply wide reading and a remarkable memory. It is her sure and almost uncanny understanding of readers and what they want from books.” In 1948 Mrs. Becker was awarded the Women’s National Book Award for her outstanding contribution as a Book Reviewer.
During World War II Mrs. Becker (in New York) and her daughter (in England) organized an exchange project called “Books Across the Sea,” to promote literary and cultural understanding between England and America. A collection of stories edited by Mrs. Becker called Youth Replies, I Can: Stories of Resistance also issues from this wartime era. Later, she also edited a series of children’s books called Rainbow Classics for The World Publishing Company, helping to bring to children classic stories such as Little Women, Hans Brinker, and Kidnapped in attractive, newly illustrated editions. Hilda van Stockum supplied illustrations for books for this series.
Most of Mrs. Becker’s writing career had involved book reviews and editorial work, but in 1940, as member and sometime president of the New York Dickens Fellowship, she turned her keen interest and years of experience into writing a book for young people called Introducing Charles Dickens. Just over a decade later, with Mrs. Becker now residing in England, a similar enthusiasm for the very dissimilar—but “incomparable”—author Jane Austen inspired May Lamberton Becker to write a second book of this type. In these two works she gives not only biographical insights, but also greater understanding about the literature the authors created and the times in which they were written. Presenting Miss Jane Austen was Mrs. Becker’s last book for the young people she served for so many years before her death in 1958.