Francesca Dow

Managing Director, Penguin Random House Children’s

I’m passionate about the power of stories to help change lives, particularly when it comes to children. I’ve worked at Penguin since 2002, coming first to manage Puffin, then our bigger Penguin Children’s division and from 2013, our Penguin Random House Children’s publishing house. My job is to lead our team as we look for new ways to create, acquire, invest in new author talent and new IP;  develop and support our talented teams; and ensure we’re connecting brilliantly with our audiences and adapting our strategy with our changing world. I feel lucky to enjoy such a constantly interesting, challenging but rewarding career alongside being a wife and mother, bringing up our two boys (now nearly young men).  

The book that left a deep impression on me: Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson. This is Winterson’s memoir and the title is the real-life question of her adopted mother, as Winterson, 16, is evicted for the second time for taking up with a girlfriend. It’s written as if with urgency, as Winterson tries to find out who she is, where she belongs, how to love, who to love, in pursuit of happiness above safe normality. Throughout, books open doors and offer refuge, a home. I loved this book. It made my cry a lot. I give this to any friend who hasn’t yet discovered it. 

My literary hero: Matilda – from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. A wonderful, modern female character – the ultimate rebel, as she uses her fearless spirit and incredible brain to stand up to the bullies. She is also the ultimate lover of books, travelling all over the world through the stories she reads, to escape her terrible life at home and make new friends. 

The book I’d recommend to anyone: The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. For everyone (over the age of about 9, when it’s brilliant for reading aloud). Or listen to the incredible audio book. It’s a defence and celebration of the immense power of the imagination.  Freedom, of thought, speech, belief, is at the centre of it all. A book of our time... but also timeless, as all the best stories are. There are boat chases; a flood; the alethiometer: of course! Pantaleimon. There are the famous daemons. And at the heart of the story is Lyra - one of those characters in literature who is on first-name terms with her public, such is the magic and appeal of her adventures. I promise you, you will devour it. And then - there are two more books coming. 

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