Barry Cunningham. founding publisher of Bloomsbury Children's Books discusses the decision to publish Harry Potter and what he looks for in children's literature.
From the Fortune article "How I Make Decisions"--
I didn't know that a dozen publishers had turned it down or that the author, J.K. Rowling, had become utterly discouraged. I think everybody else passed on it for all the wrong reasons: It was long, the title was unusual, and the story is pretty dark. Rowling needed someone to see what it was, a story of bravery and danger and adventure but with great humor—as opposed to what it wasn't, a traditional children's book.
I choose books purely based on what I believe children will react to. If you carry the child within you, that's what works. You need a real ability to feel the hope, wonder, burning sense of injustice, fear, or rage of childhood—an unfettered mind that still dreams, that goes with the truth of story. I absolutely bet on my confidence in what children will like.