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Why is it called “The Horn Book”?

Hornbook replica

Modern replica of a colonial hornbook

Back in the sixteenth century, English monks began to make hornbooks to help their pupils learn to read. Usually a wooden paddle with an alphabet and a verse glued to the surface, hornbooks derived their name from the piece of transparent horn protecting the verse. The picture to the right shows a modern replica of a hornbook.

In 1924, when Bertha Mahony and Elinor Whitney were preparing the first issue of the Horn Book for publication, they still had not found a suitable name. Eulalie Steinmetz Ross describes the moment in The Spirited Life: Bertha Mahony Miller and Children’s Books (Horn Book, 1973):

Horn Book Magazine, October 1924“Then one noon, while sitting on a park bench near the Union, deep in discussion of early children’s books, they suddenly turned to each other and ‘like spontaneous combustion’ shouted together, ‘The Horn Book!’

“. . . Bertha and Elinor were delighted with the mutually-inspired name for their periodical; it seemed perfect that the first magazine concerned with children’s books should be named after the first paddle-primer for children.

“. . . Lest the name of their magazine indicate too didactic an approach to children’s literature, its editors chose a gay picture-pun for their cover design: three scarlet-coated huntsmen who, with horns a-tilt, hunted and hollo’d in pursuit of good books for boys and girls. The exuberant drawing was adapted from an illustration by Randolph Caldecott for his nineteenth-century English picture book, The Three Jovial Huntsmen.”

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