By Karen Klockner
I recently discovered a paper I wrote in fourth grade about the history of the alphabet. I loved the letter forms, the symbols, the idea of historical change reflected in the characters. So it amused me to think that years later, as a graduate student in Boston, the alphabet came to play such a significant role in my first job.
In the mid-1970s, the Horn Book was located at 585 Boylston Street, in a creakity old building, with creakity old stairs, a creakity old elevator that didn’t always work, and slightly smudgy windows that overlooked Copley Square in the heart of Boston. As an editorial intern for the magazine, one of my first responsibilities was going over the collection to make sure everything was correctly alphabetized. This seemingly mundane task turned out to be a labor of love for me, and was a big part of my introduction to the history of American children’s books.
The Horn Book collection was amazing. It represented all (or almost all) of the books reviewed by the magazine since 1958. The books were alphabetized first by publisher, and then within publisher by author — all the way from Atheneum to Whitman. Greenwillow was a brand-new list at the time; the Dillons had just illustrated Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears for Dial. Paul Heins had retired, and Ethel Heins was editor of the magazine. Anita Silvey was the assistant editor — soon to leave for Houghton to become head of library promotion — and Sally Holmes Holtze was the editorial secretary.
After a short time, I began to recognize the geography of the office by where certain books were shelved. Right near the desk that eventually became mine was Gertrude Stein’s The World Is Round, printed entirely in pink and blue. Discoveries such as this made the process of going over the collection an endlessly fascinating one. The task allowed me to handle each book and explore its pages. The shelves wound around the room from floor to ceiling, even back into the cubby where we hung our coats and bags.
In 1977, when the Horn Book offices moved to the Park Square Building, I learned how all those books could be moved without disturbing the beauty of the alphabetical arrangement. There were no random boxes identified by letter — instead each shelf-full of books was lifted in its entirety onto a tall bookshelf on wheels. Everything retained its simple order and was then replaced in the new offices, which fortunately had an increased amount of shelf space! One large old glassed-in bookshelf that moved with us held incredible treasures such as original work by Beatrix Potter and Randolph Caldecott — the delicate colors slightly faded and the yellowing paper turning crisp. The floors in the new office didn’t creak; the glass in the windows was clear and shiny; and the elevator was fast and smooth and metallic — although the view didn’t quite match that of Copley Square.
Since leaving the Horn Book, I’ve continued to work in publishing and in children’s books, and the work still gives me the greatest pleasure, day in and day out — both the mundane tasks similar to alphabetizing a collection and the more rarified ones such as discovering an author whose work truly deserves a wider audience. The world I discovered on the shelves of that creakity old office — alphabetically! — provided inspiration for a lifetime, showing me the endless variety that could be created within that now seemingly old-fashioned format, the book.
Karen Klockner was with The Horn Book Magazine as editorial assistant, assistant editor, and book reviewer between 1975 and 1981. She has been a senior editor at Little, Brown and Co. and at Orchard Books and is currently freelancing in Cleveland, Ohio.
From the September/October 1999 issue of The Horn Book Magazine