From Lillian N. Gerhardt
The Horn Book was just ending the celebration of its first forty years of publication when I went to work for the advance review agency Kirkus Review Service.
Its founder, Virginia Kirkus, was seventy years old and still an active presence on the staff. Unlike most who reach that age, Kirkus was disinclined to reminisce about her years as one of the first children’s book editors or about the luncheon coterie of editors who eventually formed the Children’s Book Council. Direct questions about the people and events of the early years of departmentalized children’s book publishing got short shrift. Nevertheless, Kirkus unprodded would occasionally drop a nugget from those golden days. One time she volunteered a story about her regard for the Horn Book.
We were lunching at our desks. To my discredit, I was eating a sloppy deli sandwich using a copy of the Horn Book as a placemat. Kirkus noticed. She said, “When Harper Brothers invited me to submit a proposal for setting up a children’s book department, I made a beeline to the Central Children’s Room at New York Public Library and studied the contemporary children’s books, lists, guides, and reviews there for two weeks from opening to closing time. I read every issue of the Horn Book cover-to-cover from its first issue.” (It was then six years old.)
Kirkus said the Horn Book was enormously helpful to her successful proposal, much more so than the newspapers and other periodicals that gave space to books for children. “It took children’s books seriously as a literary form and children’s reading as an important part of a child’s development.” Kirkus said that the magazine’s articles read like good conversation with people focused on the provision of quality books for children.
I remember this so clearly not just because any personal story from Kirkus was rare, but because it is even rarer for the editors of one book review agency to sit around dwelling generously on the strengths of another.
Thirty-five years later, the appraisal Virginia Kirkus made of the Horn Book’s ability to carry out its enduring mission “to blow the horn for good books” for children is still demonstrably right on the mark — an enormous help to those who take work with young readers seriously.
Happy seventy-fifth anniversary. Trumpet on!
Lillian N. Gerhardt was, until her recent retirement, Editor-in-Chief of School Library Journal.
See also “Lillian Gerhardt vs. Ethel Heins” in our Controversies & Kerfuffles section
From the September 1999 issue of The Horn Book Magazine