By Elizabeth Dyer Halbrooks
One day back in 1963 I bumped into Ruth Hill Viguers, then editor of The Horn Book Magazine, at the Star Market. After a short chat, she said, “Are you still looking for a job? We have a wonderful opening at the Horn Book. The business manager is leaving.” I couldn’t help laughing. “Oh, Ruth, I couldn’t even balance a check book when Art [my first husband] died! I couldn’t possibly be a business manager.”
“But you wouldn’t have to do much business. Mary Manthorne [the president of the company] and Tom Todd [the treasurer] take care of most of that. You’d be doing promotion and advertising primarily.” My interest picked up. I would prefer to work in the editorial department of any publication, but promotion and advertising might provide a back entrance. After several days of thinking, I decided to apply for the position — it would be good practice for interviews. I met Mrs. Manthorne in Boston several days later. I was completely relaxed knowing that I didn’t have the slightest chance of being hired. But I was!
The position turned out to involve more than I expected. It included office management, personnel (only eight of us then — all women), overseeing the subscription department (luckily we had a very good circulation manager), and obtaining permissions for use in promotion and advertising of the magazine and of a few books. I also wrote our bimonthly newsletter, The Horn Book Crier.
When I arrived, everyone was welcoming and helpful. Mrs. Manthorne even arranged my first trip to New York to call on two of our best advertising customers. All went well. The second trip did not go quite so smoothly. As Horn Book readers know, only books that meet certain standards are reviewed. At one of the publishing houses the advertising manager plunked four books on my lap and said belligerently, “Why didn’t you review these?” It was one of the times I was glad not to be in the editorial department. I just said I didn’t know.
I usually enjoyed “manning” our booth at conventions like those of the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, but there was one nightmare. At the end of the convention a publisher’s representative brought me five of his books from his booth across the aisle and asked if I would take them back to Boston and be sure to give them to our reviewers. He complained that we never reviewed their books. Then he left — or so I thought. His booth was all cleared up. I looked through the books, understood why they had not been reviewed, and threw them into a nearby wastebasket. I turned back to my booth, and who was standing there but the same publisher’s representative! Luckily, my poor memory has blocked the conversation that followed.
Over the years, the company had published several books. The first was A Little History of the Horn Book by Beulah Folmsbee. Not many people knew that a hornbook was a small paddle on which was pasted the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet protected by a very thin layer of horn. It was the first book for children. I often wished that Bertha had given her magazine some other name. The juxtaposition of the words book and magazine were baffling to most people, and I got so tired of explaining them. A Little History was a great help.
The most pleasurable part of my job was writing The Horn Book Crier, a newsletter that went out six times a year to librarians, publishers and others in the children’s book field. It contained not only information about Horn Book publications but news about children’s book affairs here and there.
When I retired, I received the following note from a children’s book editor: “The Horn Book Crier has given so many of us a great deal of pleasure over the years and I greatly enjoyed the variety of news it contains and your lively and perceptive comments.”
I had squeezed in a back entrance!
Elizabeth Dyer Halbrooks was Business Manager for the Horn Book from 1963 to 1982 and now lives in Needham, Massachusetts.
From the September/October 1999 issue of The Horn Book Magazine