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>Writing for the Horn Book: Field Notes

>Field Notes is our column for essays about connecting children and books. Contributors can be librarians, booksellers, parents, publishers, teachers, writers–anyone who has seen children’s books in action. It’s not a column for tips on running a summer reading program or how to read aloud, but rather it’s a place where we invite contributors to explore how real book-child interactions have made them think about children’s literature or children’s reading in a new way. Avoid the words “magic” and “treasure.” Keep it short–1000 to 1500 words, and payment varies. Send queries or submissions to Assistant Editor Claire Gross, cgross at hbook dot com.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >So Roger, if I wanted to write an article about how I brainwashed my children into reading by first plying them with audio tapes, would that be something you were looking for?

  2. rindawriter says:

    >No need to get sp smarty mouse A nonny, naughty mouse….

    Children don’t learn to read through listening alone–not even blind readers can do that. So how can seeing ones?

    Children learn to read by listening AND seeing AND physically interacting and reacting with books AND with adults reading out loud from books…and it’s even better when children learn to read with adults who are, themselves, well, er, ah, addicted to reading books…because then children don’t just learn to read….they learn to LOVE to read…I mean, loving to read books is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Or what it should be all about?

    If a child can’t catch that love of reading as well why try teaching at all?

    So, nonny naughty mouse: Now let’s see you defend YOUR view about all this in an article for HB in elegant, erudite, and knowledgeable language…with a few reputable facts to support your view along the way. And let’s see you get this article of yours all accepted, edited, and printed there, too.

    We really are all waiting, Anonymous. We really all are eagerly waotomg to find out in print in the HB from you just how exactly we can brainwash children into reading with audio tapes.

  3. >Chill, Rindawriter. I think Anonymous is simply being funny by alluding to Roger’s August 2 message about people not thinking audiobooks counted as “real” reading.

    I was going to submit an article about reading classics aloud to my five-year-old daughter, who loved them all, especially Robert Louis Stevenson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but it would be impossible to do so without using the words “treasure” and “magic.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    >yes, SMELVFO is right in her comment on that excessively cutesy attack on “annonnymouse.” surely this blog shouldn’t be a place for attention-getting behavior

  5. Anonymous says:


  6. Anonymous says:


    Thank you for the defense. I was trying to be funny, but rindawriter’s response made me realize that I might have appeared merely sarcastic.


    I was thinking of the earlier post about audiobooks, but also about the recent post about the ultra liberal and ultraconservative books and whether a parent has a legal or moral right to indoctrinate their child. I worry sometimes that my steely determination to make readers out of my children is no less indoctrination than someone else’s insistance that her daughter will be feminist and her son will play violin. I reassure myself that I am not saying “what” they read, only that over my dead body will they go out in the world reading at a fifth grade level.

    That said, I do think that audiobooks are an underutilized tool in promoting reading, and I have a long argument which –you will be glad to read — got eaten by the blogmonster. What I don’t know is if the Horn Book is interested in the subject, or if it wishes to present the work of parents or only librarians and teachers.

    I have to say that your response to my comment reminded me of the danger of public discourse, that people will misunderstand me, that I will fail to make myself clear. As something of a shrinking violet, I admit it is likely that I won’t write the article after all.


  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >Really Rinda, mellow out. It was a joke. Myself, I want to know why Smelfvo’s five-year-old isn’t reading for herself on a ninth-grade level like all the other preschoolers. That reading aloud might be holding her back.

    I’d love to see your thoughts on audiobooks, Anon.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I actually thought the person was not joking, and that she seriously used audiobooks as a way to coax a reluctant reader into reading and I thought it sounded like a good idea!

    I knew someone who learned reading on his own over a summer in order to find out what happened in a book that was being read to him by a teacher but was never finished. Listening surely can stimulate the desire to read independently, I don’t know though about the teacher who didn’t finish the book though…


  9. Anonymous says:


    I’m sorry about the hiatus. I suddenly had to have a party. These were my thoughts on audio books:

    Human beings crave stories. Some cognitive scientists even think that the ability to construct a narrative, a story, marked the advent of the cognitively modern human.

    Television feeds children story after easy-absorbed story, satisfying that need. If we diminish access to those stories, we increase the appeal of the ones in books.

    Most of the arguments that I have heard for reading aloud with your children run along the lines of rindawriter’s. If children associate reading with the yummy feelings of parental bonding, they will see it in a more positive light. I’m a supporter of attachment parenting, but I have a more cynical and manipulative view of what I’m doing when I read with my children. I am showing them that the thing they crave is locked up inside the covers of books.

    How do audio books help? In two ways. One is the way mentioned in the baby einstein discussion: parents need a break. I would argue that plunking the toddler down beside an audio production of Thomas the Tank Engine is cognitively very different from using a video instead. Both are effective, you get a chance to make dinner, but the toddler brain develops differently when exposed to the audio rather than the audio-visual. Start them young, with engaging book-and-tape sets and work your way up.

    As smelvfo demonstrates, chilren’s ability to appreciate long, complex stories far outpaces their ability to read. (Thus the challenge of writing an easy-reader.) Children shouldn’t be trapped at their reading level. They need to have these “bigger” stories to motivate them, but not every parent can commit to the entirety of Kidnapped (not using the T word). With good audio books children can be exposed, every day, to the rewards of being a reader. “Learn to read, all this and more will be yours.”

    Moreover, audiobooks allow children to develop a private relationship with the story. Reading aloud is a marvelous thing, but not if your mother keeps stopping to point out that Junie really should NOT have called the baby stupid. I think that most people who use audiobooks, use them on road trips. But how can you really wallow in the moment when the Yearling dies if your brother is right there to laugh at your tears? And how loud can you cheer when the hero plays outwit-the-grown-up, if your own personal grown-up is sitting right next to you?

    Some things we want to experience in private. Readers can do that. Budding readers should have the experience as well.

    I suspected early on that learning to read would be hard work for my kids. I wanted to make sure that they loved books, even if they hated learning to read. Audiobooks were a huge help. Yes, it did feel like brainwashing sometimes, because I was the one with all the control, laying out little addictive breadcrumbs like Make Way for Duckings, and Peter Pan. My just reward is that I have readers in the family, and we are now awash in . . . animorph books, yugio books, and magic books.

  10. rindawriter says:

    >Nice to see that finally we have some SERIOUS discussion on the topic….okay, okay, okay, I will mellow, I will chill..though Roger, you do see why though maybe, just maybe, I’m not quite grown up enough for the “Hornbook” yet….sorry if one of the “A’s” took my comments personally when I was having a bit of a joke….

    A good article takes work beyond the scope of making facile, funny blogging comments…

    And nothing, nothing comes close to positive adult/child or older child/child experiences when exposing a child to the reading process…and it does not mean this is constrained to parent/child interactions. Even illiterate adults learn to read with the patient, supportive help of other adults…except for perhaps the rare genius at age 3….

    Think of all the poeple who learend to read pre-audio books????

    And it chills me when I think of parents that feel they have rights to indoctrinate their children. Teach? yes. Guide. Yes. Correct at times, yes, but in a way that promotes growth not checks it. So, maybe, maybe, maybe we can erase the indoctrination model for teaching children sometime soon around here?

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