>Listen to Grandma

>In reading Jill Lepore’s New Yorker account of the battle between E. B. White and Anne Carroll Moore, I couldn’t help finding my sympathies more with the old lady. Lepore seems to favor E. B. and Katharine White because they’re more sophisticated, the cool kids. Moore’s the earnest, humorless battle-axe, given to such pronouncements as “reading is an end in itself; its object is lifelong pleasure and profit,” “reading should be more commonly treated as a sport of continuous interest in all schools,” and “both literature and children stoutly resist grade limitation.” What a bore.

Of course she had her limitations and of course she went down fighting, but children’s literature and librarianship owe her plenty.

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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.

Comments

  1. >I am SO glad you posted this! I felt similarly while reading the article. ….I’ve always been a fan of the EB White/ Katherine White clever writing, the letters, the great phrases and responses to things–their romantic NY/Maine lives, their smartness and urban/rural glamour… But also a fan of the huge work AC Moore did for children and libraries and children’s literature.
    This article took a little too much delight at the fancypants Whites and their cool Maine-tied-to-NYC lives and their snide replies and their exclusivity and jerky tendencies, at the expense of Moore’s dedication to children.

    Although it was funny to think of her crazy 14-page letter.

  2. janeyolen says:

    >Actually, all of us who are Consummate Readers have blind spots.
    As an editor, I wouldn't have bought
    A WRINKLE IN TIME or David MacCauley's BLACK & WHITE, though I admire may of their other books. On a Caldecott committee I would have voted for Remy Charlip's THIRTEEN, on the Newbery TUCK EVERLASTING and James Thurber's THIRTEEN CLOCKS. Etc.

    Yes, ACM had rather more power than most of us ever have. And she had a huge blind spot when it came to STUART LITTLE (a book I adored.)On the other hand, I hated White's TRUMPET OF THE SWAN.

    So why beat SCM around the head and shoulders that way? Because librarians have always been to some of the literati The Enemy. And to the rest of us, great friends.

    Jane

  3. Melinda says:

    >Lepore also favors the two Whites because both are to the New Yorker as Ursula was to Harper. But as much as I like the Whites, I still think she could done a better job of balancing out the article.

    It’s true that she fell out of favor with the Whites pretty badly. EBW once wrote about ACM to one of his editors about the candlelight thing she was doing at the library: “Maybe we could send her some candles. The kind that explode.” And it’s pretty bewildering when the boss librarian pulls out the elephant gun and shoots down your books. But Lepore needn’t have been so gleeful about running down the woman!

    Oh, drat, back to work.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks for the link to that article. It was a great read.

    If I am remembering correctly, according to Leonard Marcus in “Awakened By The Moon,” Moore also gave Margaret Wise Brown a long dressing down, as well. Far too much power for one person methinks.

    Near the end of the article I loved this line, which referred to the Newbury award White did NOT win:

    “The day after the awards were announced, Bechtel was “still grinding my teeth in rage,” she wrote to Katharine White, complaining about “these stupid unliterary women in charge.”

    Funny. I have also felt the exact same way after the Caldecott goes (yawningly) yet again to another guy.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >because stupid unliterary women decide the Caldecott? I’m confused.

  6. >Thanks for posting this Roger. I like the article a lot, and think she made a fair argument…but agree that she swings unneccessarily dramatically at the end to bash Moore and idolize the Whites. Happy though that such a well-done engaging article on poor old “chidlren’s lit” appeared in a mainstream way.

    –Stupid unliterary woman who never understood Stuart Little as a child…

  7. Anonymous says:

    >In a way, yes. Although, that did sound much more harsh than I meant it to be. I guess the head strong vehemence which people–often women– bring to the table when it comes to judging children’s books –in this case Moore and even White–and the power that those same can possess, is disturbing to me.

    When reading about awards committees, the arguments, the struggles, the missions–well, it is unsettling. When I saw the phrase “women in charge,” it must have hit an old, raw nerve and it brought on a knee-jerk reaction which then sent me off on an unrelated tangent. However, I do believe that women on the Caldecott committees, not men, are the guiltiest parties when it comes to the male/female imbalance.

    But sorry, however, for dragging that old argument into this fray. Must be the heat….I think I should really get “offline” for the summer. It’s healthier.

    I can get angry again come the fall, when the air cools.

  8. >To wander off on a minor tangent, I suspect there’s a vast underground of readers who didn’t like STUART LITTLE when they were children. My favorite book in the world was TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, but STUART LITTLE gave me the creeps. He wasn’t just a small person like the Borrowers, but then again he wasn’t really a mouse, either . . .

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think the only people who notice that E.B. White never won the Newbery Medal are librarians. Some are outraged, probably more are indifferent, but the point is that it’s small potatoes, especially given the fact the White’s three novels for children are classics, Newbery or not. ACM’s behavior, too, is characteristic of having just a bit of turf and defending it all the more zealously for being small.

  10. >I suspect there’s a vast underground of readers who didn’t like STUART LITTLE when they were children.

    ::waves::

    and i also wonder how his mother would have even known when she had given birth to him. (yes, i am a literalist.)

  11. >Yes, but then there are those like me. Stuart Little was a big eye-opening book for me when I was a child. It was the first ending I’d ever read that didn’t tie everything up neatly. That was a revelation, and I loved it!

  12. Anonymous says:

    >Jane Yolen: you would most probably have “bought” Macaulay’s BLACK AND WHITE if you were his publisher. Something is owed to a successful author.

  13. fairrosa says:

    >I rather enjoyed the article. Read it only a couple of days ago and thought that Lepore set out to do exactly what she did — illustrating ACM’s power and very personal taste and how that could and couldn’t shape the world of children’s literature. I’m not sure that I came away disliking or belittling librarians or even ACM herself — just understanding a little more about the power-play that still goes on these days. Maybe we don’t have such a colorful or such a powerhouse librarian any more (because there are so many more of us and because people’s voices can be heard from near and far thanks to the field-leveling technologies such as blogs,) the opinions of the librarians still hold sway over the children’s publishing industry since there is a large overlapping of librarians/critics of the published works.

    If there is any “moral” to this piece in the New Yorkers, I’d say it’s this: If a writer, an illustrators, or an editor is talented enough, they will shine and their work will enjoy longevity even without the endorsement of top critics or affirmation by the award committees.

  14. >Really, all of us who read this blog or the HB or somehow really care about children’s literature have wildy varying tastes. I happened to love Stuart Little (I was more or less contemporary with its publication) and cried over Charlotte’s Web and much later read “The Trumpet of the Swan” and thoroughly enjoyed it, though as an older person.
    Lepore’s picture of ACM is surely slanted one way and gives but a partial picture of a person who was huge in the development of libraries and literature for children. She deserves to be more widely known and celebrated for her role. And then on to FCS and others. Lepore’s article is surely not meant to be comprehensive and definitive but a part of a conversation. Hooray that it’s in some channel of the mainstream media!
    And despite the apparent privilege in EBW’s life, in all of my readings of his non-fiction material (biography, letters) I’ve always been struck by his simplicity and humility. You aren’t diqualified from the virtues just by being privileged.

  15. janeyolen says:

    >Er–I AM a successful author and I get turned down by my regular editors on a regular basis.

    Jane

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jane, I guess sometimes you get turned down because, for one reason or another, they can’t find a place for that book on an upcoming list, right? And sometimes they just don’t like something you’ve written. You publish with a number of publishers, so you always have a second and third chance with something, but have you ever felt like you had to insist a given publisher accept something, or else?

    I know of at least a few incidents–not naming names, but none of them are yours, Jane!–where an editor has accepted and published a book she didn’t want because the author said Or Else. There can be benevolence at work here too, when an editor is interested in a writer’s long-term growth and accepts that a bad book is part of that process.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >RS’s comment is thoughtful; surely there must be editors who feel a sense of loyalty to “their” authors?

  18. Anonymous says:

    >tactful and sensible response by RS to JY. editors can feel loyalty to an author they have published for years, or are hoping to encourage by issuing one “misstep.”

  19. janeyolen says:

    >Roger–you are right. I have never (and never felt I could!) INSIST OR ELSE with an editor. There are too many other better, more interesting, or better-selling authors out there for me to put my career on the line that way.

    I find the idea that the ordinary author has that kind of power laughable, unless perhaps one is Rowling or Sendak or dePaola.

    And as wonderful as David MacCauley’s other books are, BLACK AND WHITE was such a departure for him, I can’t imagine he insisted. I think the editor who bought it fell in love with the book.

    But not I. And I also wouldn’t have published the gazillion bestseller LOVE YOU FOREVER or the success d’estime ARLENE SARDINE or the other gazillion bestellers RAINBOW FISH and THE GIVING TREE. Which may be why I am no longer an editor but still a non-insisting writer.

    Jane

  20. Anonymous says:

    >still hoping for an explanation for the appearance of this ACM/EBW article. is it a chapter from a forthcoming book by Lepore? surely there’s no news here – why rehash old grievances which surely must bore even the chilit crowd.

  21. Anonymous says:

    >ACM made sure that Harper books did not win a Caldecott until the Break through of a Tree is Nice in 1957. Do any of you even remember what won the Newbery the same year that Charlotte’s Web was an honor book? It was Secret of the Andes! Harper’s first Newbery was Wheel on the School in 1955. Harper had many honor books, but never the top prize. (I’m not even a librarian and know this!)

    Oh, and I love Black and White and so does my eight year old son. Maybe, It’s a boy thing and the Jane Yolen’s don’t get it!

    Books for everyone!

    A.D.

  22. janeyolen says:

    >Well, I certainly get the format of BLACK AND WHITE. Remy Charlip did it better and much earlier in THIRTEEN. And in color, too. And he didn’t win the Caldecott (then or now.)

    Jane

  23. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jane, I also love THIRTEEN but wondered if it was let down by its production values–I’ve never seen a copy that wasn’t on thin and bleedy paper and not well bound. The Caldecott committee looks at that stuff.

    And count me in as one who can admire the genius of BLACK AND WHITE from afar but who gets a migraine trying to read it.

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