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Editorial: Light from Above

While Gregory Maguire was assiduously working away, with a less-than-generous deadline, on his review of Philip Pullman’s long-awaited The Amber Spyglass (see page 735), I was enjoying a busman’s holiday on Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, reading the Horn Book’s other preview copy of the same book. Perhaps more than most, reviewers, teachers, and librarians periodically need this kind of beach reading, metaphorical or otherwise. When we get the chance to read something (and something as magnificent as the Pullman, I might add) without having to do anything with it — review it, teach it — it reminds us just what we mean by the “free” reading we exhort young people to enjoy.

It was really nice. I would read for a while, and then cool off in the bay, the surround of water giving a sensuous dimension to all the infinities Pullman’s work suggested. The light on the beach was beautiful and easy to read by. This light is what I think I would miss most in a future world of reading from an LCD screen. No matter how sophisticated the machines get, no matter how light and portable e-book readers become, the light will come not from above but from behind, dimmer and brighter the only options.

I would also miss the mess of books that is my apartment, my office, my life. I like putting down one book and picking up another, moving from one self-contained narrative to the next, each physically as well as imaginatively discrete. While the Web has millions of pages and stories and authors, in my head they become one thing — that stuff on my computer — exponentially proliferated via the Web’s singular genius, its dazzling and promiscuous linking. That stuff on my computer does a multitude of blessed things. But with its endless insistence that I choose my own adventure, hopping among links of increasingly diminished relevance to what I was looking at in the first place, it promotes not only a false assurance that I know what I’m looking for but also a denial that another individual’s singular imagination, developed into a cohesive form, is worth knowing. We welcome the freedom the Web has given children to blaze their own trails through a universe of information, but let’s hope we don’t forget that there is wisdom too in letting someone else light the way.

* * *

Welcome to the Horn Book’s special issue on the future of children’s books. We asked several notable critics to take on the job of hypothesizing just how children’s literature might look in the new millennium. We also asked a number of writers to each choose one book from the twentieth century that he or she would most like to see survive into the twenty-second. Some had trouble settling on just one, as you’ll see, but we hope the exercise will help us all think about just what we find important about and in literature for young people. My own choice is Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden — Susan Cooper, on page 650, makes its case far more eloquently than I ever could — and we invite you to share your choices with us. We will publish them — where else? — on the Web. Go to and contribute your hope for the future.

From the November/December 2000 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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.

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