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>Sitting at the grownups table

>Over at Nonfiction Matters, Marc Aronson cautions us to think about the larger context in which debates about social responsibility and the Newbery take place: “What I’d like is a set of comments on the Newbery that is not drawn from a survey of four winners, or the latest demographic chart, but a wider sense of art and culture in our time.”

I’m again reminded of the infamous editorial-page fight between Horn Book editor Ethel Heins and SLJ editor Lillian Gerhardt. Rejecting the line (promulgated by the Horn Book among others) that children’s books were all of a piece with other contemporary literature, Lillian wrote that “from where we sit, books for children are more accurately described as: the last bastion of yesterday’s literary methods and standards.” Ethel then said that modern adult fiction had gone to hell and children’s books were the last refuge of Story; Lillian subsequently threatened to take the train up to Boston and hit Ethel over the head with a chair.

Because we view both children and children’s literature as protected species, it’s true that in our field we have debates that would seem peculiar if applied to adult books and readers. We don’t worry, for example, about grown men not reading, except insofar as it might “send the wrong message” to their sons. But worries about “representation” of various ethnicities, gender, and sexual orientations do have a precedent in the social change movements of the 60s and 70s, with such critics as Kate Millett warning us about how destructive Henry Miller was to women. I’m guessing that Marc would tell me that someone got there before Kate, too!

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. marc aronson says:

    >William Dean Howells and the “regional realists” of the TOC were all about showing the “real America,” and the Marxists were fierce about this in the 30s. What is Socialist Realism but the argument that literature MUST depict the suffering masses and provide GOOD ROLE MODELS, and POSITIVE MESSAGES to uplift future generations. I suspect that there is a direct lineage from the SR polemics of the 30s to the debates in kids books today — this is Julia Mickenberg territory.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >Might you make the Heins/Gerhardt arguments available online?

  3. Anonymous says:

    >I can think of one grown man I worry doesn’t read, but he’s out of office in two weeks so I’ll let it go.

  4. Andy Laties says:

    >I beg to differ. That particular man does read: he famously said that his favorite book is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >God I’m slow. Here I was speculating about just whose editorial assistant was posting about her gratitude about her boss being laid off.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I believe the gentleman in question quoted that book when asked for the title of his favorite childhood book.
    I found that rather amusing since he was 23 the year it was published.

  7. janeyolen says:

    >Roger–I am as slow as you are. I just didn’t get to Prez Bush until it was explained.

    But the whole argument about what books SHOULD do for young readers and HOW we get them there has gotten more tiresome with every passing year.

    Who is that wonderful stand-up comic/therapist who talks about how often we should upon ourselves? I heard her in person and had to leave because I was laughing so hard I thought instead of shoulding myself, I would pee my pants!


  8. Anonymous says:

    >What is the TOC??? Table of contents?
    -betty t, mpls

  9. >I worry about grown men not reading ALL THE TIME.

  10. marc aronson says:

    >TOC in a book is table of contents, but in this context I meant Turn of the Century — 19th to 20th.

  11. Christina says:

    >But didn’t I read somewhere that the President read 95 books last year?

    If that’s the case, no wonder we are where we are. He was too lost in Dean Koontz! Or, apparently, Eric Carle.

    (Then again, I may have heard that from Jon Stewart, so don’t hold me to it)

  12. Anonymous says:

    >Yes, GWB and someone else (I think his PR man) had a bet on as to who could read the most books in a year snd GWB won with the famous 99 – no titles given. Consider the source!

  13. Roger Sutton says:

    >That was Bush and Karl Rove, I think, a couple of years ago. It was Bush saying that he was enjoying Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons that convinced me he was a reader.

  14. Anonymous says:

    >thanks for the clarification. I’m glad to see that my memory was correct: Karl Rove WAS GWB’s promotion man!

  15. Anonymous says:

    >what do you bet that they saved the NYT bestseller list every
    snday and chose their titles from it?

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