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Editorial: What Books Can Do

Roger Sutton

In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th ten years ago, there were many books published for children and teens about the tragedy. Some were informative, and at least two transcended the moment: Maira Kalman’s Fireboat and Mordicai Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. But there was a persistent strain of “helpful” books—bibliotherapeutic tales, frequently allegorical—designed to somehow assist kids in coming to terms with the event. Readers know books don’t work like that: as I said in an editorial many years ago, not only is there not a book about overcoming one’s fear of lawn mowers (a query that had been sent my way), there’s no reason to think a book would provide the cure.

We know this, but we forget this; witness the recent furor sparked by the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed about YA books (“Darkness Too Visible,” June 4, 2011), wringing its hands in worry that Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls was going to make previously well-adjusted girls start hurting themselves. And the right-minded replied No, Wintergirls will save girls from hurting themselves. Neither is true: books aren’t that kind of magic. While reading helps us—even saves us—during dark days writ large or personal, it’s not like The Match Game. You want to learn about 9/11, you want to fix a lawn mower; yes, books will help. You want to feel better (or worse, or more deeply)? Read something you love.

•    •    •

Without suggesting that you drop this magazine right now to go over and take a look, there’s a lot to love about our sister publication School Library Journal (our little sister, as I frequently remind SLJ chief Brian Kenney). But the thing I love most is their Heavy Medal blog, helmed by Nina Lindsay and Horn Book Magazine reviewer Jonathan Hunt. Running from the beginning of September through the end of January, Heavy Medal ( concerns itself with ALA’s Newbery Medal: Nina and Jonathan parse the rules, wrangle the definitions, and put their magnifying glass over some likely contenders. They frequently disagree, beginning a lively conversation that is continued both in the comments on the blog itself and elsewhere in the kidlitosphere. With a combination of rational, elucidatory discussion and trash talking, Heavy Medal is complete catnip for our kind.

In a spirit of sororal (there’s a word you’ll never find in SLJ) cooperation (heh), this month we’re launching a companion blog, Calling Caldecott, in which our designer Lolly Robinson and Horn Book reviewer Robin Smith are taking on all things picture book: as the blog’s tagline has it, “What can win? What will win? What should win?” You couldn’t ask for better conveners: Lolly has been paying close attention to picture books for thirty years and served on the 2005 Caldecott committee (the Kitten’s First Full Moon year); Robin is a veteran second-grade teacher and was a member of the 2011 committee (A Sick Day for Amos McGee). But this blog needs you, too, so get yourself over to and join the fun.

—Roger Sutton

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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