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But where will I put it?

a4003cf52ee0b6bbb7f79fc6933517fe“Should this book go in nonfiction or folklore?” ACK, the book review placement problems.The Decider (Martha) is away this week so Shoshana, Elissa, and I are left to our own devices when it comes to deciding what goes in which category of the September/October Magazine review section. A historical illustrated book retelling a real incident but with invented situations and dialogue? Picture book. A book about the Greek gods? Well….

The Horn Book Guide, following Dewey, puts mythology in Folktales, Myths, and Legends, cuddling up with Hansel and Gretel. The Magazine has an irregularly deployed “Folklore” section; maybe we should rename it so we could use it more often. But I wonder if there’s an important enough distinction between stories people know to be made-up and those which some believe–or believed–to be literally true that it’s worth keeping them separate.. Religion, after all gets a different Dewey. Debbie Reese has cautioned us about mixing up Native American folktales and Native American that are sacred in one way or another. Bible stories don’t go in the 398s. And while I’m sure you could pull up a few people who worship Zeus in a neo-pagan kind of way, culturally, it’s a religion of the past. Does that make a difference? (I suppose we could go deeply Structural and point out that even folktales are derived from myth, witness Betsy Hearne’s argument that “Cupid and Psyche” beget “Beauty and the Beast,” itself a literary, authored tale that eventually brought us Mrs. Potts but that way lies madness.)

When the judges called with the Boston Globe-Horn Book winners, I was struck by (as had been they, apparently) the books that, given the award categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, and Picture Book, could have been honored differently. Like Jazz Day, which won the Picture Book award. It’s nonfiction (poetry); it’s poetry (which was for some years included under a “Fiction and Poetry” rubric); it’s certainly illustrated, which gives the argument for picture book (whose definition here is unrestricted except by the judges’ good sense). Does honoring Jazz Day as a picture book require a different argument than honoring it as illustrated poetry? Does it make any difference?

I’m reminded of what Hazel Rochman’s husband Hymie once told her when she was complaining about all the problems involved in reviewing books in a climate of people ready to pounce (this was thirty years ago). “Not problems,” Hymie said, riches.”

So in Hymie’s high-minded spirit, the theme of this year’s Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium is Out of the Box. We will look at the ways books resist our efforts to categorize them, whether we mean to be helpful or restrictive. Whether it’s a picture book or narrative nonfiction, books regularly come along that make us change or at least question our rules. THANK GOODNESS. (If you are interested in joining us for the Colloquium on October 1st, stay tuned, registration will be available later this month.)

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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