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My boss Betsy

With Betsy at the Eric Carle Museum a few years ago.

As a student, I only knew Betsy Hearne from her occasional swanning in to talk to Zena about her dissertation in progress, a history and analysis of “Beauty and the Beast,” from Cupid and Psyche to Robin McKinley*. Betsy was then children’s book editor of Booklist, where she had been reviewing since 1968. But everyone knew she was the Chosenest One of All, and that Zena expected Betsy to take over her professorship and her beloved BCCB when Zena was compelled to retire in 1985 (mandatory retirement being still legal in those days).

The relationship between Zena and Betsy would eventually become fraught–given circumstances and the strong personalities, how could it not?–but back in the early 80s, Betsy could do no wrong and was constantly held up by Zena as a role model for the rest of us. It was like having an older sister who did everything better than you did. While Zena regularly knocked Horn Book, SLJ, and Kirkus, Booklist she respected, because Betsy, along with Barbara Elleman, was running the children’s side of things. And Betsy returned the respect and affection, initiating the funding for the Zena Sutherland Lecture (May 4 this year, Rita Williams-Garcia, Chicago Public Library) with a festschrift for Zena, Celebrating Children’s Books, co-edited by Betsy and fellow Zena-student Marilyn Kaye and published in 1981 by Lothrop, #bringitback.

So Betsy took over in 1985, with Zena still very much on the scene as the now associate editor of BCCB, member of the Advisory Committee, and chair of the Scott O’Dell Award. Betsy hired me in 1988 and we worked together for the next eight years. I  I have never had a better boss nor known a more generous and expert reviewer. Most reviewers excel (when they excel) at one or two things: they are practical, or maybe they’re deep; they write smartly about YA novels or poetry; they know a lot about dinosaurs, or they have the rare gift of writing well about pictures. Betsy could do all of it, at whatever length a book and the journal required, and she is the most respectful observer of deadlines I know. And respectful, always, of the books she reviewed. Writing a nasty review is easy; it’s much tougher to praise a book without boring your reader into a coma by the use of words like charming, beautiful, and interesting, the three words Betsy cautioned her students would be “allowed on a one-time basis only.” Betsy’s understanding of the way books work is informed by her understanding of the way books are written–I don’t know a person with greater empathy for the writer’s heart.

Betsy was the first to make me aware of the generations of women (mostly) who created and maintained the ideals of children’s literature and youth librarianship. She was very conscious of her own mentors–Zena, Edna Vanek, Sally Fenwick–and of the work countless women did and do to make the field flourish. We even kept a special shelf of their handbooks and memoirs in the BCCB office. We called it the Foremothers Collection.

What I miss most about working with Betsy is the ride home from Hyde Park to the North Side she gave me at the end of the day. Our conversations rambled among books, work gossip, library school drama (the GLS closed while we both were working there), love, and family. If you’ve ever been blessed with as good enough a listener as Betsy, you have been blessed indeed.

 

 

*Once, after Betsy had explained to us how some contemporary novel related to B&B (as we had learned to call it), my coworker (and now BCCB editor) Deborah Stevenson turned to me and whispered, “everything goes back to Beauty and the Beast.” To hear Betsy tell it, that is true; to hear Betsy tell it is also to be convinced.

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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Comments

  1. I just feel like I should put a big heart <3 here.
    What a lovely tribute to a friend and colleague.

  2. LET’S not forget her works of poetry which I turn to often, e.g. POLAROID AND OTHER POEMS OF VIEW published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, and LOVE LINES: POETRY IN PERSON.

  3. I’m a storyteller because of Betsy’s class. She taught the basics, encouraged me to challenge myself, and amplified my delight in the oral folk tradition. It’s no exaggeration to say that learning from her changed my life!

  4. Roger, thank you for this. I hadn’t heard until today.
    I didn’t know that one could *study* children’s literature until I wandered by accident into the BCCB’s corner of the Regenstein Library. I didn’t know there was such a job as a children’s librarian until I took Betsy’s classes. Betsy was my advisor for my senior project and the first person, outside close friends, to read my fiction. Betsy recommended me for my first job as the buyer for children’s books at Harper Court Bookstore. She opened a world for me that I never imagined. I’ll always be grateful.

  5. Oh, rats. I thought Betsy was giving a public talk at Wooster and I was all set to drive down. : (

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