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My friend Hazel

I met Hazel Rochman when I was Zena’s assistant and Hazel was a member of her Advisory Committee for The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Hazel, Isabel McCaul, Yolanda Federici, Ellin Greene, and Bob Strang. Every Wednesday afternoon this gang would come over and read the freaking twenty-something reviews Zena had written that week and look over the attached book. Each advisor would initial agreement with the review and assigned rating–R, Ad, M, NR. There were few debates but plenty of talk–I remember the time Zena and Isabel were competing over which of them had been meaner to, in both their cases, a (deserving) child earlier that day.

A few years later Hazel and I were on YALSA’s (then YASD’s) Best Books for Young Adults committee along with great people like Betty Carter and Mike Printz. Any book committee veteran reading this knows lifelong friendships grow out of those arguments, and such am I lucky to have with Hazel. I know no one who is a fiercer defendant of the value of reading to life and culture. (She says her husband is fiercer, and watching Hazel and Hymie argue, nay, shout at one another about some book or idea has been one of my joys.*) She became known in the profession, first through an SLJ article and then a book published by ALA, for “booktalking the classics.” This meant assembling a group of books–YA and adult, old and new, fiction and nonfiction–and presenting them in an informal address to teenagers, something she did at her job at the Lab School’s high school library. In demonstrations of this technique, Hazel’s charisma would twinkle, her South African accent definitely working in her favor, and she would speak so well about the virtues of a given book that you wanted to read it immediately. At Booklist, where she soon went full-time as a YA editor, her reviews did the same thing (when she wanted them to). I hear there’s a rubber stamp still someplace in that office that prints the words Hazel liked it on any review copy, because that was all the argument you were ever going to need.

Hazel’s influence on children’s and YA book reviewing is immense, most notably via a Booklist editorial she wrote about the necessity for nonfiction authors to cite their sources. “That damned Hazel Rochman,” Milton Meltzer opined, but everybody did it and still does. (You can read the recently departed and deeply missed Russell Freedman politely grousing about it here.) YA reviewing then was different. YA books were aimed younger, had at least nominally a social conscience (until teen romances became a thing again), and they were fewer and shorter.  Hazel’s specialities included books about South Africa**, and she consistently reminded herself and her readers that expertise in an area is terrific, sure, but it should also remind us of how much we are missing when we review a book about a topic (a culture, notably) with which we have less familiarity. The discussions Hazel and I have had about the politics and ethics of reviewing children’s books have been some of the most fun I have ever had, and I learned a lot. In her reviewing, Hazel was always challenging herself as much as the book and her readers. The whole lot of us are better for her work.

 

*Their best argument is a lifelong one. Each claims that, as a child, he or she had been out in the bush, and a giraffe poked its head into the car. Each also claims that it only happened to him or her, and that he or she had told the other the story. (Phew. Where’s a good plural pronoun when you need one?)

**She and Hymie hid Nelson Mandela for a time, how badass is that?

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. Rosemary Brosnan says:

    Thank you for this lovely blog about Hazel, Roger! I first experienced her kindness when I was a junior editor, and I was publishing a book by a South African writer that was set in South Africa in the 1960s. I got a phone call from Hazel (a momentous occasion for me as an editor!) saying that she was reviewing the book for BOOKLIST, but there was one inaccuracy in a scene involving the police, and would we consider changing it? I called the author immediately and we made the change; of course, Hazel was right. She didn’t have to do that, but she took the time to call me, and I’m so glad we fixed that scene. She gave the book a starred review. Hazel always championed diverse books, and I’ve always appreciated her work, her brilliance, and her kindness.

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