Editorial: Happy New Year (January/February 2021)

I can’t tell you how happy I am to write a January/February editorial where I don’t have to make a snide remark about the new president’s disdain for reading. Joe Biden reads poetry. Out loud, even. ­Goodness knows that an ­appreciation of books is not a guarantee of good character, but at least you know that a reader admits the thoughts of others into their head. Congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and best wishes for the next four years. May they show an improvement over the last.

Biden and Harris are facing a terrible world with enormous challenges, as are we all. But, not to go all Mary Sunshine on you, great things are happening in books for young people. On page 47, the CCBC gives us an update on the ­diversity numbers (modestly encouraging), but please also look at our coverage of the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners, beginning on page 20. And I don’t suggest this as a diversity box-ticking exercise; what I really want you to do is go and read those books. It’s fascinating to me that all three of the top winners are African American, not because of the evidence that diversity is Working but because their books are evidence of a new renaissance in African American literature for children. Maybe I should spend less time on Twitter, but sometimes it can feel to me like the cheerleading for “­representation” is the point when the real point is that We Need Diverse Books and its allies have made space for some amazing books to be published. I hope today’s scholars of youth literature are paying attention not just to who is being published but what contributions and transformations their books are ­providing to books as a whole. I can say of Kacen Callender’s King and the ­Dragonflies (which would go on to win the National Book Award), for example, that it provides ­children’s literature with great representation of gay kids of color. Sure enough. But what it does as writing — spare, immediate prose delineating a grieving child — is just as exciting. Its heritage includes Paterson’s Bridge to ­Terabithia as much as Woodson’s The House You Pass on the Way. What books might come about because of King’s existence? We can also ask if the durable ­contributions made by master painter and collagist Ashley Bryan made Saturday, by a young Black painter and collagist, ­possible. God bless you, Ashley, for creating so much room for the future.

President-elect Biden and Vice President–elect Harris, I know you are busy, but you should read some of the books that grace our BGHB Awards as well as our “Fanfare” choices of the best books of the year (see page 10). Why? First, because everybody deserves good reading. Second, because books for young people have, throughout the many dark days in this country’s last century, not to mention the last four years, kept the values of hope, justice, and compassion alive. Joe, I’m sure I’m not the first to recommend to you Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith’s I Talk like a River, about a stuttering boy who learns the power and possibilities of his voice. Kamala, have a look at Angela Johnson and Nina Crews’s A Girl like Me, a ­celebration of girls poised to become women like you, dreaming and ­determined. To both of you I recommend Kate Messner and Adam Rex’s The Next President — Joe because you are, after all, and Kamala, because you could be. My prayers are with you both.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton
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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Tracy Maxwell

Not at all impressed with your use of this platform to bash and name call the President of the United States. Biden professes to bring peace and kindness does the same. At this moment he is trying to erase the last four years of "Trumpism" from our history. Do you remember learning how the Communist did the same? Many are singing his praises already and he has done nothing. Give it time. Not wanting to change anyones mind just tired of the US citizens bashing their own prsident in the name of peace and unity. This was a suprise for me to see it here too.

Posted : Jan 15, 2021 02:20

A Reader

When I open up this (or any other) newsletter, I am interested in what your opinions about about books. Your political rants and digressions have no place in (what used to be?) the distinguished journal of children's literature even as an opinion piece.

Posted : Jan 15, 2021 02:19

Rusty Browder

Thank you, Roger. Yes, "creating so much room for the future." And, yes, reading these good books is the heart of the matter. So often I am poised on the brink of recommending and need to qualify it by saying I haven't yet read it but "The Horn Book says...." -- which is totally sufficient in many cases but so much more fun when I have read it. Ah, reading.

Posted : Jan 10, 2021 08:04

Katherine Paterson

Thank you, Roger, for this eloquent editorial.

Posted : Jan 08, 2021 06:14


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