Editorial: Living History (November/December 2020)

The problem with the November/December issue is that it comes out a little too early. Looking back at the 2016 editorial co-written by Martha Parravano and me: “At the time of this writing, we don’t yet know the outcome of the presidential election. (Anyone with a time-travel device, please let us know things turned out okay.)” Well. Okay it is not. Mr. Murry with the tesseract; Rebecca Stead’s laughing man; Biff with the sports almanac — who could’ve predicted exactly this?

The 1918 influenza pandemic is a popular subject in children’s and young adult ­nonfiction (Brown’s Fever Year; Davis’s More Deadly Than War; Marrin’s Very, Very, Very Dreadful); so are civil rights movements and despotic world leaders. Those topics are all viewed from a looking-back lens. How were people affected by their times? How were children affected and how did they respond? What lessons can Kids Today learn from yesteryear? All important questions — but right now Kids Today are in it. History is not past — they are experiencing it in real time. In a hundred years, my children’s children’s children will be reading about the 2020 pandemic, civil rights movements, and despotic world leaders while trying to glean lessons for their own times. It’s a mind-bender. Puzzles such as these are ­nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge’s bread and butter — her Boots on the Ground and ­Marching for Freedom are exemplary — and she shares her thoughts on page 12.

On the topic of history repeating itself, or never really going away, please turn to page 60. In 2016 The Brown Bookshelf published a Declaration in Support of Children; this past August, the group re-upped its demands for equity with a Call to Action (“Since the declaration, we have seen racism boil over into more ­senseless deaths”). Systemic racism persists; and we are proud to amplify the Call. Last year saw the fiftieth anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, established at a time, 1969, when kids were also right in it, and not nearly enough has changed. CSK winner Nikki Grimes writes, on page 16, about her selective use of the n-word, a perennial and “visceral” (her word) conversation starter. History isn’t past, and words do matter.

 The November issue is also a little too early when it comes to the holiday season (as Roger said in September: “It’s the week after Labor Day and I’m reading a board book about Santa pooping”). Our annual Holiday High Notes section on page 32 features twenty-three books, including a welcome five new Hanukkah books. If you aren’t actually sure “What Makes a Good Hanukkah Picture Book?” do yourself a favor and read Marjorie Ingall’s article on page 27. Marjorie, Shoshana Flax, and I had a boisterous dinner together in Philly at what may have been the very last in-person ALA Midwinter ever (not to sound dramatic; ALA announced a planned format change several months ago). History moves on, though we’ll surely miss being in the room where it happens come ALAYMA time.

And speaking of — have you been following Calling Caldecott? Last year Kadir Nelson took home both the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Will this year see another such sweep? Might it be a Sibert-Caldecott, an APALA-Caldecott, or a Belpré-Caldecott instead? 2020’s Youth Media Awards made history: first graphic-novel Newbery; first time CSK, Newbery, and ­Caldecott so entwined, and all African American men; first time all Caldecott winners and ­honorees were people of color. The January/February 2021 editorial will come due well before we know next year’s winners; but speculation is part of the fun. And looking back at all of this, with a clear and critical eye, will undoubtedly be ­instructive for us all, and in the future.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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