Editorial: Technicolor Dreams

The January/February Magazine is a good metaphor for the new year, with its ruminations on What Came Before and an eye toward the future. In October we celebrated the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, where Elizabeth Acevedo performed a powerful original poem; Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña shared their origin story as collaborators; Celia C. Pérez thanked Ric Flair; Christian Robinson quoted the Notorious B.I.G.; and Varian Johnson reminded us to remind disenfranchised young people, “It’s not your fault.”

Customarily we ask the BGHB Picture Book winner to create our cover, and Jillian Tamaki’s gorgeous art is a perfect lead-in to this issue’s superb content. What better visual accompaniment to Uma Krishnaswami’s call for “prism books,” or those that “can disrupt and challenge ideas about diversity through multifaceted and intersecting identities”? The theme of complicating viewpoints — and providing a framework to do so — is picked up by Grace Lin in her “Writer’s Page,” which implores book creators to examine their motives and consider their methods when it comes to diverse books and allyship: “What diversity needs is not white authors to write heroes of a minority race, but rather for them to redefine the white hero.”

Speaking of Grace Lin — her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star is on our “Fanfare” list, the Horn Book editors’ annual selection of the best books of 2018. The list also includes They Say Blue, The Poet X, Photographic, and The Parker Inheritance, which were all recognized by this year’s BGHB Awards committee. This is not a gimme (because different groups are selecting), but it’s always a nice grace note to the year. And if 2018 is any indication, the call from many corners for excellent diverse books was heard and acted upon; we’re eager to see what 2019 brings.

Looking to the past to help illuminate the future (as we do), Roger Sutton kicks off our new “Happy Anniversary” feature with a fiftieth-anniversary appreciation of I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. Sure, there was the requisite car crash — but John Donovan’s YA novel about a teenage boy experiencing a same-sex attraction was a landmark in children’s publishing both for its own merits and for the road it paved.

In 2018 we said goodbye to two children’s book luminaries: Russell Freedman, who was, in the words of his editor Dinah Stevenson, “the Zen master of children’s nonfiction”; and picture-book pioneer Vladimir Radunsky, whose work is examined by his friend and fellow Russian émigré Eugene Yelchin. You wouldn’t necessarily expect “one of the most glorious moments in bookmaking” to be synonymous with “early Soviet picture books,” but Yelchin convincingly makes his case.

Naomi Shihab Nye offers a poem, “Exotic Animals, Book for Children,” a meditation on the strength and resilience of living beings: “Our armor is invisible, / it polishes itself.” Following that idea of toughness-yet-vulnerability, there are no fewer than four books about elephants in this issue. Elephants, memory, looking to the future — this theme just might have something to it.

You may notice something we’re missing this time. Our “From the Guide” feature is on hiatus while we work to redefine The Horn Book Guide. Started in 1989, the Guide has reviewed virtually all hardcover trade books published in the United States — approaching 120K (with over nine hundred on the subjects of elephants!). That archive, found at hornbookguide.com, is a fantastic resource for librarians, teachers, scholars, parents, and all children’s literature fans, and we’re doing our best to spruce it up and make it as user-friendly and appealing as possible. Suggestions? Drop us a line: guide@hbook.com.

From the January/February 2019 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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