Friday Night Lights

BGHB18 judges Liz Phipps Soeiro, Katie Bircher, and Minh Le with Al Berman. Photo by Aram Boghosian, The Boston Globe

We held our fiftieth-something Boston Globe Horn Book Awards at Simmons University last Friday night, and if the conversation among the guests was any indication, we had the advantage as a comparison-gainer: "At least something good is happening today!" I'll post my opening remarks below, and Elissa and Katie will be bringing you highlights throughout the upcoming days. Mourning the loss (wait — is there such a thing as double-edged mourning?) of the Horn Book at Simmons colloquium, we tried something new Saturday morning, where I interviewed several of the BGHB awardees and judges while Cassie ran the iPhone video camera. We'll be posting those online, too.

Already beginning BGHB 2019, where our judges will be the Shady Hill School's Kim Parker; the Horn Book's Cindy Ritter; and, as Chair, Monica Edinger of the Dalton School. Wish 'em luck!

Below are my BGHB remarks. I will take the opportunity here in pixels to rectify an omission I made in public. Every once in a while my changes to the template in which I create this introduction cause me to omit one or more important names, and I am inserting such into the remarks. CINDY RITTER, we could not do any of this without you!

Welcome to Simmons College and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, now in their second half century; I won’t inflict my limited understanding of arithmetic on you any further, but I am so glad you are here—again or for the first time—with us tonight.


First, let me thank Cathie Mercier, with whom I now go back thirty years. And for the past four, she has welcomed us at Simmons, where—I’m sure you heard—we had a BALLOON emergency yesterday. Scary but, let’s admit it, funny, too. The Horn Book and the Center go way back and, until just this fall, we were right down the hall. Now Cathie and her crew have moved into this building, and into its newly christened Gwen Ifill college. The new Ifill dean has told me that we can move here, too. I may not have that in writing but I now have it in public.


I’m sorry Cathie and I could not bring you the Horn Book at Simmons Colloquium this year. We simply did not have the resources. But we are planning a few less ambitious events during the upcoming year and will keep you posted on those. We love our Simmons colleagues.


From the Boston Globe, we thank Paul Nakashima, Emily Procknal, and Linda Pizzuti Henry. We truly appreciate the Globe’s ongoing interest in and support of these awards.


From Long Island, please welcome the Horn Book’s director of advertising, Al Berman. Al can sell anything and I’m glad he sells us; just as important, Al is the best best business advisor I have, and is a dear friend. Our Media Source CEO is here from New York and Columbus, Steve Zales. I saw Steve demonstrate a great strength not long ago. He came to what was billed as a Horn Book staff meeting but could also have been called a free-for-all, as all of us pummeled him with varied and sometimes contradictory proposals, questions, and complaints. At the end of it Steve calmly looked down at his notes and told us with perfectly synthesized coherence what we were saying and what we should do. Steve, please refer to those notes often.


Don’t forget to stop by the room just outside this one where Terri and Leo have set up stakes to sell you copies of tonight’s prizewinning books. Our authors will be available for autographing at the reception on the first floor that will follow the ceremony. Terri and Leo, thank you for bringing the Children’s Book Shop to us tonight.


The Horn Book ladies: Katie Bircher, who is also our Award committee chair tonight, Shoshana Flax, Elissa Gershowitz, Katrina Hedeen, Martha Parravano, CINDY RITTER, and Lolly Robinson, along with our interns Jeannie and Rachel. Please all stand? Thank you for everything you put into this award all year round and especially during the busy last couple—and next couple!—of months. ALL the months. And Cassie Sheets, our event manager (and Center grad), in from Montana and admirably ridin’ herd. Any of these great people can help you if you have any questions about tonight’s event.


I need to thank one more man, and I have a great Simmons story to justify his inclusion here, though I need no justification for having him in my life, my husband, Richard Asch. I will not ask you to sing, but next weekend we will be celebrating Richard’s eightieth birthday.


The Simmons story. It was almost thirty years ago, and I was teaching, for Cathie and Susan Bloom—Susan where are you?—the Summer Institute, that year themed Masquerade. Richard came out from Chicago (where we both lived) for a weekend, and one afternoon we took a picnic over to the park by the Riverway. I wore contacts at the time, and lost one, not realizing that until we were back at the campus, thinking it had just slid off my pupil. Do you know what Richard did? He went back to the Riverway and FOUND IT. IN THE GRASS. That’s a man you want to have by your side.


Now to the awards. The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards have ONE criterion: to honor excellence in books for young people. I’ve never been a member of this committee nor been privy to any of the discussions, but I wonder how that talk goes: “Well, what do you mean by excellence?” It is a radically simple criterion. The awards are given in three categories: Picture book, fiction, and nonfiction. (Poetry hops around. Doesn’t it?) The award year is a little peculiar, running from June 1st of one year to May 31st of the next, encompassing the two seasons of what used to be the traditional publishing year. All books published for young people in the United States are eligible; in the case of a picture book, author and illustrator are honored equally. The three judges must select one winner and up to two honor books in each category. Each winner gets a modest check and an engraved shiny silver bowl suitable for candy, mail, or Chex mix; the honor recipients each get an engraved silver plate suitable for calling cards or loose change.


This year’s three judges, appointed by me, worked hard. It’s a lot of reading. They met by phone and email throughout the past year and convened here at Simmons in May to make their choices. Starting things off is Minh Le, author for children and book blogger, who will present the Picture Book awards. Following him is Cambridge Public Schools librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro, presenting the award for Fiction. And the 2018 committee chair, Horn Book Associate editor Katie Bircher will conclude the evening’s awards with the Nonfiction category.


Speaking of concluding, which I shall in just one minute: Simmons and the Horn Book have arrayed a wonderful reception for our awardees and our guests down in the Common Grounds café on the first floor of this building. There will be beverages, snacks, dessert, and fellowship. There will also be autographing and the chance for any of you to personally congratulate our 2018 BGHB authors and illustrators. BUT I need you to stay in this room until said authors and illustrators have left to get settled into their seats downstairs to meet you. So DON’T RUSH THE DOOR. I’ll tell you when you may go.


Minh, let’s begin!



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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