Editorial: There Are (Almost) No Rules (May/June 2020)

Believe me, we are — we are now, anyway — well aware of the irony involved in publishing a special issue called “Breaking the Rules” during the coronavirus spring of 2020, when following the rules is the best hope we have. Please, everyone: wash your hands and keep your distance are rules we should all be following right now.

This issue concerns itself with rule-breaking of a different order. When a rule is unfair, unreasonable, untenable, or otherwise in your way, what do you do? What’s it worth to you? What are the consequences?

Leonard Marcus got a great story out of Greenwillow founding publisher Susan Hirschman in our pages some years ago about a would-be writer who insisted to Hirschman’s then-boss, Ursula Nordstrom, that it was a rule that a fairy had to appear on the sixteenth page of any picture book. “No, really,” Ursula said to the writer, “the thing about these books is that there are no rules.” Amen, and yet there are rules, spoken and unspoken, codified or “understood,” for picture books and other books. And, to go with that, rules for how those books are treated when they enter the world.

In this issue Betsy Hearne and I talk about some rule-breaking books; Marthe Jocelyn, Kekla Magoon, and Celia C. Pérez offer thoughts on how rule-breaking books get written (and published — or not); Cathie Mercier honors the thirtieth anniversary of a book I still haven’t figured out, David Macaulay’s Black and White. The Horn Book editors, apparently, love to assign reviews to genre-busting books only to despair of same when it’s time to figure out what section of Book Reviews to put the review in; see “How Do You Solve a Problem like Nonfiction?” Labels, man, they’re deadly. And throughout the issue, fifteen of our favorite authors and illustrators reminisce about their real-life run-ins with the Rules.

As far as rules for reading go, now seems like a good time to check our own, remembering always that Reading Rule Number One is that There Are No Reading Rules. In our enforced isolation, let’s be happy that books allow us to go anywhere we want in whatever company we choose, no masks required. And let’s be thankful to the librarians and booksellers employing all kinds of creative ways to supply us the books to carry us through this terrible time. Let me be personally thankful to the Horn Book staff and our colleagues at LJ and SLJ in New York for allowing us to keep blowing the Horn electronically; this issue and all Magazine issues dating back through 2017 are currently available to you free of charge at our website, hbook.com. See you there, unmasked.

From the May/June 2020 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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