Editorial: It's Time to Light the Lights (November/December 2021)

Hanukkah starts early this year — November 28 — so I hope that leaves you enough time (supply chain problems notwithstanding) to benefit from our annual Holiday High Notes recommendations. This year saw a cheeringly large ­number of winter holiday–themed titles. On page 18 you’ll find a selection of our ­favorites, with more to come on hbook.com and at #25DaysofHolidayBooks. Please see also the starred reviews of Red and Green and Blue and White on page 89 and The ­People Remember on page 145, about, respectively, a community ­coming together after an antisemitic act during Hanukkah and Christmas, and Black history’s joys and ­sorrows seen through the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Both books are ­unquestionably “high notes” of the holiday season while transcending ­categorization.

Those books are all very good. If bad books are more your thing (I ­personally like ’em fine; see July/August 2013 “What Makes a Good ‘Bad’ Book?”), ­commune with Eric Rohmann on page 35. Himself a Caldecott and Sibert award winner, and good-books creator, he nevertheless posits that bad books matter, especially to young people. Those books that “don’t have answers” can result in young people figuring some out on their own. It’s a path toward scientific thinking, which is Christine Taylor-Butler’s approach in “When Failure Is Not an Option” on page 30. Asking questions, expanding awareness, learning to ­extrapolate, and “­connecting the dots” all lead to empathetic, creative, critical thinking. Bombarded as kids are by information (sometimes TMI!), their cultivation of those skills is both ­empowering and imperative.

Keeping people (and ideas) in the dark is dangerous for us all, and several books in this issue aim to illuminate difficult truths. Crystal M. Fleming’s Rise Up! explores a history of race and racism for teens, including concrete steps toward antiracism. Board books Our Skin and Being You facilitate ­developmentally thoughtful discussions of race and gender. The 1619 Project debuts a picture book by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones (co-written with CSK Award winner Renée Watson), which begins in a classroom with a common school ­assignment: “Trace your roots.” That can be easier said than done for many children of the ­African diaspora and other diasporic people. Jenny Mei Is Sad leaves a child’s trauma unspecified, but a family-tree school project provides clues. ­Something Good, about a “bad-something” scrawled on a school bathroom wall and the community’s response, is based on the author’s children’s experiences. With ­COVID-19 having underscored and exacerbated inequities in schools and across the board, the time is long overdue to bring more diverse experiences to light.

And thank goodness we have stories and art to help us do so; to process and reflect and memorialize this time of uncertainty and flux and to look ahead to the future (and to provide escape and distraction!). If you happen to be in the ­neighborhood — and, of this writing, masked and preferably vaccinated — visit the Eric Carle (himself remembered in this issue by Leonard S. Marcus on page 10) Museum of Picture Book Art; or Ekua Holmes’s “Paper Stories, Layered Dreams” exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts; or look to the art everywhere around you, including your bookshelves, for free. Check out holiday displays; light your candles; and do what you can to brighten and enlighten yourself.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is acting editor in chief / 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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