Blowing the Horn: A Necessary Vessel

The author's childhood copy. Photo: Minh Lê.

One of my favorite childhood picture books was A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. In it, a community rallies to help a family following a devastating fire. Then, looking to move forward from the wreckage, the family starts collecting coins in a large jar to eventually buy a comfortable chair for their salvaged home. As a child, I remember watching that jar of coins fill up and found myself also filling up with a sense of hope.

The visceral memory of that hope still feels relevant, in part, because hope is what unites us in the children’s book world. Choosing to spend one’s life in the field of children’s literature is an ­inherently optimistic endeavor. Not in the simplistic way that some people may think — that it’s all clear-cut morals and happily-ever-afters — but rather, it’s the fact that while grappling with the complexities and despair of the world around us, we can still believe in the power of children’s books. We can still hold onto the hope that the right book can change the life of a young reader.

However, in bleak times such as these, it may feel like our collective ­supply of hope is running dangerously low.

That is why it’s so important for people in our field to have a space to find community and refill our store of optimism. Fortunately for us, we have the Horn Book. Over its one hundred years of existence, the Horn Book has been like the jar of coins in A Chair for My Mother, serving as a container within which we can place our bits of optimism and continue to hope even as the difficulties of the world smolder around us.

The Horn Book is many things: a bellwether of trends in the field, a purveyor of career-defining reviews, and a source for scholarly insights that holds the form to a high standard and pushes it forward. There have been times when the Horn Book has helped lead the industry (as when it awarded A Chair for My Mother with the 1983 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award) and times when the Horn Book has evolved to keep pace with the industry.

But through all its iterations, it has been an important touchstone for creators, educators, and readers who share a belief in the power of a great book. If the Horn Book is a jar, it is filled with our shiniest coins of wisdom and whimsy, piled high to show the true value of our investment in children’s literature.

This essay is my small coin, quietly dropped upon the pile of contributions that the Horn Book has inspired and collected over its one hundred years. As the Horn Book turns the page toward another century and beyond, our community will continue to write, illustrate, and champion stories for children. And while the heartbreak of the headlines can make it challenging to remain hopeful, I take some comfort in knowing that the Horn Book will continue to serve as that necessary vessel within which we can store our most precious and delicate hopes and around which we can gather to find the optimism necessary to keep moving forward.

From the May/June 2024 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Our Centennial. For more Horn Book centennial coverage, click here. Find more in the "Blowing the Horn" series here.

Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Horn Book Magazine Customer Service

Full subscription information is here

Minh Lê

Minh Lê's most recent books are Enlighten Me (LB Ink/Little, Brown) and Built to Last (Knopf, 2024). He served on the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee.

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