Blowing the Horn: My Grandmother, the Horn Book, and Me

Betty Flocken with Elizabeth Wein in 1968. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wein.

In 1972, when I was seven years old, I lived in Jamaica. My ­Pennsylvanian grandmother, Betty Flocken, sent me a new book every month. When Beverly Cleary’s Ellen Tebbits arrived, I read it in a single afternoon. That day inspired me to become a children’s author.

When I headed to Yale at seventeen, I was already working on what would become my first published novel, The Winter Prince. Outside classes, eager to explore the hottest new children’s books, I read The Horn Book Magazine in the New Haven Free Public Library. I’d seen Horn Book reviews and accolades on the backs of my own favorites, and I considered the Magazine to be the first and last word in children’s literature. One year out of college and working in a bookstore, I treated myself to my own subscription.

This was sympathetic magic: my way to touch the stars, like collecting celebrity autographs. I am so grown-up, I subscribe to this elite industry magazine! I boasted about it. I told people it was “the New Yorker of the children’s book world.” When The Winter Prince was named a Horn Book Fanfare title in 1993, I felt I had achieved the dream of a lifetime.

Betty Flocken with Roger Sutton in 2012. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wein.

But words on a page are almost always improved by human interaction. What made the Horn Book come to life for me was meeting Martha V. Parravano at a Children’s Literature New England­ seminar, becoming friendly with longtime reviewers Deirdre Baker and Jonathan Hunt, and — just last year, still with stars in my eyes — being treated to lunch by Roger Sutton.

There is a photograph of Roger helping Betty Flocken cross the forecourt at Simmons College (now University) after the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards ceremony in 2012. She is ninety-six and Roger towers over her. The image captures a moment I will never forget — the woman who inspired the child in me to write, protected by the strong arm of the editor of the Horn Book.

My hope for our rising generations is for all such dreams to come full circle.

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:

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Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is the author of Code Name Verity, a 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, and Rose Under Fire, a 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. Her most recent novel is Stateless (Little, Brown, 2023), and she co-wrote the 2024 nonfiction book American Wings (Putnam).

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