Blowing the Horn: Our World of Books

My son John, who is not only a voracious reader but has also had the opportunity to meet many writers, librarians, editors, and ­publishers, said to me once, “You know, Mom, how lucky you are. You get to work with the best people in the world.” I do know that, and I am very grateful.

But that world is under threat as it has never been before in my lifetime. Oh, yes, several of my books have been challenged or banned, and brave teachers and librarians have risked reputations and jobs to defend them, but this time it’s different. There is a T-shirt and tote bag sporting a shelf of books with the words: “I’m with the banned” and there sits my book Bridge to Terabithia, snuggled between Of Mice and Men and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Not bad company, but an outdated shelf for any book of mine. The books on that shelf were published at least thirty years ago.

I well remember those days. It was 1989. We were rejoicing that the ­Berlin Wall had just fallen when I said to my husband, “They’ll be coming for us next.” Of course, he had no idea what I meant by either “they” or “us.” I meant the book banners. He gave me that “Oh, Katherine!” look. “Some people always need someone to fear and hate,” I said. “Books are an easy target.”

But I don’t occupy a place on the 2024 shelf. I am white, middle-class, Presbyterian, a heterosexual female who was married for fifty-one years to the same man. No legislature or governor has ever threatened to jail a librarian who puts any of my books in the library or any teacher who teaches my books.

How wonderful it has been for our beloved world of children’s literature to finally publish, promote, review, and reward honors and medals to lots of books by so many writers of color and diverse sexual orientations. How grateful we should all be that all our children will have a chance to see their own lives reflected in a book, and for them to live in the minds and hearts of people unlike themselves!

“Why are you so fearful?” I want to ask. “Why must you hate? Have you read the book you’re attacking?” Years ago, when The Great Gilly Hopkins was challenged and an African American librarian’s job threatened for defending it, a lone school board member insisted that before a vote was taken, every member must read the entire book. At the next meeting, the board voted unanimously to keep the book and affirm the librarian.

So my hope for our world of wonderful books and the people who have a part in it is that those who threaten our constitutional and God-given freedoms read every page of every book. The reward may well be freedom from fear.

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.

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Katherine Paterson

Two-time winner Katherine Paterson won the Newbery Medal in 1978 for Bridge to Terabithia and in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved; she received a 1979 Honor for The Great Gilly Hopkins (all Crowell). Her latest book is Birdie's Bargain (Candlewick, 2021). Jella and Her Library of Dreams (Handprint, 2024) is forthcoming.

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