Editorial: Bertha's Chair? (May/June 2024)

Soon after his (semi)-retirement, Roger Sutton met me on the steps of Simmons University, where our offices were located, to hand off a chair. Not just any chair: Bertha’s chair, which had belonged to the Horn Book’s founder, Bertha Mahony Miller. It sat in Roger’s office, too rickety for people to sit on, but perfect for ever-growing stacks of books and papers, and had moved from office to office to office — three in my time, but there were many more, as you’ll discover in this issue. “Here’s ­Bertha’s chair,” said Roger, ceremoniously. And then: “Well, we think it’s Bertha’s chair. We’ve always said that it was. I don’t know if it actually is. But, look, her initials are on the bottom.”

What better encapsulation of “Our Centennial” special issue’s mini-theme of Nonfiction & Horn Book History? The former aspect can prove tantalizingly tricky to define (see "Nonfiction & Horn Book History" article), and the latter often inextricably, and enthrallingly, tied to our lore. While working on this issue, the editors relied faithfully on the bound volumes of back issues and the books we used to publish. But we also looked to the people who were there. “Martha, is that how you remember it?” “Kitty, what was it like when…?” And, of course, it was an absolute joy to speak with my two predecessors, Roger and Anita (see "Three Editors in Chief: A Conversation") — the first time three Horn Book editors in chief have been together since the 1980s.

A very special commemorative section, ­“Blowing the Horn,” features more contributions than we could’ve dreamed possible (and almost too many to print!). There are old friends reminiscing about their early encounters with the Horn Book. Art that totally cracks us up and pieces that touch our hearts. Profound musing on hopes for the future. We are truly blown away by how it turned out, and we hope that you, too, will find favorites to savor, contemplate, and revisit. See also the four Writer’s Page columns in this issue, three by acclaimed authors of (primarily) nonfiction and the last a historical ­snapshot — with map! — of a time and place, 1970s Boston, of importance to children’s ­literature in general and to the Horn Book in particular.

As we like to say, the Horn Book “grew up” alongside children’s publishing and children’s librarianship, and Sujei Lugo’s article, “‘With a Salute to All Children’s Librarians’: Amplifying the Work of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color,” adapted from her 2023 PhD thesis, spotlights “the lives and work of exemplary children’s librarians who challenged and changed the U.S. children’s librarianship landscape.” One such person is Augusta Baker, whose portrait — by April Harrison from the 2024 picture book Go Forth and Tell: The Life of Augusta Baker, Librarian and Master Storyteller by Breanna J. McDaniel — graces this special issue’s cover. With it being “Our Centennial,” we hope you experience it as our centennial — a shared look at the past, present, and future of “fine books for young people” and the people who love them.

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


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Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief 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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JohnTepper Marlin

I was pleased to see your discussion of the great Horn Book founder and editor Bertha Mahony Miller. She and my mother had a lively and in-depth faith-based correspondence about World War II and its aftermath, during the ten years 1941 and 1951 (and perhaps other years). My mother, children's book author-illustrator Hilda van Stockum, a Newbery honoree in 1935, had a brother Willem who was killed piloting an RAF plane over France during the week of D-Day. My mother's cousin Walraven van Hall was the banker and leader of the Dutch Resistance. Bertha Miller showed extraordinary empathy and shared many personal stories in her letters. My mother's three books for children about families living through World War II are still selling well, close to 10,000 copies last year. I am extremely pleased with the persistence and recent revival of interest in her books. John Tepper Marlin ("Timmy" in the Mitchells series)

Posted : Jun 13, 2024 04:43



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