Editorial: Barbara Bader 1927–2021 (September/October 2021)

I was very sorry to learn from her daughter about the death of longtime Horn Book contributor Barbara Bader, who passed away on July 11th in Seattle, just a week before what would have been her ninety-fourth birthday. When I began at the Horn Book in 1996, the Magazine had just published Barbara’s history of Macmillan’s children’s book publishing; from library school, I knew her magisterial American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within (1976), still a model for understanding and writing about picture books, still demonstrating an unmatched breadth of vocabulary in describing what an illustration looks like and what it is doing.

But that wonderful volume did not prepare me for Barbara-in-person, coming up from her then-home in Connecticut to prowl the city’s libraries and have lunch with Lolly Robinson, newly installed as designer for the Horn Book but an old friend of Barbara’s. Barbara was tiny and talked a mile a minute about — and this is key — anything and everything.

While she had a special genius for understanding picture books and visual art, she never thought of them in isolation. To Barbara, picture books, and children’s books generally, were a part of literature as a whole, culture as a whole, history as a whole. For a while, she had a column in the Magazine called “Connections,” because she saw them everywhere. Woe betided me every time we had our weekly phone call and I had not read that week’s New Yorker. (I generally had not read that week’s New Yorker.) Her interest in, and opinions about, seemingly everything going on in the world at large was to her all of a piece with whatever article was under construction and thus fair game for our editorial calls, which could easily stretch to hours. Maddening, wonderful hours.

If you read the twenty-some articles by Barbara Bader currently posted on the Horn Book’s website (hbook.com), you could get yourself a nice mini-course in children’s literature and librarianship, whether she’s profiling individuals (“For the McKissacks, Black Is Boundless”); writing institutional history (“Cleveland and Pittsburgh Create a Profession”); or graphing trends (“Nonfiction: What’s Really New and Different — and What Isn’t”). I don’t know how things went with my editorial predecessors, but for me, every query (or even punctuation change!) was met by Barbara with a spirited defense of what she had written in the first place. Sometimes she won (mostly she won), sometimes I won, but it was always worth the battle.

Barbara had already been on my mind this summer. For our two-man book club via text, Bruce Brooks and I have been reading Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a leisurely travelogue/history/sociopolitical commentary on what West, traveling in the late 1930s, knew as Yugoslavia. I hear her writing in ­Barbara’s voice: long sentences and paragraphs wandering down every possible tangent they can possibly take, not a beach or a meal or a castle passing without profitable reference to other places, other meals, other times. In Barbara’s case, every book she read led to other books, other contexts, the world, and we are the richer for it. To employ a phrase she once successfully got in over my dead body, ave atque vale, BB. You will be missed.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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Oh, Roger, I really am sorry to hear this. I have such good Barbara Bader stories to tell, but they will have to wait until I can get my act together. Let me just say this one thing: At lunch, when I started at Kirkus, she told me that my job was to keep publishers from publishing all of those awful books they couldn't resist publishing. With deep affection, Karen Breen

Posted : Aug 31, 2021 08:22



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