Letter to the Editor from Bill McCullam and Response from Roger Sutton, February 2020

November/December 2019 Horn Book 

It will not readily be appreciated how much a watershed the 2019 Zena Sutherland Lecture and Gene Luen Yang article represents for The Horn Book (and the Newbery and Caldecott committees). Since, at least, the February 1963 issue when Ruth Hill Viguers took a stand for elite books for children vs. “books which are merely uninspired duplications of what is already available and publications which insult the taste and intelligence of children.” 

It is only in English-speaking countries that this distinction existed between elite and mass-market books for children. A market divided by higher cost and small editions and lower priced “flats” in large printings. A few authors, notably Dr. Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown, had a foot in each camp. Elsewhere, comics, the Bandes dessinées, have always been welcomed as an integral part of children’s literature, and cartoonists like Storm Petersen in 1930s Sweden have alternated between comics and successful picture books with grace. In France, for example, the upscale “Père Castor” books of the 1930s were all stapled and paperbound. However in the USA, comics were relegated to a special hell following the federal government’s intervention in the 1950s that resulted in the “Comics Code.” 

The Horn Book’s protocol of the past century was undoubtedly based on a sincere concern for the best books, perhaps with some mild asperity for the lack of proper editing among the large increase in new book titles and publishers in the 1960s. However, they found ready allies in a certain class-consciousness in England and the U.S., which scorned some publishers as “merely out to make a quick buck.” 

In the twenty-first century as we are finally making worthy efforts to dismantle this old-fashioned class consciousness and build a fairer, inclusive society; The Horn Book is to be congratulated. It’s about time. 


Bill McCullam
Newbury, Ohio 


Hi Bill,

In the February 1963 article from which you quote, I don’t think the then-editor of The Horn Book was complaining about comic books (which she does not mention), nor even the mass-market book generally. Her particular aim seems to be Crowell-Collier's new series, Modern Masters’ Books for Children, for which renowned authors for adults took a crack at writing for children. As we know, this rarely ends well, especially when the books are written with intentionally controlled vocabulary, a Horn Book bête noire then and always. But we’ve been reviewing graphic novels since they became a part of children’s trade publishing. Gene Luen Yang’s first graphic novel, American Born Chinese, was published in 2006 and The Horn Book devoted a cover story to the genre in the same year (March/April 2006 "Graphic Novels 101").

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

Horn Book
Horn Book
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William McCullam

My comments are based on Cattermole's Catalog 60 due next fall which looks at The Modern Masters Series and Parents Magazine Press books which The Horn Books also cited, and a few comics for fun.

Posted : Feb 18, 2020 04:42



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