On the Cover

Every year, when the days start to lengthen and patches of sun and shadow play tug-of-war over the freeze-thawing earth, I look for the telltale green shoots of the season’s first crocuses. A similar moment appears at the beginning of my next picture book, All That Grows (Groundwood, March 2024), about a young boy learning about the natural world from his green-thumbed older sister. The scene and characters appear again in a new image I created for this issue’s cover.

Crocuses are perennial in children’s literature. They are often invoked when the same themes of renewal and reverence to nature are desired, and yet, each invocation also contains within it something new. In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils flourish despite being practically untouched for a decade — yet, upon discovering the garden, Mary Lennox feels compelled to tend them. To the modern reader, there is a curiously mixed veneration of what is wild and what is nurtured. Such metaphors for child-rearing are not so top-of-mind when, a hundred-odd years later, the protagonist in Jillian Tamaki’s They Say Blue (winner of the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award) muses with delight upon seeing crocuses: “Oh! Could purple mean something new?” before freely turning into a tree herself. Rather, Tamaki’s meditation is upon the word new, which is relative: by way of painting every color of the sky within forty pages, she reminds us that nature doesn’t begin and end in discrete fragments but is ever transforming from one state to another — and, because we are part of nature, the ability to transform lies within us, too.

In the hundred years of its existence, The Horn Book Magazine has witnessed any number of crocuses pushing up through the pages of children’s literature, any number of variations on a theme. So what, I ask myself, am I trying to say with my own modest contribution?

While observing crocuses, clover, and ferns curled up like caterpillars — and the porous categories that make them flower, vegetable, or foe — the boy in All That Grows becomes aware for the first time of the complexity of life, and the overwhelming, almost hopeless prospect of attempting to grasp it in full. He has, in his own childlike way, a crisis of faith. Then he picks himself back up, resolving to patiently discover what each new plant wishes to reveal to him. Without leaping to “Google it,” as it were. While crocuses signal the positive expansion of Mary Lennox’s worldview, it’s a child’s agency to relate, on a shrinking scale, with things and moments and experiences unto themselves that needs our advocacy in the current and coming eras.

We can perhaps do little better than to share the privilege of taking shelter between the covers of a good book. And The Horn Book Magazine will still be as vital to that as ever. To another hundred years!

From the January/February 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more Horn Book centennial coverage, click here.

Jack Wong

Jack Wong is the author and illustrator of the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award winner When You Can Swim (Orchard/Scholastic).

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