The Early Years

“In the great green room / there was a telephone /
and a red balloon...”

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and
made mischief of one kind / and another...”

“I went all the way to Africa / in a dream one night /
I crossed over the ocean / in a slow, smooth jump...”

“Water is the first medicine, Nokomis told me.”

These are some very notable picture-book beginnings. The Horn Book Magazine’s own very notable beginning came one hundred years ago, in 1924 Boston. Bertha Mahony Miller, already owner of The Bookshop for Boys and Girls, took pen to paper — and The Horn Book Magazine was born, named both for an early educational reading tool and in homage to Randolph Caldecott’s art. Please read her first-ever editorial, reprinted on page 11 of this issue:

We chose this title — THE HORNBOOK — because of its early and honorable place in the history of children’s literature, but in our use of it we are giving it a lighter meaning, as Mr. Caldecott’s three jovial huntsmen on the cover suggest. Just as they are so full of exuberant joy for the hunt…

For the last hundred years, we have been full of exuberant joy for the hunt for great books for all ages. In this first issue of our centennial year, we celebrate “the early years,” both of our publication and of the earliest books for young people: picture books. We’ve been recommending picture books from day one, and it’s fascinating to go back through our archive to see exactly how.

Visit for a look back through the decades, including the highly quotable (“To open a picture book, any picture book, is to enter a new world where seeing is believing, if the artist makes it so” — Barbara Bader, “Absorbing Pictures and What They Say”; “There are almost no limits or rules for the mischievous world of the picture book, except: does it work?” — Patricia Lee Gauch, “The Picture Book as an Act of Mischief”). We’ll be adding treats from our archive all year long. You can also catch up with Calling Caldecott, our mock Caldecott blog, founded in 2011, which looks in-depth at contenders for the award. Calling Caldecott has become the destination for picture-book coverage in the seasons leading up to the ALA Youth Media Awards, this year on January 22, 2024. “What can win? What will win? What should win?” Our mock voting begins January 11, 2024.

It’s hard to guess what our predecessors might have envisioned for the Horn Book today and over the course of our next hundred years. The evolution of picture books from then to now has been especially noteworthy, with core elements that make their appeal perennial and timeless. Our coverage has included everything from etching, sketching, woodcuts, and paint to black-and-white, two-color art, four-color separations, and digital; the magic of the page-turn, picture books for older readers, are comics picture books?, “why the hell hasn’t a board book won the Caldecott?”; gift books, novelty books, e-books. A hundred years later, the books are still coming, and we’re still “blowing the horn.”

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

Horn Book
Horn Book

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