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Lillian Gerhardt vs. Ethel Heins

Lillian Gerhardt and Ethel Heins

What prompted Lillian Gerhardt, editor of School Library Journal, to tell Horn Book editor Ethel Heins, “On second thought, I may fly up to Boston and hit you over the head with a chair after all”? It started with the tricky term “mainstream” when applied to literature for adults and children alike. Gerhardt asserted that there was a literary time lag of about twenty years between new ideas in literature for adults and their use by writers for children. That got Heins’s dander up, she responded with conviction, Gerhardt threatened to throw that chair, and…well, you can read the rest.


An Argument Worth Opening by Lillian N. Gerhardt (School Library Journal, May 1974)
“Books for children are more accurately described as: the last bastion of yesterday’s literary methods and standards.”

Damming the Mainstream by Ethel Heins (Horn Book Magazine, August 1975)
“Last bastion or last refuge? Pigeonholing and labeling can be unfortunate — tidy, but artificial and constricting.”

A Letter to Ethel Heins by Lillian N. Gerhardt (School Library Journal, Sept. 1975)
“Really, Ethel, I think you should lock yourself in your office, read over The Emperor’s New Clothes, and take it to heart.”

A Letter to Lillian N. Gerhardt by Ethel L. Heins (School Library Journal, Nov. 1975)
“It is difficult for me to see how the children’s book world can be expected to be taken seriously when one of its professional critics uses such uncritical supports as hurling epithets or threatening to throw chairs.”