Opinionated for 25 Years

There aren’t many things that our newest Supreme Court Justice and I have in common, but I will admit to one: I, too, have held onto many calendars over the years.

1994 calendar cover And I stumbled across this one today, and casually opening it up, I found an interesting entry: On August 3, 1994, I started my reviewing career.

1994 augustA few days before, I was talking with my closest friend, Jan. Both of us were stay-at-home moms after beginning our careers at the Chicago Public Library. She commented, “You know, you should do something more literary, like Roger Sutton.” We had both known Roger at CPL. And the very next day, Roger Sutton called and said he was looking for a writer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and our former boss had recommended me. Never before or since has something so odd happened to me, but I was delighted to make an appointment. He gave me three books to review as a trial, and I began what has been an almost entirely wonderful part of my life.

At BCCB, the standards were high, set by Zena Sutherland and Betsy Hearne–no using unspecific words like “colorful,” “charming,” or “beautiful.” No taking cheap shots to look smart. And the process there of going in person once a week and passing reviews and books around the table for critiquing was a time of my life that I look back on as a sort of Camelot. Working with a small group of really sharp and witty people was tough and incredibly fun, and if my mistakes like using a dangling modifier were laughed at mercilessly, I learned. Writing 7 or more book reviews a week challenged me, and today when so much of my reading time is eaten up online, I can hardly believe the amount of reading I used to do. BCCB remains a frank and thoughtful source of book reviews today.

Once the Bulletin moved out of the city, I began reviewing for Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association. In the Books for Youth section, I continued writing many reviews a week, and during the fall got to go in for weekly meetings to discuss the year’s best books for Editors’ Choice. I got to meet editorial assistant John Green, and remember well when I first started reading the ARC for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, realizing quickly that it was something very special. Hazel, Ilene, Stephanie, Sally, and Carolyn were and are such wise women, each great writers in their own right.

Eventually I followed Roger to The Horn Book Magazine where I have remained for almost 20 years. Roger’s deft editorial hand and his ability to keep Horn Book formal but fresh have kept me on my toes. The number of reviewers has recently greatly expanded, allowing a wider number of voices to be heard, and having the chance to weigh in and listen to comments on what should be starred each month keeps widening my perspective.

The advent of online reviewing has changed the field. Anyone can start a blog like this one and start opining away. But review editors like other editors in publishing help ensure that reviews are fair, facts are checked, and prose is polished. It’s been a huge privilege to write for each of these journals (as well as Kirkus and Reading Today) and I will always be grateful for the editors, fellow reviewers, book selectors, and most of all for the authors and illustrators that keep children’s literature such a vibrant and ever-changing world.

 

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