Back Porch Book Chat: Mark Hunt (Author), Part 1

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Join us as we chat with book lovers like ourselves about a topic we all love! Our guest today is Mark Hunt, son of the late Gladys Hunt. He chats with us about Gladys Hunt’s legacy, his own work, and more! Interview conducted by Janie.

Note: this interview was first published, in part, for our print magazine, The Redeemed Reader Quarterly. Generally, our print content does not also appear on the website, but we had two delightful interviews we just had to share with our web readers. Enjoy, and know that this is a taste of what comes in the Quarterly!

Getting to Know Mark Hunt

Let’s imagine a cool morning with a hint of fall in the air. Where would we be sitting? What would be in your cup or glass? 

This depends. If we are fortunate we would be at our family cabin in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan, sitting on the porch overlooking Lake Huron. The warblers would be changing into their confusing fall colors and preparing for their long migrations south. A loon might be crying from the bay, and a great lake freighter steaming across the horizon. The mornings are brisk so hot drinks are in order. I prefer coffee in the morning, my wife loves the smell but not the taste. She is the tea connoisseur, and so you would be well cared for with either choice.

That sounds delightful! Tell us a little about your family: How many children and grandchildren do you have? Do they live far or near? What is your occupation/position (if not retired)? 

We have two grown sons. One works in marketing/sales for a Midwest-based company. The other is a federal law officer, who after fifteen years of working in Washington, DC, has recently been transferred to a local office. So we are celebrating having all our children and grandchildren close at hand. There are seven grandchildren total, six girls and one boy. The oldest joined the ranks of teenagers last year and the youngest is eighteen months. 

I worked in publishing for almost 30 years and finished there in the role of vice president and publisher. I then joined the leadership team of an international ministry called Langham Partnership. Now I am doing a few publishing projects. Currently I am finishing up an audio restoration and clean-up of the sermons of my friend and mentor John R.W. Stott.

Reading in the Midst of Real Life

Now that you have grandchildren, how do you carry on the read-aloud tradition with them? 

The bulk of the responsibility for this falls to their parents, who are present at the times when reading takes place each day. We have shared in the joy of hearing our son read books to his children (aged 9-13) and smile at their requests for “just one more chapter.” Over the past couple of years we spent an unusual amount of time with our younger son’s family and joined in the nightly reading ritual with them. They are younger and their plea is always for just one more book. I am not sure if that reflects a love of books or a desire to put off bedtime! Probably a bit of both.

I make a point of keeping an eye out for books that I think may appeal to a particular child. When a friend in Britain introduced me to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, I immediately purchased a copies for both families. The next week my son sent me a photo of quotes from the book his daughter had made into posters for her bedroom wall. That made my day! (As an aside, I was sad to realize I inadvertently failed to put this book on the book lists in the new edition of Honey for a Child’s Heart. It is well deserving of being a best-seller for adults as well as kids.)

We’ll have to add that to our copies of Honey!

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake is another book I gave to a couple of the grandchildren to read on their own, but only on the promise that we would talk about it later. We laughed and talked about the idea of a rock room, the intrusion of the chickens, and the nature of friendship. I am not sure these are conversations that would come up without having shared the book, and the themes are ones I hope help prepare them for life. When the second book in the series, Egg Marks the Spot, was published I bought one copy for the two girls to share. There were frequent questions about whether the first had finished so the second could read the book.

My wife was introduced to Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd by a friend from Australia. Dodd is herself a New Zealander and the book caught on there before it crossed the Pacific. It quickly because the favorite of our fourteen-month-old granddaughter. When she arrives at our home she immediately retrieves the book, climbs up on one of our laps, and insists upon multiple readings of the book. It’s wonderful rhymes and fast paced story appealed to her.

When the whole family is together for vacation I occasionally read a story for the entire family. Given the spread of ages I’ve opted for shorter stories and hope to see the length of books grow. I have old friends in books I want to meet again and introduce to my grandchildren. This summer I read a few of A.A. Milne poems to the family. About a year earlier I read the entire work to my eight-year-old granddaughter, reading a few poems to her each night. This year I was delighted to hear her proclaim that she had a favorite poem in the book and later I asked if she wanted read it to us. She was delighted to share the poem and her growing reading skills.

In the midst of very busy lives it is not always easy to find the time to read together. But if you surround yourself with good books, and keep your eyes open, the right opportunities will come.

We heartily concur: surround yourself with good books and look for the opportunities. Do you and your wife read together? What books have you and family members particularly enjoyed over the last year?

We each have our own lists of books that we are reading, and often we end up sharing bits and pieces of these with each other. One way in which we share in whole books is through audiobooks when we are driving together. Over the past three years we have done a great deal of driving. One of our go to authors is Dick Francis whose fast-paced mysteries have some connection to British horse racing. The miles seem to fly by as we hang in suspense for the resolution of the story. The historical novels by C.J. Sansom set in 16th century England are another series we enjoyed. Over the years we have traveled many times across the plains, and one year took our boys to all the places we could find that were mentioned in the Little House on the Prairie series. Prairie Fires, by Caroline Fraser, is the first historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and reading this together this past year gave us a new perspective on the Wilder books and the era to which they belong.

Is There a “Golden Age” of Children’s Literature?

You have many years’ experience with children’s books, classic and contemporary. Can you name a “Golden Age” of children’s publishing? 

That is a difficult question. One’s place in time undoubtedly influences how they might respond. I think it is too easy to pine for a previous age when all the “classics” were being written, or to dismiss older books and champion contemporary works that speak to the world as we know it. Both approaches are troublesome. 

When we look at books from the past we have the distinct advantage of having the lesser books curated by time. So it may seem that works from the 19th or 20th centuries represent the golden age. While there is much gold to be found in these periods, that age may seem golden simply because the dross has been swept away by time. 

The challenge of children’s publishing today is the sheer volume of titles being produced. The first children’s reading room in a library did not come into being until the 1890s, and prior to that some questioned the value of books for children. Now we see a completely different reality. Sales of books for children in April 2022 alone exceeded $181 million in just the U.S. Children’s publishing is now big business and it is far more difficult to sift through the lists to uncover the nuggets. That is why a site like Redeemed Reader is so invaluable. 

There are many gifted writers producing wonderful works today. Is it too much to hope that the “golden age” of children’s publishing is still to come? Meanwhile, may we please not become temporally provincial and lose sight of the older works that still have much to say to the modern reader.

Well said (and thanks for your vote of confidence in our work here at Redeemed Reader; we’re honored!).

Mark Hunt on Growing Up with Gladys Hunt

In her Introduction to Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt writes that she began writing “at the suggestion of our teenage son, who wanted me to share with others the fun our family had with books.” Were you that son? Do you remember making that suggestion and what inspired it? 

It so happens that I am an only child, so yes this was me! I don’t remember making the comment but it is in keeping with the conversations we had as a family over the years. What I do remember is my mother bringing me the first draft of the book and asking my permission to publish it. She felt it was our story and perhaps I would be uncomfortable with what she had revealed too much about me. I read it and thought it was great. If sharing this might help others, I was all for it.

What was a typical day like in the Hunt household while you were growing up? 

Both of my parents were deeply involved in the work of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My father traveled frequently, we often had people staying in our home, and during the summer months we were in northern Michigan where my parents developed and led a training center owned and operated by InterVarsity. Our life was filled with variety. I once commented that if my parents worked for InterVarsity, I played for InterVarsity. I grew up surrounded by university students and by exceptional teachers and I loved it. 

The one thing we tried to maintain in the midst of a constantly changing life was time to connect and interact. Following breakfast we almost always had a Bible reading and discussion. Sometimes I had to hustle to get out the door and catch the school bus. In the evenings we read a variety of books that included authors from Dickens to DeFoe to C.S. Lewis. My father was a lover of Winnie-the-Pooh and well known for his readings to college students as well as in our family.

Reading Aloud in the Hunt Household

Your mother shared some of your family’s reading experiences in the book. What are some of your most vivid memories of reading aloud? 

When I was about six, two children of family friends stayed with us for a few nights. In the evening we listened to my father read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can vividly remember the night when the reading stopped with the death of Aslan. The three of us went to bed reluctantly, and we talked long into the night about the story and where it might go. We were rewarded the next night when our suspicions and hopes proved correct.

Our family readings were often interrupted by my father’s travels. I felt it was unfair to continue reading in his absence, so we would pause the reading of the book until his return. One day he purchased a large reel-to-reel recorder for his work. The next time he left on a trip my mother pulled out a tape and I learned that while I was asleep the night before he had read a chapter for each night he would be gone. So via tape we were able to continue our reading even when he was absent. I suspect this predated audiobooks as cassette tapes were not invented at that time. Wow, writing that makes me think I’m older than I feel!

What a great gift your father gave you! What do you see as the greatest benefit of such an upbringing (specifically, sharing books together) to you personally? 

I shy away from a single “greatest” benefit because it is so difficult to rank the benefits. Reading together provides a shared experience of both understanding and emotion, and such experiences build powerful bonds. It broadens and challenges our view of the world and of each other. When this happens the experience of reading together provides a natural space to discuss these issues. If we do this, even in passing, we create an environment where such discussions can happen beyond the pages of a shared book. This process affirms in our children that their thoughts matter and we take them seriously. Good writing expresses an understanding of character and action with words more developed and crafted than we might express ourselves. It is a chance to acknowledge a thought well written and then to say “that is what I believe” or “that is how I want to act.” These reading experiences provides a shorthand for family members to both challenge and encourage each other in hard times. 

After I graduated from college I lived in England for a year and read a few books aloud with a friend there. This led to our forming a small group that occasionally gathered to read sections of literature, usually fiction, that we found to be particularly meaningful and well written. Those few hours provided more insights into each other and brought us closer than we could have been after months of casual meetings. Reading together has a powerful impact on us and our relationships.

To be continued…

Readers, be sure to check back in later this week for part 2 of our interview with Mark Hunt! We’ll discuss the process he went through for the 50th anniversary edition update of Honey for a Child’s Heart, some thoughts on reading in today’s world, and how to begin a read aloud tradition of your own.

P.S. Did you know we have a collection of Gladys Hunt’s essays right here on Redeemed Reader? Check out The Hive to read them!

Mark Hunt grew up surrounded by books and reading books aloud. He has read more books than he can count with his children and continues adding to the list with his grandchildren (and anyone else who will listen). Mark worked in publishing for thirty years as an editor and publisher. He lives with his wife, Marian, outside of Lowell, Michigan. He is pictured above with his wife and grandchildren.
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