Back Porch Book Chat: Mark Hunt (Author), Part 2

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!

Readers: if you missed part 1, do go back and read that portion first!

Mark Hunt on the New (50th Anniversary) Edition of Honey for a Child’s Heart

Mark, in your introduction to the updated edition of Honey for a Child’s Heart, you mention “purposeful reading.” What do you mean by that? 

I think I mean reading with an end in mind. This is a focus that recognizes that not all kinds of books and reading fit the experience of reading aloud in a group. Our family and wider circle of friends were constantly looking for those books that captured our thoughts and led us on a journey of discovery together as the stories were read.

So true: some books seem to work better as “read alouds” than others.

How did you go about selecting new books for the updated edition of Honey? 

This was the greatest challenge of the project. Once the hurdles to proceed with a new edition were cleared, there was relatively little time remaining to meet the publisher’s deadline. I began with a small list of titles I had been collecting over time. I then reached out to family and friends to solicit their recommendations. Ideally there would be been more time to expand and interact with this group. Web sites like Redeemed Reader and Read-Aloud Revival aided in the search. The American Library Association publishes an annual list of Notable Children’s Books, and I sought to cross match these with lists from the various annual children book award winners. At the end of this process I still had thousands of books, and assisted by reviews from Horn Book and other web sites I reduced the list to between 100-200 titles. Early in the project I determined that I would not add any books that I had not read and deemed worthy of inclusion. So I begin to track down books and sometimes shared them with others for their thoughts and opinions. America is becoming more culturally diverse, and I also wanted to ensure that the list included titles that reflected this reality. 

I know there are many outstanding titles that were missed, and I suspect that will always be the case in a work like this. The book lists are a starting point and readers need to make their own selections and then add to them.

We’re honored to be considered in such esteemed company! We check many of those same resources ourselves when we’re tracking down books to review.

What About Out of Print Books?

You mentioned deleting some titles from the original Honey because they were too difficult to find or outrageously expensive. Do you recall any books that were particularly hard to let go? 

Nothing jumps to mind. I think an example would be the Peter Spier board books because I so enjoy his art. He is, however, well represented elsewhere in the book lists and his books have a way of reappearing in new editions.

Peter Spier is one of our favorites, too. Do you have any low-cost tips for acquiring books that are out of print or not available at the local library? 

Often it has taken me time to find titles and when I find a good used book store it helps to have a list of titles I am looking for at hand. One’s cell phone is a great place to keep a list as it is readily accessible when you find potential sources. Used book stores are obvious places to find these books, and if you travel you may come across some good ones with a wide range of titles. The internet can uncover used titles, though many sellers are keenly aware of demand for specific titles. I recently found an early edition of Willy Pogány’s 1928 Mother Goose on sale for $2750! Library sales are another good source, though one must look through boxes of books in the search of that one desired title.

Wow! That’s a lot for one book! [Readers: Exodus Books is a great option to check for used books; don’t forget that if you’re a member, you get a discount with them. Check your member pages for details!]

Current Trends in Children’s Publishing

Are there any trends in children’s publishing today that concern and/or encourage you? 

I think my biggest concern is that publishing has become more marketing driven than editorially driven. The question asked by publishers is “does the author have a platform” and this, rather than the work of the author, usually drives the publishing decision. Television personalities are now writing children’s books that are best sellers, primarily because the author is well known. There may be nothing wrong with these books, but a talented author with a well-crafted first story hardly stands a chance. 

Another concern is the reaction of publishers to social issues that result in a flood of books on whatever the issues of the day may be. Often these are issues deserving a thoughtful story that builds understanding and values. My sense is that the rush to publish has resulted often more in an apologetic for the issue of the day than the kind of title we would call honey for the heart. 

On the positive side, there are more ways to publish than ever before and we have many gifted young writers who are finding ways to manage the changing publishing landscape. Communities like Redeemed Reader help to build awareness of these titles and add to the treasures we can share with our children and grandchildren. We hope to continue to find these titles and include them in future editions of Honey for a Child’s Heart.

What do you see as the greatest threat today to reading in general, and reading aloud in particular? 

Distraction. We have such wonderful digital devices and we too easily wrap ourselves up in a cocoon of entertainment. It is hard to put things aside and be fully present. Several years ago I worked with a small group of publishers in what was then Eastern Europe. One of the publishers there commented on a student who was invited to a party and declined by saying, “No thanks, I was planning to read a book tonight.” That seems almost shocking, but I doubt we will find a deep enjoyment in reading or reading aloud without making a concerted effort to put off the distractions and make time.

Guilty on the distraction front!

Mark Hunt’s Reading Advice for Parents

How would you advise a parent who hasn’t made reading aloud a family tradition to begin building that tradition? 

Begin in small steps and with stories that appeal to your child. Bedtime is a good time to slow things down, and if a story will put off the immediacy of bed the child will likely welcome it. As they get older you can expand the length of the story and start it before they get ready for bed. 

Another good time for sharing a book is on a trip. You will need to agree to put away electronic devices for a set time and in order to read together. There will be some resistance, games and social contacts are calling, but with a bit of persistence you can find a balance and perhaps a whole new area of family interaction. 

Above all, keep at it. Don’t be afraid to set a new “normal.” There will be good days and bad in the process, and you may well be surprised how quickly your children come to enjoy the reading time.

Those are good suggestions. What positive steps can parents take to encourage their children to read on their own? 

Introducing them to good books from an early age is a great first step. One of my granddaughters is on the cusp of reading, and having memorized some of her books she now sits and “reads” aloud. She knows reading from when she was an infant and now she see us reading, so she longs to as well. I cannot wait to see what happens next year when she really does read! 

Along with exposing children to books I think we need to model the value and importance of reading. If they never see us reading it is difficult to convince them of its importance. Of course once they catch the reading bug we may need to give some grace for the hidden flashlight and reading after they are supposed to be asleep! 

Future Editions of Honey for a Child’s Heart?

Do you foresee further updates of Honey? Could this be a family tradition carried on by Gladys Hunt’s grandchildren? (Yes, please!) 

I certainly hope so. My daughter-in-law is a writer and is currently working with a regional website for parents and kids. This summer her eleven-year-old daughter took a writing course at a local university. Perhaps we have a couple of generations of family trained and able to carry on the tradition of Honey for a Child’s Heart for decades to come!

Excellent! We’ll keep an eye out for future editions. Readers, be sure to read part 1 of our interview with Mark Hunt if you missed it!

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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