Previewing ‘A Horn is Born’

New illustrated children’s book by Bill Borders is a fun diversion from the mad, mad world

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Sometimes even the most innocuous objects get their time to shine. That’s the story behind the new illustrated children’s book A Horn is Born, by Sandpoint’s Bill Borders, on sale Nov. 1.

The cover of A Horn is Born, written by Bill Borders with art by Melizza Chernov.

Featuring whimsical artwork by Melizza Chernov and warm prose by Borders, A Horn is Born is the story of Old Shoehorn, who lived a humble life backstage in a room where musicians prepared for their performances. Surrounded by musical horns who teased Old Shoehorn “with sour-note faces,” the hero of this fun children’s book gets his time in the spotlight after being relegated to his perfunctory chores of helping musicians put on their fancy shoes before the show. 

When the maestro snaps his baton and is in dire need of a replacement, Old Shoehorn is finally given his time to shine when he’s used on stage, generating ovations and encores from the crowd. Old Shoehorn is pleased when all the trumpets, flutes, trombones and French horns finally “had to follow his beat.”

Borders, who many readers may recognize as the artist behind the weekly Reader comic Laughing Matter, said he was inspired to create the story while noticing an old shoehorn hanging in his closet.

“Every morning as I got dressed, I’d see this old, longish shoehorn hanging in my closet; something I somehow ended up with from my father,” Borders said. “I wondered why it was called a ‘horn’ at all. Eventually I decided there might be a story in that somewhere and started writing.”

Coming from a career in advertising, Borders said there are many similarities between a great ad and a great picture book. 

“Both hinge on a fresh idea,” Borders said. “Both rely on the interplay of words and visuals to complete the message. Both tug at the heart more than the head. And both seem much easier to do than they actually are.”

Going from a “hotshot creative director to know-nothing novice,” Borders said he studied the craft, took workshops and webinars and enlisted the help of picture book guru and a former employee Matt Myers and his wife Maya.

A sneak peak at one of the wonderfully drawn pages inside Borders’ book. Courtesy photos.

After posting an early draft of A Horn is Born on 12×12’s Full Manuscript Forum, Alayne Christian helped prod Borders on to complete the project.

“Thanks to her ability to sniff the slightest of potential, [Alayne] reached out to me,” Borders said. “And the process of revising, re-writing, re-polishing and re-re-re-tweaking began.”

Written in rhyming couplets, A Horn is Born’s words pair with Chernov’s illustrations perfectly, painting the world of Old Shoehorn with a nostalgic glow. Borders said though it “complicated matters,” writing the book in verse was essential for the story.

“Shoehorn lives in a musical world, so, begrudgingly, it felt like the rhythm of rhyme was almost mandatory,” he said.

After the mechanics of the verse were smoothed out, Christian, as editor of Blue Whale Press, involved Borders in the illustrator selection process.

“We reviewed many cool portfolios and finally mutually agreed on our first choice,” Borders said. 

But the first artist withdrew from the project after four months and sent Borders back to the drawing board.

“What seemed like a huge setback turned out to be a major blessing,” he said. “It led us to Melizza Chernov, with her own cute but not cutesy way — even a little edgy.”

Chernov, a Rhode Island School of Design alumna, said her artwork is inspired by “the quirky and the unusual.” She and her five siblings spent their early years living in a project housing community in Queens, New York where she learned her most important lessons about artistic expression. She currently lives in Massachusetts.

Two-and-a-half years after it was first conceived, A Horn is Born was, well, born. 

Borders acknowledges that A Horn is Born is a, “little unusual for a children’s book: no kids, no animals, no heavy equipment. Just an old-fashioned, long-handled shoehorn who’s hung around a band’s dressing room for years, putting feet into shoes while putting up with taunts from all the ‘real horns.’ Yes, it’s a tale about music and instruments, but it’s also about bullying and bearing up under it.”

Early reviews have been very positive, with one reader writing, “I can’t think of a better way to introduce a young reader to the magic of music and tempt them to discover, like Old Shoehorn, where their musical talents may lie.”

Read more about Bill Borders at See more of Melizza Chernov’s work at To purchase A Horn is Born, check with your local booksellers, or purchase online. Published by Blue Whale Press, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.

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