★ Roanoke’s secret garden: A summer of children’s literature at Hollins

While not locked away as tightly as Mrs. Craven’s garden at Misselthwaite Manor, the summer season of the Hollins program in Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Illustration offers a rich and underappreciated opportunity for the community.

With more than a dozen literary events spanning the six weeks from June 19 to July 28, locals can fashion their own free children’s book experience, culminating in the student-run Twenty-third Annual Francelia Butler Student Conference on Children’s Literature on July 22 and student and faculty readings during the session’s final week. This year’s conference also marks the second annual awarding of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature, a rare opportunity for children’s authors, offering a $1,000 cash prize for the top awardee. This year’s recipients are Adam Rex for School’s First Day of School and Debbie Levy for I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark. 

cockrellThroughout the summer session, authors, illustrators, editors, and agents will join the 35-50 graduate level students studying the field and honing their craft. “Each summer, we foster a community of children’s literature lovers,” says founding Director of Graduate Programs in Children’s Literature Amanda Cockrell. “That community includes local residents who join us for evening readings and talks. We enjoy welcoming the public to campus.”

In that welcoming posture, Cockrell and Children’s Literature Editor-in-Chief R.H.W. Dillard gave a brief look at the heritage of children’s literature at Hollins.

To begin, Hollins had the first graduate program in the country to combine the writing of children’s literature with its academic study. In the quarter of a century since the program seed was planted by Francelina Butler, schools across the country have followed Hollins’ lead.

Butler had founded the journal Children’s Literature at the University of Connecticut. “When illness threatened to prevent Butler from continuing her work, she made sure the journal would have a home where people cared about it,” says Dillard. “And Hollins would be that home provided the school establish the graduate program. You see, before Francelia undertook her work at the University of Connecticut, few people took children’s literature seriously. She really was the ‘Godmother of Children’s Literature.'”

“That heritage is part of what makes the program at Hollins special,” adds Cockrell. “Then, when you consider the beauty of campus, the intimate setting, and the opportunity to live in the hill houses during the session, it really is quite special. ‘Hollins,’ as the students say, ‘is their Hogwarts.’ It’s a place of tremendous growth, whether students are writing, illustrating, teaching, or gaining greater knowledge to improve a related career such as child psychology.”

The Francelia Butler Conference channels the enthusiasm the students have for the program. “They develop, fund, and put on the conference,” says Cockrell. “We gave them the charge years ago and they ran with it. It’s their event and they have great fun with it.”

Explore a garden of children’s literature this summer – or perhaps the right analogy is auditing a class at Hogwarts. Either way, join the children’s lit community at one or more of the following public events:

June 21: Author, blogger, and literary agent Eric Smith
June 26: Writer-in-Residence Kathi Appelt
June 28: Playwright Nicole B. Adkins
June 29: How a Picture Book Gets to Print with Candice Ransom and Frances Gilbert
July 03: Scholar in Residence Katherine Capshaw
July 05: Author Ali Standish
July 07: Author and Literary Developer Dhonielle Clayton
July 10: Author Amy Gary
July 17: Author Lara Saguisag
July 22: Children’s Literature Conference
July 26: Graduate Program Faculty Reading
July 26: Graduate Program Student Reading

Learn more about the Hollins graduate programs in Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Illustration here. For more information on all the events, visit the Hollins University Calendar.


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