Vicky at Hollins

I invited my friend Vicky Alvear Shecter to come talk to my classes at Hollins University because she's an amazing author and a Docent at the Carlos Museum at Emory University, which is all because she's an expert in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology.
She gave an amazing talk to my "Figure of the Goddess" class on the supression of the Goddess in mythology.
And she helped the budding writers in my Children's book writing course. But we also did a whole lot of playing! We went shopping at my all time favorite store in the world, La de da, which I'm happy to say survived the pandemic. They had an awesome display of a dress made entirely out of candy!

We went to brush a horse up at the barn. Here we are...
and here she is.
We took so many walks around campus and saw so many fun critters. We had a wonderful few days. I miss living close to each other and am so glad we were able to share the Hollins magic!

Hollins - We're Back!

After two years online, we are back in person to our gorgeous Hollins campus for the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating programs. We had a new inaugural event this year - placing the story book characters (created by Ashley Wolff) all around campus. Everyone got to choose a fave, then go find a fun spot to display them. It was a great way to get to know campus; and now, we have beloved children's book characters all over the grounds - SO FUN!

Back to the Beautiful Hollins Campus

How is it possible I forgot how beautiful it is at Hollins University? During the drive up I grew giddy as the Appalachians unfolded before me. Mountains and hills rolled in compact layers with light dappling across them, creating every shade of green and blue imaginable. Hollins itself is kept so pristine, it is simply a healing landscape.
I was happy to see some new art on campus this year.
The deer are still here and as unafraid of us humans as ever. I have seen them sleeping in the grass several times, they could care less about me!
And while I haven't seen any muskrats yet, there are a TON of groundhogs this year - they are all doing the Caddyshack dance:
I helped a luna moth caterpillar move up in the world (I think it was a luna moth caterpillar):
And I've seen a Green Heron, a Blue Heron, and a Kingfisher so far. Here's one of the herons.
Stan is coming up every now and then with his bike and has been riding all over Tinker Mountain—he even saw a bear! (It was also a little bit muddy!)
Truly, walks every morning with long-separated friends on this beautiful campus has been absolutely soul-fulfilling!

Curating the Margaret Wise Brown Prize Books

As my long-time readers know, I teach in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating programs at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia every summer. Before the pandemic, I used to arrive a week early to host a workshop on "Picture Book Trends." A large portion of the workshop was going through the marvelous books publishers sent us as submissions for the Margaret Wise Brown Prize (she was an alum). (There is no better way to become a writer than to read, read, read.) One copy of each book submission goes to the judges, and one copy goes to Hollins. However, with the pandemic, we couldn't host the workshop; so the copies we received were piling up, uncurated.
     It's an incredible resource for our university; however, we can't possibly keep all of the books we receive. So, it's my job to go through the books and pull out the best of them all to be added to our permanent collection. With three-years-worth, I had over 600 books to read and evaluate. 600!!! So, I sat and read, and read, and read for a week! It was hands down the most difficult and most enjoyable job I've ever had! And boy, did I learn a lot! (I'm working on some articles to report my findings.)
     What made it so difficult is that, as the prize has garnered more attention and been awarded to some truly spectacular books over the years, the submissions have just gotten better and better. The books I turned away weren't necessarily bad, they were just perhaps for a singular reader, or a little outside the purview of the study, or there were more than one book on a topic, etc. Choosing was painful in many cases!
     I first divided each year's submissions into theme categories so that I can collect the data for trend-tracking. Then I pulled out the "must keep" books and placed stickie notes in them identifying their theme. I created "must keep" stacks and "maybe" stacks. The rest remained in theme piles to be distributed to local schools and libraries soon.
     I hope to have my findings collated soon and will let you know where you can read all about them in detail. Meanwhile, these were my absolute favorites (I added a few more later):

Children's Literature Association Conference (ChLA) - Atlanta

I recently attended my first ChLA conference - shocking, I know! This conference is for the academic side of studying children's books. Scholars gather from all over the country (and the world) to share papers and discuss the evolution of the scholarship. This year's theme was "City in the Forest" since it was held in Atlanta. The obvious topic being about climate change; although these guidelines are always widely interpreted. My talk was called "Employing The Nature of Tricksters to Discuss Climate Change in Children’s Literature." I used three fantastic picture books to make my case: We are the Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade, published by Roaring Brook Press (2020); The Mess That We Made, written by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman, published by Flashlight Press (2020); and Our House is on Fire, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, published by Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster (2019).
     Happily, my paper was in the very last time slot; although, it was better attended than I expected. (Despite my long history with children's books, I'm fairly new to academic conferences like this.) Here I am just before my talk:
Happily, I received some interest from an academic publisher after the event and we're having some exciting conversations. More on that later!
     The papers and presentations were fascinating. It's exciting to see better representation and awareness of the need for it being so adamently pursued. Of course, my favorite part of conferences is catching up with old and new friends—several attendees had been visiting academic-in-residence at Hollins University, so I knew quite a few.
     Next year's event will be all the way across the country in Seattle, so I'm not sure I'll be able to make that one; but it was an interesting and wonderful experince doing this one!