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). Click the image below to see the full list with links to purchase them at

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