Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature and children’s book writing and illustration are honoring 11 alumni and faculty authors who have new books published in 2023.
“We have a lot to celebrate,” said Visiting Associate Professor Hillary Homzie, who hosted a virtual book launch party to recognize the authors. Their works range from easy readers and the YA (Young Adult) genre to a volume of essays on a beloved children’s classic and a novel set on the home front during the Vietnam War.
Seven of the authors took part in the book launch event:
Candice Ransom M.A. ‘07
A visiting associate professor at Hollins, Ransom has published more than 170 children’s books during a four-decade career and has won numerous awards for her work. Her newest, Graduation Day! (Penguin Random House), is the latest in her “Day” series, which currently features a double-digit number of books.
“I wrote a book called Pumpkin Day! back in 2013 that is a Step 1 Reader (big type and easy words),” Ransom said. “That was followed by Apple Picking Day! The next thing I knew, I had a three-book contract and the series just kept going. We’re up to 10 books, and now we’re switching to night instead of day.”
Graduation Day! has received a starred review from the School Library Journal, which noted, “Kids who are beginning to read will feel the excitement of a new school adventure with this delightful easy reader.”
Michelle Jabés Corpora M.A. ‘08
Previously, Corpora ghost-wrote five novels for a middle-grade mystery series and under her own name penned American Horse Tales: The Dust Bowl and The Fog of War: Martha Gellhorn at the D-Day Landings. The journey to fruition for her newest book, Holly Horror (Penguin Random House), began when her agent came to her with an unusual proposal from the publisher.
“They wanted to ‘Riverdale’ the character Holly Hobbie – take a series that is very innocent and sweet from the 70s and 80s and make it dark,” Corpora explained. But at the same time, “it was important to the licenser and everybody who loved the character to do it justice and not make everything terrible. They wanted to have it be a YA book, but appropriate for even the youngest readers in the YA audience.”
For Corpora, the project was challenging but also “really, really fun. I had free reign the whole time. I actually just finished Book Two (a Christmas horror book) a month or so ago, and that is going to come out next year. I am hopeful there will be a Book Three to finish up the series.”
Jessica Lee Anderson M.A. ‘04
Anderson’s new chapter book series sprang from the considerable time she spent outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I encountered a lot of snakes,” she recalled. “I used to be terrified of them, but I got some knowledge that alleviated my fear, and I became fascinated with snakes.”
Anderson was inspired to create the character Naomi Nash, “who wants to be an exotic veterinarian like her mom and change people’s perceptions and attitudes about snakes.”
Naomi is the protagonist of four books: Saving Snakes (“Snakes find themselves in some tricky situations in Naomi’s Texas neighborhood.”); The Mystery of the Ball Python (“Naomi finds a python that’s been on the loose and wants to keep it, but the mystery is whether it is an escaped pet”); The Drama Noodle (“Naomi has to go to drama camp, but she would much rather explore nature.”); and Problems at the Pond (“Someone finds a turtle and drops it off at a local pond, but it turns out the turtle is actually a tortoise, for whom a pond is not an appropriate environment.”).
All four books in the Naomi Nash series are published by Capstone and intended for children in grades 1-3.
Amanda Cockrell ’69, M.A. ‘88
One of Cockrell’s two new novels for 2023 was 25 years in the making. “I had been writing Coyote Weather (Northampton House Press) since somewhere in the early 90s, trying to make it work,” she explained. “I finally made it come together and finally found a publisher who wanted to hear about what was going on in this country during the Vietnam War, which nobody wanted to talk about.”
Cockrell described Coyote Weather as a “new adult” novel where the two main characters “are 18 when it starts and maybe 23 when it ends. At the beginning, the female half of the duo is attending a college in Roanoke called Carter Randolph, which may bear a certain resemblance to Hollins. People who went to Hollins will recognize that Bessie Carter Randolph was one of the first female presidents of Hollins.”
Writing as Damion Hunter, Cockrell enjoyed a second book publication this year with Empire’s Edge (Canelo), the sequel to last year’s Shadow of the Eagle (Canelo), a novel of Roman Britain and part of an intended trilogy that she said has largely come together by happenstance.
“I had just retired (as director of Hollins’ children’s literature programs in 2018) and I got an email from a relatively young publishing house in the UK that said, ‘We just came across your old Centurion series that you published in the 80s, would you like to republish those?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ After jumping through a lot of getting-the-rights-back hoops, we republished the series, I ended up finishing two other books, and then worked on this new trilogy.”
Cockrell’s advice? “Don’t throw away manuscripts, because I had the half-written fourth volume of the Centurion series in my basement. You never know what’s going to happen – that’s currently my literary motto.”
Lisa Rowe Fraustino – Director of Hollins’ Graduate Programs in Children’s Literature
Fraustino became interested in The Velveteen Rabbit while teaching it in her classes. She started thinking about putting together a series of essays on the British children’s classic a few years ago when she saw a list published by the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) of books that would soon be reaching their 100th birthday. Margery Williams’ best-known work, originally published in 1922, was included.
“They were looking for proposals from people to edit volumes on the books,” Fraustino recalled, “and in 2019 I drafted a call for papers on The Velveteen Rabbit for that year’s ChLA conference.” She gathered essay abstracts, and “though I had some really good submissions, they were a little too thin to make the kind of volume I had imagined. So, I reached out to several more scholars to fill in what I saw as gaps.”
The result, The Velveteen Rabbit at 100 (University Press of Mississippi), is a collection of 13 essays that brings a wide array of critical approaches to the book.
“The Velveteen Rabbit at 100 more than doubles the amount of serious literary scholarship on The Velveteen Rabbit,” said Margaret Mackey, author of Space, Place, and Children’s Reading Development: Mapping the Connections. “The essays in this collection explore the paradoxes and contradictions of this story and its reception, raising many fascinating new issues and questions.”
In addition to editing The Velveteen Rabbit at 100, Fraustino is among the book’s contributors along with co-author Maleeha Malik, currently an M.F.A. student in Children’s Literature.
Rebekah Lowell M.F.A. ‘19
“Birds are just a part of my life,” Lowell said of her love affair that began with ducks around age seven – she would go on to paint ducks on stamps between childhood and coming to Hollins – and listening to her grandfather’s stories, with which she was “always absorbed.”
Catching Flight: Soaring on the Wings of Birds (Penguin Random House), Lowell’s new picture book, began to coalesce when she took part in a Twitter event called Colour Collective, a weekly challenge where artists create work based on a single color. Children’s book editor and author Frances Gilbert, who first met Lowell while a guest speaker at Hollins, messaged her after seeing a bird illustration she made.
“She asked me, ‘Do you have anything to go with that illustration?’,” Lowell said. “I replied that I could come up with something and I chicken-scratched a poem based on that image and sent it to her. She wanted me to type it up, and that’s what led to Catching Flight.”
Catching Flight is dedicated to Lowell’s parents and grandparents, for showing her how to love nature, and to her children, whom she’s teaching to love nature, too. Unfortunately, her grandfather died just before the book came out. “I was hoping to show it to him, but I couldn’t because he wasn’t with us. So, I read it at his funeral. I hope he sees it somehow. I think of him with this book.”
Han Nolan – Visiting Associate Professor
A National Book Award winner for her YA novel Dancing on the Edge, Nolan’s latest book Running Past Dark (Simon and Schuster) is a young adult mystery about twin sisters, one of whom has died in what the police are calling a murder-suicide. “Scottie, the sister who is left behind, doesn’t believe what the police have declared, and her efforts to get at the truth and protect her sister places the town in an uproar,” Nolan said. “She’s trying to figure it out while coping with the loss of Cait and helping her mother through her grief as well.”
As a distraction, Scottie takes up running and enters the 60-mile Hellgate 100k, an actual race for ultrarunners that takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Natural Bridge, Virginia. Adding this element represented a dream come true for Nolan.
“All my writing life I wanted to write about running because I absolutely love to run, but I could never come up with the right stories,” she explained. “I finally found the right story.”
Running Past Dark also represents another achievement for Nolan. “I love mysteries, and this is the first mystery I’ve written that’s been published. When I first started out trying to write to get published, I started with mysteries and then veered off. I’m excited that this is a mystery and I’m excited that it has running in it.”
Four other alumni of the graduate programs in children’s literature and children’s book writing and illustration have new books this year but were unable to take part in the book launch celebration:
Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ‘09, Visiting Associate Professor
Clayton’s The Memory Thieves (Macmillan) is a fantasy adventure for children ages eight through 12 and is the sequel to The Marvellers (Macmillan), a New York Times bestseller that was her first foray into Middle Grade novels.
Bestselling author Rick Riordan noted, “The Marvellers deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world.”
Clayton cowrote a second 2023 release, Whiteout (HarperCollins), with Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. It is the sequel to 2021’s Blackout (HarperCollins). Both novels center on Black teen love and are intended for ages 13-17.
“These books have been incredibly popular and well-received,” said Homzie.
During the book launch party, Clayton was on campus teaching a one-week intensive workshop, “Writing Is Rewriting,” to assist other alumni in revising their manuscripts for publication.
Laurie J. Edwards M.F.A. ‘20
Edwards publishes under her own name when she writes children’s books, but she has also penned a series of Amish romance novels under the name Rachel J. Good.
“These Amish romances are USA Today bestsellers, and you can find them all over the country,” Homzie noted.
Edwards/Good is prolific: In 2023 alone, Amish Christmas Twins, Her Pretend Amish Boyfriend, Amish Christmas Kinner, Missing Amish Daughter, and the Amish Detective Benuel Miller Collection, which she either wrote or cowrote, have been or will be published by Zebra Books.
Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young M.F.A. ‘11
Gilmore-Young’s children’s book Chasing God’s Glory (Penguin Random House) is about “a little girl who is just really interested in an adventure,” Homzie stated. “The approach is from a Christian lens.”
She added, “There is a lot of opportunity beyond conventional secular publishing, whether it’s adventure or anything else that can be done from a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim perspective. There are a lot of big publishers as well as smaller niche publishers.”
A second 2023 release by Gilmore-Young, Breathing Through Grief (Penguin Random House), is “a devotional,” Homzie said. “She was able to use her faith to get through a very difficult time, and she enjoys helping others move through grief.”
Ali Standish M.F.A. ‘15
The Improbable Tales of Baskerville Hall (HarperCollins) is the first in a series of books Standish is writing about a young Sherlock Holmes with Working Partners, a book packaging company, in collaboration with the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“Her relationship with Working Partners began at Hollins,” Homzie explained. “When Ali was in my tutorial, Michelle Corpora was an editor with them and arranged for Ali to do an internship, which worked out well. Ali ended up becoming an editor herself and now she is doing the Improbable Tales project. It’s really neat to see how all this started at Hollins.”