Hollins University has honored a first-time author as the winner of the fourth annual Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature.
John Sullivan will receive an engraved medal and a $1,000 cash prize for his debut children’s book, Kitten and the Night Watchman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo and published by Simon & Schuster. The work is inspired by the true story of Sullivan, a City of Chicago buildings and equipment guard, and his encounter with a cat that would become his companion for 17 years.
In the book, a watchman bonds with a stray kitten that keeps him company as he makes his rounds at a construction site. After remaining together through the night, the watchman decides to take the kitten with him when he returns home to his family.
Kitten and the Night Watchman was selected as a Best Book of 2018 by The Boston Globe, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Bookpage. In its starred review, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said, “This soft, gentle story is a perfect bedtime story for lovers of trucks and construction equipment, cats, and nighttime wanders.”
The judges for this year’s prize also named two Honor Books: Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, published by Chronicle Books, and Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña, published by Penguin Young Readers. The judges considered both to be “outstanding examples of picture book writing” in the tradition of Margaret Wise Brown.
Each year, Hollins invites nominations for the prize from children’s book publishers located across the country and around the world. A three-judge panel, consisting of established picture book authors, reviews the nominations and chooses a winner.
Hollins established the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature as a way to pay tribute to one of its best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors. The cash prizes are made possible by an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancé at the time of her death.
“The Margaret Wise Brown Prize is one of the few children’s book awards that has a cash prize attached,” said Lisa Rowe Fraustino, director of the graduate programs in children’s literature at Hollins.
The engraved medal presented to the winners was conceived by award-winning sculptor, painter, and Hollins alumna Betty Branch of Roanoke. Winners and Honor Book recipients are presented an original linocut certificate designed and donated by Ashley Wolff, author and/or illustrator of over 50 children’s books. Winners are invited to accept the award and speak on campus during the summer session of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature.
Margaret Wise Brown graduated from Hollins in 1932 and went on to write Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and other children’s classics before she died in 1952. Hollins celebrated her life and work with a year-long Margaret Wise Brown Festival in 2011 and 2012, which featured stage and musical adaptations of her work along with readings, workshops, guest lectures, and other activities for all ages.
The study of children’s literature as a scholarly experience was initiated at Hollins in 1973; in 1992, the graduate program in children’s literature was founded. Today, Hollins offers summer M.A. and M.F.A. programs exclusively in the study and writing of children’s literature, an M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating, and a graduate-level certificate in children’s book illustration.
This summer, Hollins’ children’s literature program will release information on how to submit books for consideration for the 2020 Margaret Wise Brown Prize.