Two Prestigious “Best of” Lists for 2011 Feature Novel by Children’s Literature Program Director

whatwekeepThe director of Hollins University’s graduate program in children’s literature has received some impressive year-end recognition for her latest book.

Amanda Cockrell’s debut young-adult novel, What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay, has been acclaimed as one of the best books of the year for children by The Boston Globe, and has also been named to the Bulletin Blue Ribbons 2011 list from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

In selecting What We Keep for the Globe’s review of the year’s most notable writing for young people, author Liz Rosenberg writes, “Cockrell balances on the knife’s edge between comedy and tragedy. The depth and darkness of her themes makes an absorbing read for older young adults.”

Geared toward readers ages 12 and up, What We Keep is the story of 15-year-old Angie, who falls for a 19-year-old Afghanistan veteran suffering from both physical and emotional trauma. The novel was published by Flux in July 2011.

Along with directing the graduate program in children’s literature at Hollins, Cockrell is managing editor of The Hollins Critic, the university’s literary journal. A native of Ojai, California, she also earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hollins. Cockrell has published numerous essays, poems, and articles in addition to her novels The Legions of the Mist, The Moonshine Blade, The Deer Dancers trilogy, The Horse Catchers trilogy, and Pomegranate Seed. She has received fiction fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

“Goodnight Moon” Among Library of Congress’ “Books that Shaped America”

goodnightmoonA classic children’s book by a Hollins-educated author has been named one of the 88 “Books that Shaped America” by the Library of Congress.

Goodnight Moon by 1932 Hollins graduate Margaret Wise Brown is among the books ”reflecting America’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage,” according to the Library. An exhibition showcasing the list is kicking off the Library’s multiyear “Celebration of the Book.”

Published in 1947, Goodnight Moon has become the quintessential bedtime story, selling more than 11 million copies worldwide (the book has been translated into French, Spanish, Hebrew, Swedish, and Hmong). The New York Public Library named Goodnight Moon one of its “Books of the Century” in 1996.

Hollins celebrated Brown’s life and work with a yearlong festival that began in June 2011. It included the Hollins Theatre’s production of the musical stage adaptation of Goodnight Moon and a performance of the classical lullaby based on the book by the Hollins University Concert Choir and the Valley Chamber Orchestra. Hollins’ Eleanor D. Wilson Museum is featuring original illustrations from Goodnight Moon in its exhibition, “Goodnight, Hush: Classic Children’s Book Illustrations,” which continues through September 15.

The Library of Congress’ ”Books That Shaped America” exhibition will be on view through September 29 in the Southwest Gallery, located on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. This exhibition is made possible through the support of the National Book Festival Fund.

Hollins Launches Nation’s First Graduate Degree in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating

bear In the summer of 2014, Hollins University is introducing a graduate degree in children’s book writing and illustrating, the first such program of its kind in the country.

An addition to Hollins’ summer Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) programs in the study and writing of children’s literature, and the university’s Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration, the new M.F.A. will enable students who want to both write and illustrate children’s books to earn a master’s degree with concentrated training in both disciplines.

“This degree represents a marriage of courses offered through the M.F.A. in children’s literature and the illustration courses offered for the Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration,” explained Ruth Sanderson, program co-director. “The program will run concurrently and in collaboration with those courses.”

Sanderson, who has illustrated more than 80 published children’s books since 1975, added that students will be required to complete 60 credits over a period of four to five summers.

“The programs offer a uniquely diverse community including faculty drawn from the ranks of leading writers, artists and scholars from the field of children’s literature,” she said. “Visits from a nationally known writer-in-residence and an exceptional array of speakers are featured, and there will also be an opportunity to take part in the annual student-organized Francelia Butler Conference on Children’s Literature.”

In their final semester, students will receive a review of their portfolio and personal feedback from an art director in a major New York publishing house.

“Hollins is the first school to establish this much-needed degree for people who want to both write and illustrate children’s books,” Sanderson noted.

The inaugural summer term for the M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating will be held at Hollins starting June 23 and continuing through August 1, 2014. For more information, visit

(Image above by Ashley Wolff, faculty member)

Children’s Literature Students Volunteer to Help Young Ethiopians “Eager for English”

EthiopianProjectStudents in Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature have shared their talents with an international partnership designed to help bring English fluency to children in the African nation of Ethiopia.

Facilitated by Peace Corps Ethiopia, the project’s student authors each wrote an age-appropriate creative short story about 500 words in length. The stories were illustrated by Ethiopian artists and published in various regions of the country to supplement English language instruction in grades four through eight.

Peace Corps Ethiopia’s Amanda Sutker came up with the idea of matching her fellow education volunteers in Ethiopia with talented writers in America to develop stories for classroom and community reading programs. “While most English teachers and learners in Ethiopia lack the fluency necessary for effective English communication, they generally share the same sentiment: ‘We’re eager to improve our English,’” she explains. “What’s lacking within the Ethiopian education system is learning tools to catalyze skill development.”

Sutker majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing at South Carolina’s Presbyterian College, and knew of many graduate programs specializing in children’s literature. To find the best one to approach for volunteer writers, she consulted her creative writing advisor, who suggested Hollins.

“I emailed Amanda [Cockrell, director of Hollins’ M.A. and M.F.A. programs in children’s literature] in December 2012 to see if Hollins would be interested in partnering with us,” she recalls, “and after that things blossomed.”

Cockrell contacted student writers in the children’s literature program to gauge their interest in volunteering for the project. More than 20 graduate students agreed to take part, including Adeana Lopez, who Cockrell subsequently nominated to coordinate the Hollins effort.

“The response didn’t surprise me at all because Hollins people are simply that way,” Lopez says, adding that when a second email request was sent to recruit three additional writers, 37 people responded the same day.

Once the goal of enlisting writers was met, the project’s next step was connecting the authors with the Peace Corps Ethiopia volunteers. They shared local information such as common names, crops, holidays, environmental landmarks, and unique cultural practices, which in turn enabled the writers to produce engaging and culturally relevant English literature unique to Ethiopian communities. Writing was completed in September 2013 and story illustration was wrapped up two months later. In February 2014, the stories were printed and the compilation was distributed to schools throughout the country.

“Because the illustrations and publishing were completed in Ethiopia, all cash flow for the project occurred locally,” Sutker notes. “There were four separate editions of the book, one for each region (Tigray, Amhara, Southern Nations, and Oromia) that participated in the project. Five hundred copies of each of the four editions, a total of 2,000 books, were printed. The books were then evenly distributed to more than 200 Peace Corps volunteers stationed around the country to share with local primary school libraries and community centers.”

“This was a fulfilling, worthwhile project, and a chance for our graduate students to explore some writing outside of what might be their normal range,” Lopez says. “Many of them are already teachers, which helped them, and they received the input they needed to write a good story that meets the needs of these

Children’s Literature Graduate Student Shares Inaugural Manchester Writing for Children Prize

Ashleigh Gill, who is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature at Hollins University, has been named co-winner of the first-ever Manchester Writing for Children Prize.

The competition was judged by poets Mandy Coe, Imtiaz Dharker, and Philip Gross. Entrants were asked to submit a portfolio of three to five poems for readers aged five to 12. The prize was presented at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival (MCBF), which was established by United Kingdom Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The festival took place June 26 – July 6 and is the only event of its kind in northwest England.

Gill, who hails from Hinton, West Virginia, will share the £2,000 first prize award with author Louise Greig.

“The 2014 Manchester Writing for Children Prize was the perfect way to celebrate existing and new poets writing for children,” explained Coe. “The prize is the first of its kind so our fingers were crossed…but from Australia to the USA and throughout the UK, poets confirmed how vital and inspiring they found this genre….

“This competition was a joy to judge and it was fascinating to encounter so many perceptions of what poetry for children can be. It feels as though a door has been thrown open and the world of children’s poetry just breathed in.”

On the MCBF’s blog page, Coe said that there were specific attributes she and her fellow judges were seeking in the poems they short-listed and commended in the competition. “There were lots of things that we were looking for: Humour, seriousness, sound (we read them all aloud to each other). We were looking for something fresh, something that said, ‘Read me – and read me again.’”

Gill flew to England for the special ceremony announcing the prize winners, and was “jubilant at the news” she had won, according to the blog.

“It’s just wonderful to be here, especially on what is my first time in this country, and to  be among so many wonderful, breath-taking, amazing, beautiful poets.”

Learn more here about the Manchester Writing for Children Prize.