Over the course of 35 years, Shenandoah University and the world of children’s literature have developed a strong bond.
Every summer, teachers and librarians flock to the university to hear from children’s authors and illustrators at Shenandoah’s annual Children’s Literature Conference (CLC). The conference’s reach also extends into other times of the year, most particularly the university’s annual January commemoration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as it brings authors, illustrators and local elementary and middle school students together on campus.
While the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 CLC, it didn’t keep organizers down for long. During Martin Luther King Jr. Week 2021, they brought conversations with both an author and an illustrator of books about King’s life to hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, all virtually, via Zoom.
Shenandoah Department of Education Studies Chair, Director of Children’s Literature Program, and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D., said the two presenters were selected for very specific reasons:
“Bryan Collier was chosen because he is the illustrator of ‘Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ written by Doreen Rappaport,” Huff said. “Bryan received a Caldecott Honor Award and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for this book. It is one of the most popular MLK biographies written for children.
“Barry Wittenstein is the author of ‘A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired A Nation.’ This book was awarded the 2020 Orbis Pictus Award. This award is given annually by the National Council of Teachers of English to one book that demonstrates excellence in children’s nonfiction writing. This book is a study of the writing process and how Martin Luther King, Jr. synthesized the voices of numerous civil rights leaders in the writing of an iconic speech that continues to resonate today.”
Collier conducted two one-hour sessions on different days, and Wittenstein conducted one. A total of 399 teachers participated in the program, Huff said. “Most of the teachers shared the event with their students. Students attending the event were invited to participate by submitting questions to the authors.”
With the support of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, we were able to provide the webinars and bring the authors to 399 classrooms around the country. We estimate that we reached more than 6,000 students.”
Karen Huff, Ed.D.
The virtual visits provided a taste of a new, exciting effort slated for the coming months. “After the MLK events’ success, we will be offering 35 virtual events to celebrate 35 years of the Children’s Literature Conference,” Huff said. “The events will be held from April-June, allowing many teachers the opportunity to bring well-known authors and illustrators to their classrooms.”
As for the CLC itself, through which educators can also earn college credits if they so choose, more will be known soon, Huff said. “We will announce plans for the 2021 conference on Valentine’s Day, with our annual Book Love Valentine email to past participants of the conference.” So, everyone, keep your eyes peeled for news!