The 2022 Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference combined virtual author and illustrator visits and in-person conference days to celebrate “The Gift of Story,” starting in April and lasting into June.
“It was exciting to bring authors to classrooms and know that thousands of students had an opportunity to visit with some of the most popular authors in the field,” said Director of the Children’s Literature Program and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D. “The virtual visits offered the students a chance to see the authors’ home environments, and many of the illustrators showed the students their studios and some of the art they are working on for upcoming books, which is not possible in face-to-face visits. Also, individual students in classrooms from Budapest to Winchester had opportunities to ask the authors questions. When the panel would ask the authors questions submitted by the students, the first name of the child and the teacher would be announced, and students and teachers alike enjoyed having their names and schools announced.”
The conference had more than 2,000 registrations for the virtual visits which ran from late April into early June, and, later, toward the end of June, 160 educators came to Shenandoah University for two days of in-person events. The in-person conference featured Mr. Schu, author of the event’s namesake book, “The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of Reading Life,” as well as author/ illustrator Lauren Castillo, author Heather Fox, author/illustrator Deborah Freedman, author Trudy Ludwig, author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli, author Jonathan Stutzman, author Jasmine Warga, and author Alicia D. Williams.
Combining virtual and in-person programming worked well, according to Dr. Huff. “Many teachers have emailed to thank us for having the virtual author visits and have commented that after the visits, students requested books by the visiting authors when they went to the library. Teachers and librarians who returned to the conference for the in-person event were excited to be back in person. They thoroughly enjoyed the lectures, small group workshops, and talking with authors about their books during meals and receptions. More than 60% of our audience have been to one or more conferences throughout the years, so in many ways, the conference always has the feel of a class reunion. This year, that feeling was even stronger and more joyous.”
Joy also abounded at the return of the pandemic-postponed Rockin’ the Library, an outdoor event at Handley Library in downtown Winchester featuring not only several of the visiting authors/illustrators but also live llamas (connected to an author/illustrator team’s books), book giveaways, snow cones, cupcakes, face painting and a DJ. The event received front-page coverage in the local newspaper, and Huff said the guest authors were impressed by both the historic library and the community’s support for literacy. “They were honored that David Smith, the mayor of Winchester, was on hand to welcome them and present them with keys to the city as well as having Lenny Millholland, the sheriff of Frederick County, lead the police-escorted procession to the library. The involvement of the Claude Moore Foundation, Friends of the Handley Library, and numerous local sponsors made the event possible.”
Huff said the conference intends to offer a mix of virtual and in-person events next year. “Hearing that students are talking about and reading every book they can find by an author after the virtual visit is something that we want to continue, so virtual author visits will become a part of the annual Children’s Literature Conference.”
She noted that for 34 of the 36 years of the conference, it was a one-week-long, in-person event treasured by educators – a place where they could learn about the process of authors and illustrators and delve into literacy education. “Coming to campus each summer to meet the best and brightest in the field of children’s literature has become a tradition that we want to continue,” Huff said. “This year’s evaluations completed by in-person participants overwhelmingly requested that we return to a one-week conference. The challenge will be how to incorporate virtual author classroom visits with the in-person component of the conference.”
The conference is supported by the Claude Moore Center for Literacy at Shenandoah University and the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.