The 2017 Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival will be a milestone when it marks 50 years of celebrating children’s literature April 5-7 through the annual event held at The University of Southern Mississippi. Hundreds of librarians, teachers and devotees of the literary genre from across the country attend annually.
Each year a prominent children’s literature author or illustrator is honored by the festival with the Southern Miss Medallion. This year’s recipient is Kate DiCamillo, author of The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, for which she earned the Newberry Medal and Newberry Honor, respectively. She was the 2014-15 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, appointed by the Library of Congress.
The three-day event also includes the prestigious Ezra Jack Keats Book Award ceremony, recognizing promising new authors and artists in the field of children’s literature and given by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. The EJK Book Award was co-presented by the New York Public Library from 1986 to 2011. Since 2012, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection has co-presented the award at the Children’s Book Festival.
“This year’s Festival will be an important and unique one. That we’ve reached our 50th is a testament to the popularity and scholarly importance of children’s literature as a genre,” said Karen Rowell, director of the festival.
“When you consider all the Medallion winners we’ve hosted, authors like Judy Blume, Maurice Sendak, Madeleine L’Engle, Eric Carle, and Beverly Cleary—people unfamiliar with children’s books are at least familiar with these names—it shows the impact of these authors’ work. And we’ve brought authors of this stature to Hattiesburg each spring for 50 years. It’s been a tremendous success on a lot of levels.”
The festival’s namesake, the late Fay B. Kaigler, was a longtime supporter of the festival who taught in the public schools of California and Mississippi for 33 years. She first attended the festival at the invitation of her friend Ruth Lamont, a children's librarian from Baton Rouge. In 1998, Kaigler generously funded the Kaigler-Lamont Award to be given for distinguished service to children by a librarian or teacher and on Dec. 5, 2001, the festival was renamed in honor of Kaigler, who contributed a planned gift to the festival.
Other famed children’s literature authors and illustrators scheduled to attend this year’s festival and give talks about their work and perspectives on the field include Kwame Alexander (The Crossover); Louise Borden (The Journey That Saved Curious George); Bryan Collier (Uptown); Pete Hautman (Godless); Wendell Minor (If You Were a Penguin); Pat Mora (Gracias/Thanks); Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Shiloh); and Andrea Davis Pinkney (The Red Pencil).
Under the leadership of former University Librarian Dr. Warren Tracy, the festival began in 1968 as the Conference on the Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing of Children’s Books. Two years earlier, USM professor of library science Dr. Lena de Grummond, with Dr. Tracy’s support, began securing children’s books and other original material to support the university’s library science program. Her efforts and dedication to this initiative are represented today in the renowned USM de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, which includes the work of more than 1,200 authors and illustrators.
In 1969, the conference became known as the Children’s Book Festival and began awarding the Southern Miss Medallion to a noted author or illustrator in the field, recognizing the significance of his or her body of work. The medallion includes an engraved profile of the recipient author or illustrator’s face.
Other past directors of the festival include Onva Boshears; Jeannine Laughlin-Porter; Rosemary Chance; and Catharine Bomhold.
“I have enjoyed the Children’s Book Festival from the very first one, and have attended most of them,” said USM President Emeritus Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas. “We’re fortunate that Dr. Tracy came up with this idea, and made it a winner from the beginning.
“It is one of the most exciting, unique events to occur on our campus and teachers, librarians, writers, illustrators, editors and others involved with children’s literature look forward to it each year.”
Hattiesburg resident Virginia Butler, a retired schoolteacher and writer, is one of those. She has attended the festival for 16 years, including through service as a volunteer for the event, and looks forward to it like “I counted down the days in my youth for Christmas and birthdays.”
“A highlight each year has been meeting face-to-face with writers whose works I used in my classrooms and hearing their stories and dreams – Lois Lowry, Richard Peck, Kimberly Willis Holt, Jerry Pinkney, and many others,” Butler said. “Each year has been better than the year before. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this 50th anniversary.”
Butler said the recent inclusion of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards ceremony has further enhanced the festival, giving her and other attendees an opportunity to meet a new writers as they emerge on the children’s literature scene.
“After winning this honor, so many of them have gone on to write other books recognized by starred reviews and other prestigious awards,” Butler said. “It’s satisfying to have been with them at their beginnings.”
Presented by the Southern Miss School of Library and Information Science, the festival features events open to the general public. For more information and detailed schedule of the 50th annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival and Ezra Jack Keats Book Award ceremony, visit http://www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival or call 601.266.4228.