Approximately 200 children’s book authors, illustrators, and librarians from all over Minnesota braved the rain and cold last Saturday afternoon to gather at Willard Hall, on the University of Minnesota’s main campus in Minneapolis, to honor the 2012 Kerlan Award recipient, professor emerita Karen Nelson Hoyle. Hoyle retired in January after 45 years as curator of the University of Minnesota Children’s Literature Research Collections, which includes the internationally renowned Kerlan Collection of children’s books and manuscripts. The award ceremony originally was to be held in Andersen Hall, which houses the collections, but due to the size of the crowd, the event was moved to a larger venue in an adjacent building.
The Kerlan Award has been awarded annually since 1975 to at least one, and as many as four, recipients “in recognition of singular attainments in the creation of children’s literature and in appreciation for generous donation of unique resources to the Kerlan Collection for the study of children’s literature.” A few of the previous 50 recipients for this prestigious award are Wanda Gág (1977); Margaret Wise Brown and her editors and illustrators (1984); Madeleine L’Engle (1990); and Lois Lowry (2004).
Kris Kiesling, director of the archives and special collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries, noted during her remarks that the Kerlan Collection, which contains more than 100,000 children’s books – as well as original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, and color proofs for more than 12,000 children’s books, plus 300 periodical titles, 1,200 reference books, and other items relating to children’s literature –may have begun in the 1940s as Irvin Kerlan’s collection, but it’s now Hoyle’s collection too.
Jean Stevenson, a former student at the university who now teaches children’s literature in the education department at the University of Minnesota’s Duluth campus, spoke at length of Hoyle’s many accomplishments during her 45 years curating the Kerlan Collection. She mentored “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of researchers, visiting scholars, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers” from all over the world, Stevenson said, as well as the students who took her upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in children’s literature.
“I relished the times when Karen stopped at the table in the Upson Reading Room to ask how things were going or if there was something else I might need or want,” Stevenson recalled. “She was genuinely interested in the work I was doing and discoveries I was making. She had the uncanny ability to ask the questions that would lead to further discoveries.”
As Hoyle told PW after the awards ceremony, if there is a theme to her career, it’s a theme of “acquiring for sharing and for research.” Or, as she entitled her remarks to the crowd upon receiving the Kerlan Award from University of Minnesota Regent Patricia Simmons, “selective acquisition and purposeful sharing.”
Noting that this year marked the 100th anniversary of its founder’s birth in 1912, Hoyle explained in her speech that she would focus upon Kerlan’s life and legacy, “including his epiphany [and] the continuation of his vision.” After relating a brief history of the beginnings of the Kerlan Collection, Hoyle reminisced about how some of the classic books and other materials in the Collection were acquired, first by Kerlan and, subsequently, by her, and told tales of just a few of the more memorable visitors who came to do research in the collection. “There’s a story behind every acquisition,” Hoyle explained, showing off slides to illustrate her anecdotes about such authors as Emma Brock, Katherine Paterson, Eleanor Cameron, Stephen Gammell, Lois Lowry, Kate DiCamillo, illustrator Clement Hurd, and many others.
“As this curator exists, she dreams of continued acquisition and sharing of work,” said Hoyle, as she concluded her remarks, and urged the audience to return on September 18, 2012, when the Collection will mark Kerlan’s 100th birthday with a special gallery exhibit and program, which will include a chapbook keepsake for attendees.
As the crowd mingled, authors were eager to talk about Hoyle’s impact upon their lives and careers. Lise Lunge-Larsen, who came from Norway as a teenager in 1974 to attend college in Minneapolis and now lives in Duluth, told PW that Hoyle seemed like “a wizard of children’s books,” presiding over the collection. Lunge-Larsen credits Hoyle with starting her off on her career as a professional storyteller and writer: in the winter of 1975-76, when Swedish author Maria Gripe was trapped at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport during a blizzard and missed her appointment to speak to a group of 300 that had gathered at Walter Library (where the Kerlan Collection was housed at the time), it was Hoyle who suggested that Lunge-Larsen regale the crowd with Norwegian folktales.
Children’s book illustrator Karen Ritz, who moved from New York state to Minneapolis in 1979 to study children’s literature under Hoyle’s mentorship, credits Hoyle with building the foundation for a “supportive and generous” children’s literary community in the Twin Cities. Ritz recalled that Hoyle would attend author events and take photographs “with her little camera,” and then mail a copy of the photo to the author.
“It was so very thoughtful. It was like having a private cheerleader for what we were doing,” Ritz said. “Sometimes it was the only photo the author saw from an event.”
This isn’t the first or last stop on the awards circuit for Hoyle, who received the Bridge Award last year from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art for “bringing the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields.” In June, Hoyle will receive the Anne Devereaux Jordan Award at the annual conference of the Children’s Literature Association, for “significant contributions to scholarship and service to the field of children’s literature."