Have you ever wanted to take a deep dive into the history of children’s literature? Then the Bechtel Fellowship is for you. The Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship provides a $4,000 grant to a qualified children’s librarian to spend a total of four weeks or more reading and studying at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature of the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville. The Baldwin Library contains a special collection of 130,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950.
We asked a few past Bechtel Fellows to share their experiences with us. They had some awesome stories to tell which we will be sharing over the next few days…
Charmette (Kendrick) Perry, 2008 Bechtel Fellow
I studied scary stories in juvenile fiction, non-fiction and folk tales from the 19th and early 20th centuries in an effort to evaluate the lessons being taught to young readers through horror and to illuminate how horror has evolved in children’s literature. (Project title: “The Goblins Will Get You: A Survey of Horror in Children’s Literature from the Nineteenth Century”).
A dramatic example of the significance of scary stories in the lives of children comes from my own experience. While working as a children’s librarian near Atlanta, Georgia, I volunteered to read to children at a battered women’s shelter. Initially, I shied away from reading scary stories. I assumed the children had experienced enough darkness in their lives. Finally, an older, and wiser, librarian persuaded me to read “Tailypo.” The children were entranced and it became the tradition to read several scary stories. After a few visits, I was informed that the children had gained such a love of scary stories, they had persuaded their mothers to read them on other nights. Through the magic of stories, children can become stronger, braver.
One of the most amazing aspects of doing research in the Baldwin Collection was handling old books in various conditions and to view a variety of illustrations from the past. Even the inscriptions on the inside covers of the books could be exciting, including a science book for boys inscribed to a medical student at King’s College, England, in 1865. Researching in the Baldwin was like stepping back into history.
Receiving the Bechtel Fellowship was one of the highlights of my career and lead to the opportunity to do some amazing things. An article based on my research was published in Children’s & Libraries. Later, I was invited to serve on several ALA/ALSC committees.
Suzi Wackerbarth, 2013 Bechtel Fellow
My topic was originally “Manners” but eventually changed to “Chapbooks and Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library.” I initially got the idea to focus on manners by reading an article in Children and Libraries by a Bechtel Fellow who asked faculty what *they* would study if they could. (This was after I spent months and months trying to come up with an original topic.) When I got to the University of Florida, a lot of the books on manners were in chapbook format. When I first met Professor Cech, I wanted to talk about his focus of study, Maurice Sendak, my favorite children’s author/illustrator. One thing led to another after I got my hands on a copy of the Nutshell Library. I enjoyed the research and writing the article. I would return to do more research in a heartbeat if time and money were no object. Professionally? People enjoy reading the article. I hope to do more research on chapbooks in the future. It expanded my life, and I wouldn’t have traded those four weeks in Florida or the many weeks of writing the article for Children and Libraries for the world.
You too can apply to be a Bechtel! Please review the guidelines here: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/profawards/bechtel. Applicants must be members of ALSC. Applications and supporting materials are due by Novemeber 1, 2016. See a list of past Bechtel Fellowship winners here:
Questions? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair, Special Collections and Bechtel Fellowship Committee