The Bechtel Fellowship is designed to allow qualified children’s librarians to spend up to four weeks
reading and studying at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, a part of the George A.
Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, Gainesville. The Baldwin Library contains a special
collection of 120,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950. The fellowship is
endowed in memory of Louise Seaman Bechtel and Ruth M. Baldwin and provides a stipend of up to
The 2022 Fellowship was awarded to Joe Prince, the Curriculum & Outreach Educator at Bowling Green
State University, Bowling Green, OH. His research topic is the historical presentation of grief and loss in
children’s books before 1950.
Elizabeth Burns is a co-chair of the ALSC Professional Recognition and Scholarship Committee, and she
asked Joe Prince some questions about the Bechtel.
Liz Burns: How did you learn about the Bechtel Fellowship?
Joe Prince: A former colleague from the university forwarded me the application. She wasn’t sure if I
was still considered a children’s librarian, but thought I’d be a swell candidate. I do still consider myself
to be a children’s librarian, and had recently read an article about the devastating loss this country’s
children were grappling with during the pandemic. That article got my wheels turning about a possible
Liz: What surprised you the most about the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature?
Joe: Almost everything I looked at and read was relentlessly grim, and though that shouldn’t have
surprised me, I was taken aback by how very little nuance there was in handling the topic. I also
stumbled upon a book called The Little Burnt Girl, which is about exactly what the title implies except
the topic is rendered in far more excruciating detail than I could wrap my head around. I swear I think
about that book on a weekly basis.
Liz: You traveled to Gainesville, Florida for your research; what was your favorite restaurant?
Joe: I once read that squirrels live their entire lives in a relatively small boundary. I’ve never fact-checked
that, but whenever I’m in an unfamiliar place for an extended period of time, I develop the instincts of a
squirrel. I bind myself to, like, three blocks and just hope for the best, food and entertainment-wise. So
I’m not the best person to ask this question. However, I ate lunch every day at Just Salad (I challenged
myself to eat every item on the menu which was both tasty and ridiculous) and I also really liked this
poke bowl restaurant. There was a great Vietnamese/Parisian fusion place, too.
Liz: What would you tell people thinking about applying for the Fellowship?
Joe: Don’t be rigid about your topic. Prepare to be challenged by what you will find, and don’t tether
yourself to any assumptions or ideas about where the research should go. Also, use the physical card
catalog at the Baldwin. At least for my topic, it totally blew the door off its hinges, research-wise. I
uncovered so much that hadn’t yet been transferred to the online catalog. Finally, neither the curator of
the Baldwin nor the reading room librarians are your research assistants: they’ll pull items for you and
occasionally solicit advice, but to be successful, you really must be a self-starter.
Liz: And finally: we are librarians! Give us a recommendation for a book: old, new, adult, children,
Joe: I’m a voracious reader, so how about one of each!
- Old: Little Burnt Girl. justkiddingjustkiddingjustkidding
- Old: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – it’s 1400 pages of soap-operatic nonsense.
- New: The Visitors by Greg Howard – a middle grade book that, as a gay man, shook me to the core.
- Adult: The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier – mind-bending and gripping.
- Children: Gibberish by Young Vo – every elementary teacher should read and share this with children, every children’s librarian should have it on the shelves and share it widely. An important and sweet book.
Liz: Thank you, I’m adding all of those to my to-read list, even Little Burnt Girl.
If you are interested in the Fellowship, the guidelines for the grant and link to apply are found here:
Applicants must be members of ALSC. Applications and supporting materials are due by October 15, 2022.
Elizabeth Burns is the Head of Reader Services at the New Jersey State Library Talking Book & Braille Center. She has presented at ALA, PLA, YALSA, and state library programs. Her articles have appeared in The Horn Book and School Library Journal. She wrote this post as a co-chair of the ALSC Professional Recognition and Scholarship Committee. Past ALSC and YALSA committees include the 2021 Newbery Award Committee and the 2009 Printz Award Committee.