Famous poet commits unique children’s literature collection to Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A world-renowned educator, poet, anthologist and advocate for poetry has arranged to give the Penn State University Libraries his 18,000-volume book collection and correspondence papers from his lifelong career in children’s literature. Lee Bennett Hopkins, a Guinness World Record holder as the most prolific anthologist of children’s poetry, has committed to give Penn State the collection, valued at approximately $3.25 million. The gift will provide Penn State with one of the most extensive and unique collections of children’s literature in the United States.

“Lee’s collection is an extraordinary treasure for the history of children’s literature and the future of children’s education,” said Dean Barbara I. Dewey of the University Libraries. “The resources Lee has compiled are one-of-a-kind in the world and are critically important to the Libraries’ mission of scholarship and preservation of important historical documents. We are honored that Lee has chosen to entrust Penn State with the collection’s future care.”

The children’s poetry and literature collection Hopkins will present to Penn State includes thousands of volumes from some of the most famous children’s poets and authors, including Nikki Grimes, Madeline L’Engle and Maurice Sendak, many of whom have autographed their work in the collection.

In addition, Hopkins has acquired personal correspondence with hundreds of other famous children’s authors, including Dr. Seuss and E. B. White. The correspondence is the result of a project Hopkins launched to learn more about the lives of these authors. Hopkins’ interviews were published in a number of volumes meant to show readers of all ages the real people behind their favorite stories and inspire them to follow in their footsteps. These original documents make up the second portion of the collection Hopkins will give to Penn State.

“I recognize that I’ve been fortunate to compile such an incredible and unique collection, and I want it to be available to scholars and students in the future,” Hopkins said. “People may never have the opportunity to lay hands on some of the correspondence and books I have in my collection. I want to give them that opportunity. I hope future generations — and the future of children’s literature — will benefit from what I offer. ”

The collection will be used for many purposes once given to the Libraries. Because of the rarity and breadth of the materials, the volumes will be available for student and faculty research at Penn State and could attract scholars from all over the world. The books also will be available to children from the community who tour the library with their schools or families. Students also will be able to use the collection to help prepare them to teach children with poetry and literature in the classroom. The books and correspondence will be located in the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library as well as the Special Collections Library, both in the Paterno Library at University Park.

“One of the Libraries’ foremost missions is to promote literacy as the foundation of children’s education,” said Steven Herb, librarian and head of the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library at Penn State. “Even in today’s digital age, literacy, orality and storytelling are fundamental to children’s development. This collection will not only reinforce this educational goal but also provide Penn State with some of the best resources to train future generations of teachers, librarians, and educators.”

Hopkins began his career as an elementary school teacher in New Jersey, where he discovered that poetry inspired, informed and connected with children of every education level. In 1968, after receiving his masters of science degree at Bank Street College in New York City, he became a curriculum and editorial specialist at Scholastic Inc., and then a full-time writer and anthologist in 1976. During his career, he has written and edited numerous award-winning books for children and young adults, professional texts and curriculum materials.

Throughout his life, he has advocated that poetry is an integral teaching tool. In 1993, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award was created, becoming the first poetry award of its kind in the United States. The award is given annually to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of poetry for children published in the previous calendar year. A panel of teachers, librarians, poets and scholars select the recipient each year, and past winners have included some of the top poets of our time, including Naomi Shihab Nye and Ashley Bryan, the inaugural honoree. Hopkins’ collection includes all of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winners’ works, many with autographs and personal notes.

Hopkins’ commitment will help Penn State University Libraries reach its goals in For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, a University-wide fundraising effort directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State's alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University's tradition of quality. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State's history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.

Contacts: 

Nicole Hendrix

Work Phone: 
814-865-2258

Nicole Hendrix, director of development for the University Libraries

Last Updated October 08, 2013