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Writing Books for Kids

Picture books that beg to be reread dozens of times are a unique and challenging art form. Molly Beth Griffin ’05 has published two picture books so far, Loon Baby and Rhoda’s Rock Hunt, which was recently released. She has a dozen manuscripts in various stages of preparation and another dozen or two that no one will ever see.

We chatted with Molly Beth about her writing and Rhoda’s Rock Hunt.

How did your Grinnell experience influence your writing?

I was in the education program at Grinnell. Those classes ignited a passion for nurturing literacy in children, which has guided my entire career. As an English major, I learned to read critically and write articulately. I use both of those skills every day, even though I didn't get to do any writing specifically for kids or teens in my Grinnell English classes. 

I think that my undergrad experience paved the way for my MFA in writing for children and young adults. [It] prepared me especially well for the critical component of my master’s.

How did you find your way to writing picture books?

I started writing picture books while I was live-in-nannying in Juneau, Alaska, one summer during college. The kids were in bed but the light would linger ’til midnight. 

I think I came to picture book writing through poetry, specifically spoken word poetry. I did a little bit of poetry slam as a teenager and I think it influenced me deeply. Since picture books are meant to be read aloud, they blend written and oral traditions, and they have a lot in common with performance poetry. Rhythm matters and breath matters and the sounds of words matter as we try to create a meaningful reading/listening experience. 

After Grinnell, I started taking classes in writing for kids at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and submitting picture book manuscripts to publishers. When one of my stories won the Loft’s Shabo Award, I decided to take picture book writing seriously and enroll in Hamline University's MFA program.

How did the story of Rhoda's Rock Hunt come about?

I have always been a compulsive rock picker-upper, and I've been trying to write a rock-hunting book for years. The first version underwent several revisions and got rejected a bunch of times. The second version went into a drawer and never came out. This third version was inspired by a camping trip my partner and I took with our son when he was two and a half and obsessed with throwing rocks into Lake Superior. My kids are always picking up more rocks/sticks/pinecones than they can carry! That common dilemma became the central conflict of the story.

What do you say to people who ask when you're going to write a "real" book, i.e., for adults?

I see my books as real books. I see kids as real readers. I see children's literature as an art form that is just as valid as any other art form — though possibly more able to transform, enlighten, enchant. So in my head, I reframe their question into “Why do you choose to write for kids?” 

I think that there is an energy inherent in stories for children, an energy that is tied to the way that kids and teens are always changing. Adults tend to stay the same, or transform very gradually in small ways over the course of years. Young people, though, are constantly outgrowing their old selves and trying on new ones, and that fascinates me. 

I love exploring the ways in which young people interact with their environments — how they let a place change them, and how they in turn transform their world.

Griffin has also published a young adult novel, Silhouette of a Sparrow. She teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Hearing Loss, Hearing Loop

Juliette SterkensJuliette Sterkens, a renowned audiologist with expertise in hearing loop installation, will lead a free, public information session about hearing loops, hearing aids and other listening technologies at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center.

At the information session, Sterkens will discuss:

  • how we hear,
  • what happens when people lose their hearing,
  • how hearing people can better interact with those who are hard of hearing, and
  • how hearing aids, T-Coils and hearing loops work.

In addition, she will answer frequently asked questions about hearing aids and hearing loops, including why people with hearing loss say that they can hear, but do not understand what they are hearing.

The session will be useful for anyone who is experiencing hearing loss or anyone who serves the public. Those in attendance, both the hearing and hard-of-hearing, will be have the opportunity to use demonstration equipment to listen through the loop in Rosenfield Center Room 101.

Sterkens is a Wisconsin-based audiologist and a national advocate for hearing loop installation. She has received numerous honors, including the American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award, and was named Wisconsin Audiologist of the Year in 2011.

She also is co-owner and founder of Fox Valley Hearing Loop LLC, which has installed more than 50 hearing loops across the Midwest. Now retired from private practice and loop installation, Sterkens is a national hearing group advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America. In this role, she collaborates with volunteers to increase awareness about hearing loss and the need for an increase in the use of hearing loops to improve hearing accessibility.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Rosenfield has accessible parking in the lot on the east side of the building. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

Ancient to the Future

Nicole Mitchell — a leading flutist, composer, and improviser — will present a lecture recital, “Ancient to the Future," at 4:15 p.m. Friday, April 24, 2015 in Herrick Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

Mitchell lives at the intersection of improvisation, composition, education, and community leadership. In her lecture recital, she will share her perspective on what it means to live a life in music, how music can change communities and how communities can change the world.

Mitchell, a native of Chicago, is a professor of music at the University of California at Irvine, where she teaches in the newly established Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology program. She was elected first female president of the iconic Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Chicago Tribune named her 2006 Chicagoan of the Year. She has received numerous other honors, including the prestigious 2011 Alpert Award in the Arts.

As the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Ice Crystal and Sonic Projections, Mitchell has been repeatedly honored by DownBeat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association as Top Flutist of the Year for the last four years.

Her music celebrates African American culture while reaching across genres and integrating new ideas with moments in the legacy of jazz, gospel, experimentalism, pop and African percussion through albums such as “Black Unstoppable,” “Awakening,” and “Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler.”

In addition to presenting her lecture recital, Mitchell will lead an improvisation workshop at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 23, in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, Room 103. The event is free and open to the public. Attendees are invited to bring instruments or their voices, and be prepared to make music.

Grinnell's Center for the Humanities, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Department of Music are cosponsoring the events.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

Be a Part of Grinnell’s Commencement

It’s a beautiful day for the 169th Commencement of Grinnell College, beginning at 10 a.m. on Central Campus.

Join us as we celebrate our newest graduates. You can:

  • Watch the live stream beginning at 10 a.m. CDT (GMT -05:00).
  • Follow and join the conversation on Twitter: #CongratsGC2015
  • Share your photos on Instagram: #GrinnellCollege
  • Follow us on Facebook and YouTube for highlights from the day.

Guest Internet access is open on campus from noon Friday, May 15 through Monday, May 18. Connect to GrinnellCollegeCommencement wi-fi; no password is required. For assistance, please call 641-269-4901.

See Commencement for event details and information about parking, shuttles, and accessibility resources and drop-off points.

Commencement 2015

Grinnell College will celebrate its Class of 2015 at this year’s exercises of commencement on Monday, May 18. The ceremony, in which approximately 400 students will receive the Bachelor of Arts degree, will feature an address by noted environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and the awarding of honorary degrees.

About Grinnell’s Commencement

Grinnell College’s Commencement exercises will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, May 18, at the amphitheater on central campus. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center, 1201 10th Ave., Grinnell. No tickets are required to attend the 10 a.m. commencement exercises. The ceremony also will be live streamed on Grinnell’s website.

About Bill McKibben

A renowned environmentalist and writer, McKibben is one of the nation’s most outspoken activists on global warming. He has written extensively about climate change, alternative energy, and genetic engineering. His book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book about climate change written for a general audience. His more recent works address social movements, consumerism, and shortcomings of the growth economy.

A native of Lexington, Massachusetts, McKibben completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard, where he served as president of The Harvard Crimson newspaper. After graduating, McKibben was a staff writer at The New Yorker. He has been awarded Guggenheim and Lyndhurst fellowships, and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. McKibben is currently a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

About honorary degree recipients

Bill McKibben will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree at Grinnell’s commencement exercises. Grinnell also will confer honorary degrees upon Mary Seely, Kit Abel Hawkins, Penny Bender Sebring ’64, and Charles Lewis.

Mary Seely is a renowned scientist with a history of work in environmental science, education, and policy in southern Africa. A visionary scientist and teacher, Seely served as director of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia for 16 years and has received numerous awards for her work on desert research and conservation. In 2003 she taught a short course at Grinnell on nongovernmental organizations and the environment, and her passion for fostering international cooperation has been critical to the establishment and continued success of the Grinnell Corps program in Namibia.

Kit Abel Hawkins is founder and director of the Arbor School of Arts and Sciences, a private K-8 school in Tualatin, Oregon. Established in 1989, Arbor is the manifestation of Hawkins' dream that education should be "decisive and enduring." Hawkins also established the Arbor Center for Teaching, a 2-year apprenticeship program in partnership with Marylhurst University for six individuals to receive their Master of Arts in Teaching. In nominating Hawkins, Rebecca Garner ’15 praised Hawkins for her "passion for a model of active engagement with learning."

Penny Bender Sebring ’64 is a senior research associate at the University of Chicago and co-director of the Consortium of Chicago School Research. After earning a degree in sociology from Grinnell, Sebring went on to study education and policy studies at Pennsylvania State University and Northwestern University. Sebring is widely published on a variety of topics including urban education, course-taking patterns, and school leadership, and is a Life Trustee of Grinnell College.

Charles Ashby Lewis is chairman of the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and managing general partner of Coach House Capital. A retired vice chairman of the investment banking division of Merrill Lynch and Co., Lewis is a graduate of Amherst College and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Together with his wife, Penny Bender Sebring, Lewis helped make possible the Grinnell Careers in Education Professions program, which is designed to help students think about the long-term possibilities of teaching.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Information on commencement ceremonies is available at Grinnell’s Commencement webpage. For any further information on commencement, please call (641) 269-3178.

Inventing the Female Nude

Professor Andrew Stewart will deliver the tenth annual McKibben Lecture in Classical Studies, “Inventing the Female Nude: Praxiteles, Phryne, and the Knidia,” at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, April 23, 2015, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101. The event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.

Perhaps the most famous statue of the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles was his lost masterpiece, the Aphrodite of Knidos, which was copied numerous times. The lecture will discuss the statue’s alleged model, the sculptor’s mistress Phryne; its consequent address to its audiences, both male and female; the messages that it may have sought to send to each of them; and selected episodes in its reception from the Renaissance to the present.

About Andrew Stewart

Andrew StewartStewart is professor of ancient Mediterranean art and archaeology and Petris Professor of Greek Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

Stewart has taught at the University of Otago in New Zealand as well as at the University of California, and he has held visiting appointments at The Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. He is curator of Mediterranean archaeology for the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at U. C. Berkeley, and he has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Crete, New Zealand, and Israel.

His many honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Distinguished Teaching Award from U. C. Berkeley. Among his extensive publications are eight books, including a recent introduction to art in the Hellenistic world, published by Cambridge University Press, and an earlier, two-volume study of Greek sculpture.

About the McKibben Lectures

The McKibben Lecture in Classical Studies is sponsored by the Department of Classics and honors Bill and Betty McKibben, whose combined service to Grinnell College and to the greater Grinnell community totaled more than a century. 

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. The Joe Rosenfield '25 Center has accessible parking in the lot on the east side of the building. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. Accommodation requests may be made to conference operations.

Designed to Kill

Joanna BourkeJoanna Bourke, professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London, will present “Designed to Kill: The Science and Art of Killing, 1914-1945” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

Bourke says “Weapons have a social life. They move in time and space. They have a trajectory. They create temporary and permanent cavities. They are designed to literally explode inside living bodies. Their effects on human and non-human animal bodies continue well after their energy has been dissipated. In this talk, I want to focus on the dark science of wound ballistics between 1899 and 1945. How has the science and art of researching, designing, and manufacturing weapons aimed at causing the most debilitating wounds in other people changed between 1899 and 1945?”

Joanna Bourke is the prize-winning author of eleven books, including histories on modern warfare, military medicine, psychology and psychiatry, the emotions, and rape. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, and Greek. An Intimate History of Killing won the Wolfson Prize and the Fraenkel Prize. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular correspondent for newspapers.

This free public lecture is the latest in the Center for the Humanities year-long theme “A Century of War: 1914 and Beyond.”

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Writers@Grinnell: Daphne Kalotay

Daphne KalotayNovelist and short story writer Daphne Kalotay visits campus for Writers@Grinnell. She’ll present two free public events on Thursday, April 16, 2015, in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center.

  • Roundtable: 4:15 p.m., Rosenfield Center Room 209
  • Reading: 8 p.m., Rosenfield Center Room 101

Kalotay is known for her novels, Russian Winter (Harper, 2010) and Sight Reading (Harper, 2013), and her collection of short stories, Calamity and Other Stories (Doubleday, 2005), which was short listed for the 2005 Story Prize.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Rooms 101 and 209 are equipped with induction hearing loop systems. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Earth Month Events

Grinnell College will host a series of events throughout April and early May in celebration of Earth Month. The free, public events will be focused on local food, volunteering and exploration.

The events will take place throughout the city, with a focus toward "getting rooted in the community." Featured events include storm drain labeling on Saturday, April 19, monarch butterfly waystation planting on Tuesday, April 21, and a workshop on permaculture on Saturday, April 25.

Some events will take place at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), including a woodland wildflower hikes, bird banding and prescribed prairie burns. Free transportation is provided from Grinnell's campus to these events.

For details, including a complete schedule of events and information about free transportation, please visit the CERA Facebook page.

Trustee’s Pledge will Advance Study of the Classics

M. Anne Spence, a 1966 graduate and a member of its Board of Trustees, has pledged a gift to the College of $300,000, one-half of which will establish a fund in honor of two of her high school teachers.

The Elson-McGinty Fund will be used to subsidize interdisciplinary team-teaching by faculty in Classics with their colleagues in other departments. It will also provide summer fellowships for students who wish to take accelerated summer courses in Latin or Greek so that they can take advanced courses in Classics at Grinnell.

The remaining balance of Spence’s commitment directs equal amounts toward the campaign to renovate Alumni Recitation Hall/Carnegie Hall, the Pioneer Fund, and the 1966 Reunion Fund.

“Anne Spence’s generous gift exemplifies reflective, outcome-based philanthropy,” said Grinnell President Raynard S. Kington. “In honoring those who inspired her intellectual growth, Anne is ensuring that deserving students have access to interdisciplinary experiences that will greatly appreciate in value over their entire lifetimes.”

Spence created the Elson-McGinty Fund in honor of Nathan Hale High School (Tulsa, Okla.) teachers Janet Elson and Martin McGinty. According to Spence, teachers Elson (English) and McGinty (history) fired her curiosity and instilled in her a motivation for lifelong learning.

“Through their enthusiasm for literature and for history, these two outstanding high school teachers brought their subjects to life for me in very special ways,” Spence says. “Although I was exposed to the Classics at Grinnell 50 years ago, I didn’t truly appreciate the relevance for today. Selected readings in the last couple of years brought me to an "ah-ha" moment, revealing the myriad of connections between that ancient period of our history and issues we face today. At a time when other institutions are dropping the Classics, I am thrilled to invest in students’ understanding of them now, not later in their lives.” 

Anne SpenceSpence, a Nathan Hale High School alumna, graduated from Grinnell College in 1966 with a degree in biology. After earning a Ph.D. in human genetics from the University of Hawaii in 1969, she received the National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina. She is professor emerita in the Department of Pediatrics, University of California, Irvine.

The Elson-McGinty Fund will have an immediate impact on three Grinnell students who exemplify the ways in which Classics coursework enhance scholastic and career goals: Ella Nicolson ‘18 is a first-year student who has already taken 300-level Latin. She will add the study of Greek this summer in order to accelerate her work on a Classics major as she also pursues a major in economics. 

“The support that the Classics Department has given me to follow my dreams and goals simply reaffirms to me that Grinnell is the right place for me,” Nicolson says. “It's something I would not have imagined myself doing before coming here, but now, with so much support behind me, it's an opportunity I can't wait to explore.”

Sarah Hubbard ‘17, a second-year studio art major with coursework in Latin, also has decided in favor of a major in Classics. Summer coursework in Greek will aid in that pursuit and allow her to engage in an off-campus study program in Rome during her senior year.

Second-year student and philosophy major Elijah Giuliano ‘17 does not expect to major in Classics. The study of Latin will accommodate his move into 300-level literature courses, assist in the study of medieval and early modern philosophers, and will provide intellectual preparation for law school.

“Anne Spence’s gift to the Department of Classics — the Elson-McGinty Fund — presents a tremendous opportunity for enhancing the role of Classics on Grinnell’s campus,” said Monessa Cummins, chair of the Classics Department,.“With our colleagues in other disciplines we will be developing new contexts for teaching Classics.  This initiative reflects Anne’s ambition to extend the reach of Classics from its traditional place at the heart of the liberal arts curriculum into direct encounters with modern disciplines and issues.”

The Classics program at Grinnell encompasses study of the Greek and Latin languages as well as the history, literature, art, archaeology, mythology, and philosophy of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Students can study in Athens and Rome. Majors in classics go on to careers in many fields, including education, law, medicine, scientific research, business, and librarianship.

“Our memories can easily be filled with the impact teachers have on our lives, and Anne Spence has taken the impressive step to honor those who changed her life,” said Shane Jacobson, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations. “This pledge not only honors the past, the investment will  also help ensure that the excellence of a Grinnell education remains strong because of the role of our facilities and programs.”

Spence’s pledge includes direct support for the ARH/Carnegie facility campaign. This facility houses the Classics Department. The ARH/Carnegie campaign will support an upgrade to buildings dedicated in 1916 and 1905, respectively, and that have not been thoroughly renovated in decades.

Anne Spence was elected to the Grinnell College Board of Trustees in 2001. She has served as associate dean in the graduate division at University of California, Los Angeles and vice chancellor of academic programs at the University of California, Irvine. An active teacher, she led research in human genetics that focused on neurological and physical birth defects. She has been a member of the American Society of Human Genetics, the Genetics Society of America, and the Behavioral Genetics Association. In 1979, Spence received the Woman of Science Award at UCLA, and Grinnell awarded her an honorary degree in 1999. In 2001, she received the annual leadership award from the International Genetic Epidemiology Society.