English Student Wins Top Children's Literature Award

 Rachel Sakrisson during fall semester at Oxford

It was a fascination with her family’s Swedish heritage that led Palm Beach Atlantic University junior Rachel Sakrisson to discover the beloved Scandinavian children’s book author and illustrator Elsa Beskow.

That unexpected literary discovery will culminate in a milestone moment this month when Sakrisson receives the Carol Gay Award from the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) at its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, for a paper she wrote on Beskow.

Sakrisson will present her winning paper, “The Giving Trees: Elsa Beskow, Ecocriticism and the Benevolent Forest,” at the literary conference running June 28-30, where she’ll also officially accept the national award.

“It talks about the environment in children’s literature,” said Sakrisson Wednesday in describing the paper.

A renowned literary figure in Sweden, Beskow has often been described as Scandinavia’s 'Beatrix Potter,' a nod to the best-selling British illustrator, conservationist and author of several children’s book including “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and other popular titles.

“It’s a real insightful project,” said Dr. Carl Miller, assistant professor of English of Sakrisson’s paper, which offers a ground-breaking assessment of the environment in children’s literature and culture. “It has the beginnings of a significant graduate dissertation.”

Annually the Carol Gay Award recognizes outstanding papers on children’s literature by undergraduate students from across the nation, according to the ChLA. The award includes a cash prize, certificate and a complimentary annual membership. 

“[It's] a very big award as many of the major names in the field send their best undergraduate work to compete in this contest every year,” noted Miller, Sakrisson’s faculty sponsor.

"The essay was a pleasure to read, clearly written and beautifully argued," said Katharine Capshaw, ChLA's president-elect and a University of Connecticut professor, of Sakrisson's paper. "We heartily encourage Ms. Sakrisson to continue her work as a critic in the field of children's literature."

The ChLA award is among a trio of literary honors the 20-year-old PBA English major and French minor student has won this year.

In March at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society convention in Ohio, Sakrisson won first place in British Literature for her critical essay “Iago, Othello and the Languages of Passivity and Activity,” which came with a $600 prize. 

Sakrisson said she didn’t think her Othello essay had been good enough to get her accepted into the Sigma Tau Delta convention to present, let alone earn the top prize.  Her win was a major coup for PBA as it was the first time a student had taken an overall first place at this Sigma Tau convention where participants from more than 200 universities compete with their critical and creative works.  

In all eight PBA English Honor Society members participated in the conference, which Miller described as “an unprecedentedly large group,” and is a testament to the professionalism and caliber of their work. 

 PBA Sigma Tau Delta chapter members at conference

PBA senior Rita Rivera won an honorable mention for her creative piece “Pablo Nuestro,” about the culture of domestic violence in her native Honduras.  Rivera, who graduated in May, was the second PBA student to ever win in that convention category.  She also won a Sigma Tau Delta leadership award. Others conference attendees were Victoria Randall, Abigail Skinner, Jacob Hawk, Therese Hair, Isabella Lindh and Alexandra Gomez.

Sakrisson learned that same week she had received a SCIO de Jager prize for outstanding scholarly work done during an undergraduate research seminar at Oxford University last fall.

“This happened all in the span of three days,” said Sakrisson, amazed by the back-to-back good news. 

Still despite these recent successes, the 3.9 GPA student and rising senior is keeping it all in perspective.

“Life’s not too much different,” she chuckled, adding that her parents although proud of her achievements were helping in that effort by being “careful not to give me a big head.”

Professor Miller however isn’t hesitant to sing Sakrisson's praise.

“She’s truly one of the most talented students I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” he said. 

In fact Miller said he’s thrilled overall with the strong performance of PBA’s Sigma Tau Delta chapter members and thankful for the support from the University's community, which has enabled them to attend the March and June conventions. 

“It’s particularly important at a small school like PBA for students to be able to compete in these major competitions,” he said. “I’m very, very proud of what these members have done at Sigma Tau Delta and ChLA.  It reflects the quality, strength and depth of the students here at PBA.”