Betsy Hearne, PhD

A leading folklore scholar, longtime book reviewer, author, poet, mentor, and teacher, Betsy Hearne played a pivotal role in ensuring the sustainability of the Center for Children’s Books and its Bulletin into the twenty-first century. 

Hearne graduated with a BA from Wooster College (Ohio) in 1964 and then worked at the nearby Wayne County Public Library, where she became interested in children’s librarianship. Hearne pursued studies in this field at the University of Chicago Graduate Library School, earning an MA in 1968 and a PhD (with a research focus in folklore) in 1985. During the years between earning these advanced degrees, Hearne worked at the American Library Association’s Booklist, first as a reviewer and later as editor of the children’s book section.1 As a result, she returned to the University of Chicago for doctoral study as a seasoned book review editor. 

As Hearne completed her doctoral work, Zena Sutherland was finishing her 27th year as editor of the Bulletin. She tapped Hearne as her successor. By this point, the Bulletin was a respected and well-known resource for librarians, who viewed it as an essential tool for collection-building. It had a subscriber base of 8,325.2

Hearne, who would hold the post as Bulletin editor from 1985-1994, made substantial changes to modernize the journal, including moving production onto a computer and redesigning the graphic layout to broaden market appeal. Whereas the Bulletin had always reviewed books upon their release, Hearne began working with publishers to obtain galleys, which enabled reviews to be printed in advance of or coinciding with a book’s publication. Finally, while Sutherland had written all reviews herself, Hearne drew on her prior experience at Booklist to publish reviews penned by a team of authors. This committee of writers met first to discuss books and then to finalize individually-authored reviews, which were signed with the contributor’s initials.3  

Hearne and the Center for Children’s Books faced significant challenges in the late 1980s when the University of Chicago Graduate Library School was forced to close its doors. In order to ensure both the Center for Children’s Books’ survival and the Bulletin’s close affiliation with an academic facultyーa unique relationship among children’s book review journalsーHearne helped to move the CCB to the University of Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science (today’s iSchool) in 1992.

In Urbana-Champaign, Hearne taught courses in children’s literature and storytelling, served as one of the first instructors for the new online master’s degree program (Library Education Experimental Program, or LEEP), and mentored students pursuing studies in folklore, children’s literature, and creative writing. She also continued to publish her own research and creative writing.4

Hearne’s years in Urbana-Champaign also saw an expanded mission for the Center for Children’s Books, one that extended beyond its longtime expertise in evaluating children’s literature. Starting in 2004 and continuing to her retirement in 2007, Hearne served as the faculty director of the CCB, a position that was established in 2001 and was defined as distinct from involvement with the Bulletin

Both through her work as CCB director and as editor of the Bulletin, Hearne transformed the Center for Children’s Books into a collaborative hub of intellectual exchange. Behind her strong leadership was an unwavering confidence in the value of children’s literature and storytelling, for young people and for communities, and a belief that all should learn from each other. As she reflected, “Listening is still the best thing I ever learned.”5 

To hear more about Hearne’s prolific career, tune into this oral history recorded in March 2012 by Kathleen Brinkmann, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois Springfield.

1 “Betsy Hearne,” in Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors (Gale: Farmington Hills, MI), 2009

2 “BCCB Circulation,” Betsy Hearne Papers, 1941-2017, Record Series 18/1/38, Box 8, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives. 

3 Betsy Hearne to Boyd Raymond, Sandy Whisler, Zena Sutherland, and the Committee of the BCCB, “Re: Changes in the Bulletin,” 1986, Betsy Hearne Papers, 1941-2017, Record Series 18/1/38, Box 8, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives. 

4 Betsy Hearne’s fictional works include South Star (1977), Eli’s Ghost (1987), Listening for Leroy (1998), and the picture book Seven Brave Women (1997). Her scholarship includes Choosing Books for Children and Evaluating Children’s Books. She also created the poetry compositions Love Lines (1987) and Polaroid and Other Poems of View (1991); “Books,” Betsy Hearne Personal Webpage

5 “Biography,” Betsy Hearne Personal Webpage.