The Hackley Public Library in Muskegon, Mich., was dedicated a Literary Landmark in honor of children's book author and storyteller Verna Aardema Vugteveen (1911-2000). Vugteveen (1911-2000) was an award-winning children’s author who based her stories on traditional folk tales from Africa, Latin America and other countries. Hackley Public Library and its librarians provided the setting and support for her research. Vugteveen is the author of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1976, as well as more than 30 children’s books and collections of stories. Among the awards she received were the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year Award in 1977 and the Parents’ Choice Award for Literature in 1984. Her books have been published in a number of languages, including French, Spanish, Japanese and Afrikaans. Vugteveen is known as “Muskegon’s Story Lady.” Vugteveen’s book Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain is dedicated to “my librarian, Bernice Houseward.” “I owe a lot to the librarians at Hackley,” wrote Vugteveen. “They obtained most of my source stories through interlibrary loan. All of the tales in my first book, ‘Tales from the Story Hat,’ came right from the books at Hackley Library.”
The Friends of Hackley Public Library hosted a special community celebration and dedication on June 12, 2012, at the Muskegon Museum of Art Auditorium. More than 220 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of Hackley Public Library as Michigan’s seventh Literary Landmark. Houseward, a former Hackley librarian, shared memories of working with the author. According to Houseward, the original tales were “written by anthropologists for anthropologists, not for children, and certainly not for American children of the 20th century. Verna’s talent lay in finding the right story that could be re-told, keeping them honest to the original yet interesting to today’s children.”
A troupe of children performed Aardema’s story Who’s in Rabbit’s House? While a rabbit, frog, elephant, and jackal took the stage, the audience participated by shouting out “ideophones” — combinations of letters that imitate sounds. These special words are a hallmark of Aardema’s books, and because of them her stories “beg to be read aloud,” Houseward added. GUMM, GUMM, GUMM tramped the elephant to the lake. KPATA, KPATA, KPATA went the jackal. Choir members from the Church of the Living God performed several rousing songs. ALTAFF past president Shirley Bruursema welcomed Aardema family members to the stage to unveil the bronze plaque that will be installed at Hackley Public Library. The emcee for the event was Martha Ferriby, director of Hackley Public Library.
A reception took place in the youth services department at the library, which is next door to the museum in downtown Muskegon. The African theme continued as trail mix was served from woven baskets against a backdrop of bamboo and carved African figures. Nancy Clouse, illustrator of Aardema’s 1993 Sebgugugu the Glutton: A Bantu Tale from Rwanda, signed books. Aardema’s story hat, which she obtained from Africa, was on display. It features objects dangling from the brim. This type of hat is an African storyteller’s tradition. A child picks one of the objects, and the storyteller spins a tale around it.
Aardema’s stories have been published in many languages and recorded by several celebrities, including Meryl Streep and James Earl Jones. Former first lady Barbara Bush read Who’s in Rabbit’s House? as part of her radio story time series on Christmas Day 1991, and Aardema attended a tea at the White House. Her books continue to delight children, parents, and grandparents around the world.
The Literary Landmark program is administered by United for Libraries. More than 150 Literary Landmarks across the United States have been dedicated since the program began in 1986. Any library or group may apply for a Literary Landmark through United for Libraries. More information is available on the United for Libraries website.