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Athenaeum honors author with book prize contest

Carol Otis Hurst reading a children's book, Four Dollars and Fifty Cents to her grandchildren Jesse and Keith Otis.Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Katelyn Gendron-List

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD Lifelong Westfield resident and children's author Carol Otis Hurst had been committed to children's literature for the entirety of her professional career as a teacher, educational consultant and eventually a critically acclaimed children's author.

Therefore it's no surprise that she was working on her latest book right up until her death this past January at the age of 73.

In order to honor Hurst's lifetime commitment to quality children's literature Ralph Melnick, assistant director of the Westfield Athenaeum has worked with various members of the Athenaeum and Hurst's family members to establish the first annual Carol Otis Hurst Children's Book Prize.

"It's nice that the local community is doing something to continue to remember her," Rebecca Otis, daughter of Carol Otis Hurst said. "What she wanted in children's literature is an author's passion for literature, the high quality of the story itself, and [a story] worth telling and told well."

Melnick stated that he worked with Hurst's other daughter Jill to create the criteria for the $500 book prize.

In order to be eligible author must have written their children's book within 2007, and it must "have a regional focus that deals with life in New England."

This criteria was stipulated because Hurst's children's books were set in the region and based on historical fact.

According to Melnick, the prize-entry books will be judged by a five-member committee after the entry deadline on Dec. 31.

The last book published before her death clearly illustrates her work within the genre of historical fiction. "Terrible Storm" was based on the blizzard of 1888, Dan Paquette, head of Youth Services at the Westfield Athenaeum, and member of the judging committee said.

"The winning book should be a quality book that will have some historical aspect," he said. "It should be something that was well written with a positive outcome."

Paquette stated that "Terrible Storm" is one of Hurst's most popular books he's seen children take out at the library right now as well as her book, "Rocks in His Head," a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book.

Subsequently when asked which book of her mother's is her favorite Otis replied, "'Rocks in His Head' because when she wrote it, it just came out whole. She wrote it in that way that it rang true immediately, and it was fun to watch her do that."

Melnick stated that he is encouraging all children's authors to enter in the contest. The Athenaeum will be paying for all travel expenses to Westfield to receive the book prize and conduct a reading of their work.

"We hope to get several dozen entries but it all depends on what's being published this year," he said. "It could be feast or famine. You never know if people are going to get excited to write about New England this year."

Melnick added that there are not restrictions on the use of the prize money, which was raised by Hurst's family through donations from family, friends and a contribution from her publishing company.

Otis stated that she hopes this book prize will inspire applicants and provide them with a sense of encouragement to continue to produce quality work within their craft.

For a complete list of entry criteria or to obtain an entry form go to For questions contact the Westfield Athenaeum at 568-7833.