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  • Writer's pictureDawn Smith

Children’s Book Festival Medallion Recipient Treats Area Children to Free Books

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Four people standing in front of a crowd, posing with hands on hips.
Karen Rowell, Dav Pilkey, Dawn Smith and Sarah Mangrum celebrate Pilkey's visit to Southern Miss for the 51st annual Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival (Southern MIss photo by Kelly Dunn).

Approximately 2,000 schoolchildren gathered in Reed Green Coliseum on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus April 11 to get free books from one of their favorite writers, Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of the famed Captain Underpants and Dog Man series.

Pilkey, the 50th recipient of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival’s top award – the Southern Miss Medallion – generously waived his speaking fee and provided copies of his popular books, while also giving out gift certificates for the kids to purchase more of their favorite reading material. He also shared with them the story of his path to becoming one of the most successful writers and illustrators of children’s books, and encouraged his audience to make reading an important part of their lives.

University Libraries and the Kaigler Festival also provided funds to purchase books for the children who attended.

Pilkey said he and his wife, Sayuri, are motivated through their promotion of literacy to “get kids fired up about reading” instead of just turning on a television or picking up an electronic tablet for entertainment. He said he knows young children do better in all subjects when they read more, but wants the motivation to be as much for enjoyment as academic success.

“We want them to read because it’s fun, not just for doing better on their homework,” Pilkey said.

On April 12, Pilkey was formally presented the Southern Miss Medallion by USM President Rodney D. Bennett prior to Pilkey’s talk for the festival’s Medallion Session, which was attended by hundreds of teachers and school librarians from the region and across the country.

Pilkey said he was humbled upon learning he was chosen as recipient of the award, made even more meaningful to him after he saw the list of previous winners, “people I admire and love” in children’s literature.

Seminary Elementary School first grade teacher Georgia Easterling brought students from her class to the coliseum, saying they’ve been excited about the prospect of seeing Pilkey in person. “One of the things we emphasize when we start reading a new book is learning about the author, so coming here to see Dav Pilkey makes it real to them. It’s good for them to see him in person,” she said.

Alicia Chavez, a second-grade student at The 3-D School in Petal, Miss. who attended Pilkey’s presentation at the coliseum, said he inspires her own creative pursuits. “I like to draw and write, just like Dav,” she said.

For more information about the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, visit

Story by David Tisdale, University Communications.

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