During her 30-year career in education, Dianne Monson mentored young writers and future teachers while advocating for children’s literature.
All of those attributes were on display in 1997.
Early that year, the Anoka-Hennepin School District was asked to ban “Goosebumps,” a children’s horror book series written by R.L. Stine, from the school district’s library bookshelves. The debate caught the attention of local and national news outlets.
Monson, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota, had long stressed that time spent reading for pleasure was related to gains in reading ability.
In response to the “Goosebumps” controversy, Monson told the Star Tribune that her advice to parents would be: “Is this material any more frightening or lurid than what children are watching on TV? And do they monitor what they’re watching on TV as much as what they’re reading?”
Ultimately, the Anoka-Hennepin school board rejected the request that the books be banned, saying they had too many educational benefits to be removed.
Several months later, children’s book author and teacher Jane Resh Thomas told the Star Tribune that Monson had helped her get through a challenging period. After an editor gave a “scathing critique” of her book, “Fox in a Trap,” she was so paralyzed she couldn’t write.
Resh Thomas sent the book to Monson, who returned it with a detailed letter about its virtues, followed by a few gentle questions. Resh Thomas adopted that “praise-and-question” approach with her students.
“That sounds just like Dianne,” said former University of Minnesota Prof. Lee Galda. “She was a mentor for so many young professionals. She was so remarkably welcoming. She was smart and kind.”
Monson, of St. Paul, was a professor emerita at the U’s College of Education. She died March 18 at age 85.
Monson was born in 1935 in Minot, N.D., to Albert and Iona Monson. Albert Monson was a public school teacher.
She earned a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in education from the University of Minnesota. After graduation in 1966, she became a professor at the University of Washington. In 1982, she returned to the University of Minnesota.
In addition to teaching, she wrote scholarly articles and contributed to “Experiencing Children’s Literature,” and co-authored the sixth edition of “Children and Books.”
In 1993, she received the Arbuthnot Award, which is given for “significant contribution to the field of children’s literature.” In 1997, she was inducted into the International Reading Association Hall of Fame. She retired from the U that year.
“I had gotten to know her when I was teaching at the University of Georgia, through professional groups,” said Galda. “She really took me under her wing and helped me learn the ropes. She gave me opportunities to contribute to publications.
“When she retired, her position was advertised and I was delighted when I was offered the job. I moved here in 1998,” Galda said. “She kept in touch and knew so many people in the field. So many of her doctoral students are still in the area. She folded me into that group and made sure they knew me. She held regular lunches and a Christmas brunch for the group. I don’t know what we’ll do for Christmas this year.”
Monson is survived by her sister Gratia Lee; a nephew, two nieces, one great-niece and six great-nephews.
A celebration of her life will be held at a later date.