52 Ancestors: Janelle Avenell

This week I’m going to jump back into the 52 Ancestors project with the suggested theme “At the Library.” I grew up going to the library at least weekly, if not more often. We moved around a bit during my childhood so the local library was sometimes large, sometimes small, even a bookmobile (library on a bus) for a while. Now I go to research libraries and genealogy rooms and feel right at home – and I remember my Aunt Janelle.

My grandmother’s youngest sister, my great-Aunt Janelle was born in Houston, Texas in 1926 to Bertrand Avenell and Honora Ryder (Bertrand’s second wife). She graduated high school at age 16 and graduated from Sam Houston State at 19 with a B. S. in Library Science and a teaching certificate. She then attended Texas Women’s University to complete a one year program in Library Science and went on to complete a Master’s in Education at University of Houston and finally a Ph.D. in Library Science at Texas Women’s University. Her dissertation was an analysis of the occupational roles women are given in children’s books.

Janelle married Otto Paris in 1946 and when she wasn’t in school herself, she taught in local school systems, including the one that John Glenn’s children attended. She helped restore neglected church libraries and won the John Cotton Dana award for her work with the First United Methodist Church of Huntsville’s library. She taught Library Science at Sam Houston State from 1974 to 1992.

In 1997, she fulfilled her longtime dream of serving on the selection committee for the Caldecott Medal. After reviewing over 600 books, the committee chose Rapunzel, with illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky as the winner for 1998.

Aunt Janelle passed away in 2009, but the Bluebonnet Award, a children’s choice book award for grades three to six she started, is still handed out every year. There is also a scholarship fund in her name at Sam Houston State University for graduate students in Library Science. She and Uncle Otto did not have children, but there are many libraries and librarians out there who carry her gifts out into the world.


“Children’s books are local woman’s forte,” undated clipping, about 1998, from unidentified newspaper; Barber Family papers, given to owner by Sandra Barber; privately held 2019 by Deborah Barber, [address for private use], Sunnyside, NY. probably from Huntsville (TX) Item.

2 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: Janelle Avenell

  1. Great article. Very informative and thoughtful, sheds light onto illustrious women of the past. Your aunt’s dissertation on occupations of women characters in children’s books is an interesting topic.

  2. Wow – she sounds like an amazing woman – I would love to have met her! Thanks for sharing her story and the photos 🙂

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