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BENNINGTON — A children’s book with numerous links to Bennington County and Vermont has won a first-place prize in the international Purple Dragonfly Book Awards competition.

“Lady Lucy’s Morgan Horse Quest,” by former Southern Vermont College President Karen Gross, with illustrations and design by Dianne Sunda and Debbi Wraga, received the award in the Young Readers category of the competition.

The worldwide contest annually honors children’s books and their creators across 56 book categories.

With an understated pandemic theme involving families stuck indoors for a long period of time, the book explores how a Morgan horse, gifted to Lady Lucy and her magical friends, sets them on a quest to lift the town's spirits — enabling children to see how teamwork can restore the joy to the life of a village.

"As wonderful as prizes are (and they are wonderful), the value of this story is that it can help adults and children appreciate our capacity to welcome new friends into our circle and to strive together to make the world a better place,” Gross said this week. “It is a message we sorely need now.

"A simply told story is not just for young readers; it is for us all,” she said. “As Hemingway taught us well, simple stories hold complex themes in their arms.”

She said her book “can be read at many levels and displays many themes that are all beautifully illustrated and designed. The key here is reading and connection — to the story and to each other.”


The Lady Lucy quest series of books, which includes a tale set in the Everett Mansion on the former Southern Vermont College campus, has evolved with additions to the multiracial heroine’s team of friends, including Dillon the Dragon, Tapestry the Unicorn and Quincy the Belgian Sheepdog.

This time, they are assisted by a horse named Morgan — of course, representing the state animal of Vermont.

Consistent with the other books in the series, the story strives to engage readers in a quest, allowing everyone to follow the pathway to success and the “power of the possible.”

Once again, the book illustrations are by Sunda, who lives near London, but previously resided for many years in Old Bennington and taught at Southern Vermont College.

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Wraga, who designed the book, also has worked with Gross and Sunda on several prior works.

The book was published by Shires Press and is available through Amazon.


“This is a story close to my heart, having grown up with horses,” Sunda said in an email. “My art, design and stories center around animals that are the bridge between us and the harmony of all that is natural. I am privileged to have worked with Karen and Debbi on this book and trust that families who read the story will appreciate how great storytelling and horses can help to shape lives to create triumphs!”

She added, “No one learned this better than Winston Churchill, as documented about his childhood years.”

Horses appear in other of Sunda’s books, including, the horse Top Hat in “Puppy Quincy Loves Hats,” and in her current book, “The Search for Constable’s Rainbows.”

During her career, Sunda has worked at colleges and universities as a liberal arts faculty member and as provost in the U.S. and in England. She’s also the founder of the International Children's Museum Foundation, based in Surrey, England.


Gross has been an author, educator and storyteller. In addition to leading the former college in Bennington for eight years, she has served as a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Education.

Prior to that, she was a law professor for two decades, focusing on asset building in low-income communities. She now is based in Washington, D.C., and is senior counsel to Finn Partners, where she specializes in crisis management.

Her recent book for adults is “Trauma Doesn’t Stop at the School Door: Strategies and Solutions for Educators, Pre K–College.”

“This trauma-sensitive story is designed to be read to, by and with children,” Gross said of the new Lady Lucy book. “Adults can use the book to develop team leadership. Problem-solving skills and a belief in cooperation are emphasized.”

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email


Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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