Moundsville Author Aims to Encourage Civic Engagement


Hilary Kinney hopes a book she’s written will get young people excited about civic engagement and their government.

The John Marshall High School and West Virginia University graduate recently started a Kickstarter campaign for her new children’s book, “Penelope’s Petition.” The story follows 11-year-old Penelope and her friend, Alex, as they attempt to save their local park.

In the story, East End Park, a place Kinney remembers from her own childhood in Moundsville, is being shut down by the town’s local government. Penelope decides she wants to defend the park. After learning about the First Amendment in class, she drafts a petition looking for others to sympathize with her.

By the end of the book, Penelope has an opportunity to sit in on a city council meeting where she successfully presents the petition. The book aims to promote messages of team work, First Amendments rights and civic health and responsibility.

Voter turnout in people ages 18 to 26 is nearly 25 percent less than that of voters 65 and older. Kinney hopes to improve this number by starting conversation about political activism with young children by ensuring they understand its importance by the time they reach voting age.

“I was raised in Moundsville, so going to school in Morgantown was different,” said Kinney. “It was a lot bigger and I learned a lot about how to involve and connect community members. I realized I wish I would’ve been taught those concepts as a young person or even a child. Through the book, I’m telling Penelope’s story as well as my own.”

Kinney began the Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the publication and the pending costs of her illustrator.

“I am independently publishing, and my motivation is to get the book out as quickly as I can,” she said. “I want to help get it into homes and schools in West Virginia. I haven’t ruled out going with a publication company, but I wanted the book to be community-backed and wanted people to feel as though they are helping spread the message.

“My two motivators were time and community,” Kinney said.

Depending on the size of the donation, participants can receive an autographed copy of the book, an MP3 audio read-along version of the book or an in-person visit from the author. Although Kickstarter applies a fee to donations, funds will only be taken if the goal amount — $5,000 — is reached.

Kinney graduated from WVU in May of 2017 with a degree in Journalism. She works for a nonprofit called Inspire U.S., which encourages voter registration from high-school students. Inspire U.S. is a nonpartisan group that operates in eight states, including West Virginia. Through the program 1,500 student volunteers have helped register to vote more than 50,000 high-school students. Kinney works with students in northern regions of West Virginia and in a few schools in Pennsylvania as a regional manager and community organizer.

Kinney also holds the title of Miss Kanawha Valley, a local title in the Miss West Virginia Scholarship Organization.

Through this platform, she promotes her central message “Your vote, your voice,” and hopes to strengthen the civil engagement of West Virginians.

“I’m actually competing for the Miss West Virginia title soon,” she said. “If I win, I would use that as a way to promote my book and my message.”

Even if she doesn’t win a title, Kinney said she plans on doing a book tour.

“Part of the Kickstarter funds go into producing books that I can leave in schools, and I think it’s an amazing experience for kids to meet someone who wrote a book,” Kinney said.

She said she hopes her books eventually will appear in schools and homes across West Virginia.

To donate to Kinney’s Kickstarter campaign, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/penelopes petition/penelopes-petition.


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