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Ashley Bryan’s Stories Are Alive in Atlanta!

Anything you can do that can stimulate the imagination of another…is the most exciting thing you can do as an artist.  ~Ashley Bryan

With 50 books to his credit, Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ashley Bryan creates beautiful mindscapes for children.  Full of love of life and humanity, his body of work shares the stories of people of the African Diaspora as preserved in songs, poems and folktales.  

In tribute to his longevity, Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre has staged two plays based on the works of the beloved artist, teacher, and scholar.  Dancing Granny and Beautiful Blackbird (winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award), are the books selected for production by the Alliance’s Theatre for the Very Young.  The plays complement the exhibit Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan on view at the city’s High Museum of Art until January 21, 2018.  


The opening voice of  The Dancing Granny is a character patterned after Ashley Bryan himself.  He is the tale weaver and griot whose narration and fancy footwork bookend this tale inspired by Mr. Bryan’s memories of his own grandmother.   

Elaborate lighting and vibrant costumes along with Afro-Caribbean choreography and a range of percussion instruments– some made by the children in the audience as a pre-show activity– all come together to set the joyful tone of this show which encourages children’s expressive engagement. 

From the Alliance Theatre website Breanna Ross, Benjamin Sims, Chani Maisonet, Akumba Bynum-Roberson, and Ameenah Kaplan in the Alliance Theatre’s 2017/18 production of The Dancing Granny.  Photo by Greg Mooney.

Beautiful Blackbird is more understated than The Dancing Granny.  Arranged like an interactive playground for babies and toddlers, children sit on felt sun patches that encircle a chuppah-style canopy.   Bold quilts depicting night and day serve as backdrops for live electric guitarists who strum jazzy lines while the young ones roam and play.  

The audience hears Blackbird before they see him.  When he emerges, with rhinestones glimmering like dew drops from his dark wings, he glides about the set coaxing rhythm from his djembe.  The little ones play along on miniature African drums as Blackbird shares his musical gifts with the multi-colored members of his flock.  The message: know your beauty, find your unique groove.

Eugene Russell IV,  who played the griot-tale weaver Ashley Bryan in The Dancing Granny and composed the music for Beautiful Blackbird, says:  “The story is an unapologetic celebration of blackness which at the same time encourages all kids to be who they are, that who they are is beautiful, and enough. I think that’s a beautiful combination.” He goes on to say that stepping in to the world of Ashley Bryan “really did change me life in a wonderful and beautiful way. I’m a forever fan. It will always be a part of my family’s life.”

To learn more:

Ashley Bryan Teacher Resource

Ashley Bryan Speaking About the Coretta Scott King Award

Post by Jené Watson

Jené Watson works as a public librarian at a system in suburban Atlanta, where she coordinates Books in the Barbershop community outreach and Mindful Monday, a family meditation program.  She is also the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color (indigopen.com).

Dr. Claudette McLinn Interviews CSK Award Winner Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 1998, which was his first major book award. Since then, Steptoe has created a body of work as an illustrator and author and garnered many awards in the field of children’s literature. He recently won the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his book, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Jean-Michel Basquiat. We caught up with Javaka Steptoe who has been busy traveling outside the United States and touring the children’s literature scene.

CSM: Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which will turn 50 in 2019, was the first award to recognize your work. You won the 1998 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for the book, In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall. How did the Coretta Scott King Book Award help your career?

JS: This Coretta Scott King Book Awards is looked at as an award of excellence in the children’s book industry, most of all for children’s books of color. It is a major award to start off one’s career.  It put me on the radar of many publishers and made it easy for me to illustrate my next book, which was Do You Know What I’ll Do? by Charlotte Zolotow.

CSM: You have produced a body of work for children of all ages from Radiant Child; to Jimi: Sounds like a Rainbow; to Sweet, Sweet, Baby, which is one of my favorites; and many more books. What do you hope your readers will know or feel when they finish one of your books?

JS: It depends on the book. Whatever the book is saying, that’s what I want the reader to feel. Not on a superficial level but deep in their bones.  For example, with Sweet, Sweet Baby I want the reader to feel the love between mother and child.

JS: I am also interested in complexity. There are lots of ways to talk about a subject. You can talk about it superficially or with depth and nuances. The latter creates a book you can grow with.

CSM: For a young man, it seems like you work all of the time. What do you do for fun?

JS: I read books—science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. I like books that make you think about the world in a different way.  I also dance. I am always taking dance classes such as African Dance, Salsa, Improvisation, and Swing.

CSM: You have accomplished so much, so far. What do you see in your future?

JS: Just to keep writing. Keep illustrating. I am interested in strengthening my ability as a writer. I’m also interested in the development of books. My belief is that there will always be paper books. They have a certain quality that cannot be replaced by technology. I see technology as a tool to help expand ideas and content within books.

CSM: Is there anything else you would like to say?

JS: [I would like to say] whatever you do, do it because you love it.

Javaka Steptoe is the son of award-winning author and illustrator, John Steptoe, and Stephanie Douglas. Both parents were artists. The Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award was established in 1995 and named in memory of his father.

Dr. Claudette McLinn is Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee.  She is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature.

Classic CSK Titles

Oftentimes when the term “classic” is used in discussions about children’s books, there are references to titles such as Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Polar Express. Seldom are books written by and about African Americans like Everett Anderson’s Goodbye, Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 mentioned in these discussions. In my opinion, books written by and about people of color can also be designated as classics.

In an article published in The Reading Teacher in 2010, I argued that there are African American classic children’s books. I identified a sampling of such titles—after surveying scholars of children’s literature— and placed them into the following three categories: universal experiences (e.g., death, love, and friendship) from an African American perspective, breakthrough books that are a “first” in some way or break new ground, and literary innovation (e.g., use of language, style, etc.). The above-mentioned CSK winning titles reflect these three categories. For example, Everett Anderson going through the stages of grief after the death of his father is a universal experience, while Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World is one of the few African American children’s books to focus on the experiences of Blacks settling in the western part of the United States.  The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 displays literary innovation for its unique use of racial humor.

My article identified additional African American classics that are recipients of the CSK Award/Honor such as Meet Danitra Brown, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, Monster, Toning the Sweep, Mirandy and Brother Wind, Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals, Tar Beach, and Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo.

What CSK titles do you consider classics?

Post by Jonda C. McNair

Jonda C. McNair is a past chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. A former elementary school teacher of students in grades K-2, she is currently a professor of literacy education at Clemson University in South Carolina.

 

 

Being the Change He Hopes to See: Gregory Christie’s Contribution to Community

Visit Decatur, Georgia and you’ll quickly notice that it’s one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in Atlanta.  Down the road from the African American storefronts and mega-churches, nightclubs and braiding salons are trendy haunts and quietly plush homes where the upper middle class raise their families.  Just beyond this, a vibrant South Asian community has flowered and brought with it  jewelers, sari shops, grocery stores and beauty salons.  In the thick of it all is GAS-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore owned and operated by Coretta Scott King Book Award winning illustrator, R. Gregory Christie.

GAS-Art Gifts, short for Gregarious Art Statements, is unique.  Located inside Decatur’s North Dekalb Mall, it blends the feeling of upscale art gallery with come-one-come-all community center where visitors can choose to engage their own creativity or simply shop.

Opening a store was a chance opportunity that came when an art dealer operating in the mall invited Christie to display his books for Black History Month.   “Black grandmothers and soccer moms of all ethnicities cleared my table off each week.  And before I knew it, I had to keep ordering cases of books to keep up with the demand,” Christie says, sounding both amused and deeply appreciative.

From there, he transformed what he describes as a raw and uninviting space into what can now only be described as a brightly-hued oasis.  It’s the kind of space that Christie would have appreciated having when growing up in suburban New Jersey where museums and art education were sparse.  He drew inspiration from any place he could, namely the library and public television.  “Art was a savior for me, says Christie,  “It built my self esteem.” Over time, art also opened doors for him to live abroad in various European cities. Ones where he says, “If someone decides, ‘I want to be an Egyptologist,’ they can study that and they don’t have to go broke.” He wants to share that same expansive vision with his young customers.

Christie says that he spends about seventy hours a week working in his store.  “I do everything from sweeping the floor to cleaning the toilets to shaking the hands of anyone who comes in.”   And because GAS-Art Gifts also serves as his studio,  it gives his young and old visitors the rare opportunity to see an artist at work.  Getting to meet his book buying audience is gratifying.  He says, “It keeps an internal balance for me.  I can have a flow of words and consciousness.  What I’m thinking can be expressed because I’m always speaking to people.”

Christie goes on to add,  “Because this mall has been good to me, I pass it on to the customer.”  He does this by offering affordable individual and group instruction as well as paint parties for children and adults.  And while he says that his motivation is to address some of the grave inner deficits that he sees growing in society, he emphasizes that his store is a service, not a charity.  “Yes, this shop is for profit.  But, it’s very fair.”

While serving the community, Christie has also found time to help promote the work of The Sweet Blackberry Foundation with whom he has collaborated to make animated films.  These accompany the books that he and the actress Karyn Parsons have created to tell the stories of marginalized African American achievers.

Creating new work, appearing at festivals, doing school visits and managing a store may seem like a lot for some.  But Gregory Christie seems to be a believer in the old African American adage of lifting as one climbs.  “Maybe thirty years of my life have been spent learning everything I can.  Bookbinding, sculpture, painting, photography.  I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, and I want to teach people things that I wish I’d known.”

Post by Jené Watson

Jené Watson works as a public librarian at a system in suburban Atlanta, where she coordinates Books in the Barbershop and family meditation programs.  She is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color.

A Tribute to Jason Low

Jason Low at 2017 CSK Awards Breakfast. Photo: Mary Jo Humphreys

The Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast is always the highlight of my ALA conference trip. This year was even more special as I watched Jason Low’s face and demeanor shine with joy and pride when Caldecott Winner and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Winner Javaka Steptoe applauded the dedication to diversity from Lee & Low’s publishing house. Steptoe said:

“For those of you who believe multicultural titles do not sell, I say this to you: I have received checks for over fifteen years from every book I have published with Lee & Low. They have taken the time to find places outside the system where diverse communities exist. They are invested in keeping their backlist alive and do not throw money away on projects they will not support. They publish a spectrum of multicultural books without concern about competition. I understand that you don’t want the head to compete with the tail, but you have to at least support the books in your backlist about people of color that are succeeding.”

Jason Low is a strong voice behind the movement for more diverse books. He not only seeks out new diverse authors, he also puts in the time to write articles, lead panels, contact publishers, create surveys, and fund data studies to share with the publishing and library industry. One of his recent initiatives was Lee & Low’s infographic series, which illustrates the lack of diversity in many industries, including publishing, film, television, theater, and politics. Several of the infographics have gone viral and were picked up by outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. The first infographic, on the lack of diversity in children’s books over a twenty-year period, is now used in articles, college classes, and reports to illustrate the problem.

Most recently, Low created the Diversity Baseline Survey, a landmark study which measures different aspects of diversity among publishing staff and reviewers. The study is the first of its kind in scope and subject, looking at not only racial diversity but also gender, sexual orientation, and disability among employees.

Jason Low was a featured speaker at the Texas Library Association Diversity Summit in April, 2014. I continue to see Low inconspicuously sitting in a corner or stopping for a brief visit at diverse author events.  His presence at the Brown Book Shelf presentation in San Antonio brought a smile to the faces of Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks. He does not tolerate librarian excuses such as “my community will not support that type of book” but on the contrary gently seeks to change the minds of those who are not supportive of the ALA Core Values.  He has made more than a few uncomfortable challenging the slow movement toward changing the statistics of diverse books and author representation in this publishing field.

Javaka Steptoe’s words resonate with all of us. Jason Low’s pleas and passions come alive in his voice, his gentle laugh, and his mighty pen. Low remains optimistic and channels his energies into concrete actionable steps. The world has changed and Jason Low sets the example of leadership in this change. When children and adults enter libraries or bookstores and can read books and see illustrations in these books about people like themselves, we can thank Jason Low and his publishing house for continuing this uphill struggle and for being a friend to all.

 

Post by Mary Jo Humphreys

Mary Jo Humphreys is a retired school librarian and administrator who continues to be active in the Texas Library Association.  She served as Coordinator of the Texas Bluebonnet Committee and Chair of the Texas Association of School Librarians.

The 48th Annual Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast

This year’s Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast, held early Sunday morning, June 25th, in Chicago at the Hilton, sold out twice! Everyone was excited to celebrate the 2017 CSK winning authors and illustrators as well as the winner of the John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Dr. Pauletta Bracy, Chair of the Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee,  provided a welcome, Pastor Kimberly Ray of Angie Ray Ministries delivered the invocation, and ALA president Dr. Julie Todaro spoke. Breakfast was served.

Then the awards were presented. Nicola Yoon was awarded the  John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press).

 

Coretta Scott Illustration Honors were awarded to R. Gregory Christie for Freedom in Congo Square (author Carole Boston Weatherford, Little Bee Books); Jerry Pinkney for In Plain Sight (author Richard Jackson, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press); and Ashley Bryan for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (author Ashley Bryan, Atheneum).


Ashley Bryan was also awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (illustrator Ashley Bryan, Atheneum). Jason Reynolds was awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for As Brave as You (Atheneum).

 

The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (author Javaka Steptoe, Little Brown). Read Javaka Steptoe’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.

 

The Coretta Scott King Author winners were Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for the third volume of the March Trilogy (illustrator Nate Powell, Top Shelf). Nate Powell spoke for Andrew Aydin, who could not be present, and then Congressman Lewis spoke, receiving his award. The acceptance speeches were not received in time to be published in the current edition of The Horn Book but can be viewed here.

The Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Read Dr. Bishop’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop chaired the 2017 Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee Jury. Other members of the jury included Kacie V. Armstrong, Sam Bloom, Erica T. Marks, April Roy, Martha V. Parravano and Ida W. Thompson.

 

 

Posted by Susan Polos

 

The Heart and Center

Love. Family. Science. Poetry. Deportation? A fascinating mix of subjects that Nicola Yoon blends very well in her story The Sun is Also a Star, the 2017 Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

At the heart of this story is a romance between Natasha, a Jamaican, and Daniel, a Korean American.  Natasha is a realist, stating scientific and mathematical facts and figures.  Daniel, on the other hand, is a poet who speaks from the heart.  When they meet in New York, Daniel believes Natasha is “the one,” while Natasha is reluctant to accept feelings and sticks to the facts.  For an intense 12 hours in New York City, Natasha and Daniel grapple with their feelings, Natasha’s possible deportation, and their families.

However, The Sun is Also a Star is more than a love story.  It is also a story about Natasha’s and Daniel’s family and their cultures. Yoon carefully reveals the family history and culture in short vignettes.  Connecting these stories, one learns why Natasha is facing deportation and why Daniel’s family owns an African American hair supply store.

Young people will love the intense relationship between Natasha and Daniel. Teachers, on the other hand, will try to figure out how to include this book into their curriculum/and or literary study.  The Sun is Also a Star can spark many ideas and activities. Love is such a universal theme that books like The Sun is Also a Star would easily fit in with other love stories.  Comparing and contrasting love between characters from different cultures could be compared to other love stories with characters from different backgrounds.  Studies in Jamaican and Korean culture would give students a greater understanding of different cultures.  Immigration laws, particularly during this time, would certainly be a good topic for any Government/Social Studies course.  Because the sun is really a star, students can state  scientific facts while also making literary inferences and meaning from the title.

By Karen Lemmons

Walter Dean Myers Inducted into New York State Writers Hall of Fame

Connie Myers                                                Photo Credit: Sara Kelly Johns

Walter Dean Myers was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, Class of 2017, at the New York Center for the Book Induction ceremony on Monday, June 5,2017,  at the Princeton Club in New York City.

Master-of-Ceremonies William Schwalbe noted that among Myers’ many accomplishments are  five Coretta Scott King Awards as well as two Newbery Honors, the first Printz Award and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. Myers, the author of over 100 books, was also appointed by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post he held from 2012- 2013.

Phoebe Yeh                                                            Photo Credit: Leonardo Mascaro

Phoebe Yeh, publisher of Crown Books, Random House, delivered a moving tributespeaking of Myers connections to New York, where he was raised by his father’s first wife, Florence Dean, after the death of his mother.

Accepting the plaque in Myer’s memory was his widow, Connie Myers.  Also in attendance were Andrea Davis Pinkney, Vice President and Editor-at-Large of Scholastic Press, Emily Heddleson, Senior Manager of Library and Educational Marketing for Scholastic, and Jessica MacLeish, Editor at HarperCollins.

This is the not the first recognition of Walter Dean Myers by the Empire State Center for the Book. In 2015 during Children’s Book Week, the Center for the Book together with United for Libraries and the Children’s Book Council honored Myers with the dedication of a Literary Landmark at the George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library, the library Myers frequented as a child.

Rocco Staino, Director of the Empire State Center for the Book, notes that in Myers’ memoir, Bad Boy, Myers wrote, “Harlem is the first place called ‘home’ that I can remember.” This sense of New York as home is reflected in Myers’ writing, including the picture book Harlem and the novels Monster and Darius & Twig.  Staino also notes that Florence Dean taught Myers to read in their kitchen, and when he began attending Public School 125, he could read at a second grade level.

Other writers in the Class of 2017 include Lillian Ross, Frederick Law Olmsted, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, Christopher Morley and William Kennedy.

By Susan Polos

50th Anniversary Information

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Turn 50 in 2019! 

50 Years Strong

Exciting News! The Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee is in the midst of developing plans to celebrate our 50th anniversary throughout all of 2019. Lots of fabulous activities are being developed.

We want you to know that there are ample ways for everyone to be involved. Please keep your eye here for announcements, or reach out to Dr. Claudette McLinn, the chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee: CSK50YearsStrong@gmail.com

Throwback Thursday: June is Black Music Month

One way to celebrate “June is Black Music Month” is certainly through listening to all kinds of African American music. From African drums to blues, jazz, r&b, and hip-hop and rap, there is a music genre for everyone. While listening to music, read a book, like I See the Rhythm, illustrated by Michele Wood and written by Toyomi Igus. Take a colorful and literary journey through this book, viewing the artwork, reading the poems, and studying the historical timeline. A 1999 CSK Illustrator Award Winner, Michele Wood’s beautiful illustrations synchronize with Igus’ lyrical poetic beats to the different musical styles. The historical timeline provides just enough information to spark interest in music, poetry and art. This book could be a catalyst for in-depth multimedia presentations on a particular music genre, or a particular historical period, or simply enjoyed as a celebration of African American music.

By Karen Lemmons