LAPL Children’s Book Club Chats with 2020 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner Jerry Craft

“…I started writing my own comics because, I guess, I wanted to see characters who looked like me. Then slowly but surely, I realized that in order to draw these stories, I had to write them myself.” – Jerry Craft

Author photo and book cover image source: JerryCraft.com

The Los Angeles Public Library – Studio City Branch Children’s Book Club was honored to interview Coretta Scott King and Newberry Award winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft for its latest Children Chatting with Authors podcast episode. 

Image Credit: Lauren Kratz

Here is the link to enjoy hearing Craft talk about New Kid, reflect on his favorite authors for children and young adults, and offer some valuable advice.

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Lauren Kratz is a member of the CSK Technology Committee, the CSK Awards Book Donation Grant Standing Committee, and a children’s librarian at Los Angeles Public Library.

Ten Years of Celebrating the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement (2010-2011)

As we celebrate the tenth-anniversary of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the authors, illustrators, and practitioners who have received it, it is also important to reflect on the life of Hamilton herself, an indomitable woman whose innovative work brought stories of African-Americans to the international literary stage and forever changed the field of children’s literature. Hamilton would later credit her grandfather, Levi Perry, for instilling the gift of storytelling within her. 

During her Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Award acceptance speech for The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, Virginia Hamilton noted that “Levi Perry’s life, or the gossip about his days, has elements of mystery, myth, and folklore…It’s from hearing such tales that I became a student of folklore.” Levi began his life as a slave, but when he was five-years-old, his mother smuggled him out of Virginia and managed to get him to relatives in Ohio, where he was raised as a free man. That story of maternal sacrifice and the flight to freedom had an indelible impact on Hamilton, who said, “And this was the original story as far as I’m concerned…That was the beginning of the family culture.” 

After marrying Rhetta Adams, Levi settled on farmland in Yellow Springs, OH, where Rhetta’s family had lived since the 1850’s. The couple had ten children including Etta Belle, who would become Virginia’s mother. As she grew to adulthood, Etta Belle rebelled against Levi’s rules, particularly his insistence that she only date ministers. While visiting her sister Bessie and her husband in Canada, Etta Belle met her future husband, Kenneth James Hamilton, by chance at a ball. Kenneth graduated from Iowa State Business College in the 1890’s but was told that no one would hire a black man as a banker. A series of odd jobs brought him to Canada where he and Etta Belle fell in love and were married. They returned to Yellow Springs and started a family on a twelve-acre farm while Kenneth took a job as the manager of the Tearoom, a dining hall at Antioch College. Virginia, the youngest child, was born on March 12th, 1934 and was named for her grandfather’s home state. 

Even as a child, Virginia’s life was inundated with stories. Her mother put her to sleep with tales such as Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby while her father regaled her with tales of real life African-American heroes like W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries she and her father read together became the inspiration for Virginia’s novel The House of Dies Drear (1968), while a picture of the Watusi people found in her father’s magazine collection influenced her first novel, Zeely (1967). Inspiration for her more than 40 books emanated from her bucolic childhood in Yellow Springs as much as from stories her family told. During adventures wandering through her family’s land and the neighboring glen, Hamilton stumbled upon a ramshackle grand hotel, the memory of which she drew upon for Dies Drear and M.C. Higgins the Great (1974).

Hamilton discovered her career path while working with her father at the Tearoom during high school. Antioch College was integrated, and Hamilton encountered students of diverse backgrounds, many of whom were from New York City. After three years of studying writing at Antioch, Hamilton transferred to Ohio State University as a literature major in 1956. A professor encouraged her to pursue writing in New York City, and after graduation she moved to the East Village, working as a receptionist, an accountant, and a singer to make ends meet.  Hamilton’s big break came when Janet Schuetz, a former classmate and wife of an ad writer for Macmillan Publishing, was impressed with a short story that Hamilton wrote in college and encouraged her to turn it into a children’s book, a path Hamilton had never considered. That book became Zeely. Critics enthusiastically embraced Zeely, which not only prominently featured black characters, but was a story whose plot did not revolve around racial struggles. The American Library Association recognized Zeely as a Notable Book, the first of many awards that would come Hamilton’s way during her long career. 

In 1975, Hamilton won the Newbery Medal for M.C. Higgins, becoming the first African-American writer to win this prestigious award. She would go on to win the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the de Grummond Medal from The University of Southern Mississippi, and The Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing, the highest international honor for a children’s book author or illustrator. Central to her success is Hamilton’s focus on relatable characters and deep reverence for children and childhood. In her acceptance speech for The Hans Christian Andersen Award, Hamilton said: “Indeed, it is often said that we authors write especially for children because our childhoods were so vital and heartfelt that we cannot let go of them, ever. But I do write about childhood awareness out of my rich, country experience. I truly loved being a child. I still keep inside me that curious six-year-old, that ten-year-old lover of pranks and jokes, and the defiant thirteen-to-fourteen-year-old.” 

Virginia Hamilton’s death in 2002 from breast cancer left a void in the children’s literature world that can never be filled, but her legacy of storytelling lives on to be cherished and celebrated by generations of young people who, thanks to her, see themselves reflected in literature.  Learn more about her by visiting http://www.virginiahamilton.com/

Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement is presented by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee in even years to an African American author, illustrator or author/illustrator for a body of his or her published books for children and/or young adults, and who has made a significant and lasting literary contribution. For additional information, including a list of winners, visit this link

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Rodney Marcel Fierce is a Humanities Teacher at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California and is finishing his dissertation for his English doctoral program at The University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.

CSK By the Numbers

As the Coretta Scott King Book Awards enter the second half of their first century, the John Steptoe Award for New Talent is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement is celebrating ten years. This seems like a natural time to review the history of the awards. 

Even though the Steptoe award is twenty-five years old, it has only been awarded to seventeen authors and twelve illustrators. There were six years (2013, 2012, 2001, 2000, 1998, and 1996) that no one received the award – neither author or illustrator – and another seven years that no one received the illustrator award.

Of the twenty-nine Steptoe winners, seven have gone on to win additional CSK awards. That’s twenty-four percent. Five for writing (Hope Anita Smith, Jason Reynolds, Kekla Magoon, Sharon Draper, and Sharon Flake) and two for illustration (Ekua Holmes and Frank Morrison). 


Image Sources: Hope Anita Smith/MacMillian Publishers; Jason Reynolds/SLJ; Kekla Magoon: Author’s Website; Sharon Draper/Author’s Website; Ekua Holmes/Author’s Website; Frank Morrison/Harper Collins Publishers

Walter Dean Meyers has won the most CSK Author Awards with five. Three people are tied with the most CSK Author Honors: Walter Dean Myers, Virginia Hamilton, and James Haskins. All of these writers have won six CSK Honors.

Bryan Collier has won the most CSK Illustrator Awards with six. Ashley Bryan has the most CSK Illustrator Honors with seven.

Nineteen people have won at least five times. Ashley Bryan has been recognized the most with a total of thirteen times, while Walter Dean Meyers comes in a close second with twelve wins. In fact, fifty authors or illustrators (or thirty-one percent) of the total number of CSK winners have multiple awards/honors. Patricia McKissack has actually garnered ten CSK Awards or Honors. Eight of them were co-awarded with her husband Fredrick and displayed on the chart below. The other two were awarded to her as an individual writer and not reflected below. This makes her the most recognized female in CSK history with a total of ten CSK Awards or Honors.



Image Credit: Ashley Bryan/Emma Lee; Patricia and Frederick McKissack/The St. Louis American; Walter Dean Myers/Constance Myers

The CSK Awards jury handbook specifies that zero to three CSK Honors may be given for author and illustrator. However, this rule must have started after 1984, since prior to this year as many as eight author honors had been awarded in a single year.  When considering the most common number of honors given out, it turns out that three recognitions is the most common for CSK Author Honors. On nineteen occasions, three CSK Author Honors were given out. On the other hand, two is the most common for CSK Illustrator Honors. On seventeen occasions, two illustrator honors were given out compared to only eleven occasions when three honors were. Of course, each committee is its own entity and can recognize however many titles up to three titles during one award year.

Other interesting facts include the following:

  • Every time Rita Williams-Garcia won the author award Bryan Collier won the illustrator award (2011, 2014, and 2016).

  • R. Gregory Christie has received six CSK Illustrator Honors, but has not yet won the CSK Illustrator Award.

  • Kadir Nelson and Ashley Bryan are the only people who have received recognition as  both author and illustrator. In 2009, Kadir Nelson won the CSK Author Award and a CSK Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. In 1987, Ashley Bryan won a CSK Illustrator Honor and a CSK Author Honor for Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales.

  • The most CSK Honors given out in one year is eight. That was in 1971, the second year of the award and before the CSK Illustrator Award was even started.

  • Four times (1970, 1972, 1973, and 1975) no CSK Author Honors were awarded.

  • Ten times no CSK Illustrator Honors were named, the most recent being in 1991.

  • In 1975, no CSK Author or CSK Illustrator Honors were awarded.

  • 1974 was the first year for the  CSK Illustrator award to be given out.

  • Three people have won two awards in the same year for different books. In 2016, Jason Reynolds won honors for different books (All American Boys and The Boy in the Black Suit) In 1980, James Haskins won honors for Andrew Young: Young Man with a Mission and James Van Der Zee: The Picture Takin’ Man. In 1995,  Patricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack won the award for Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters and an honor for Black Diamond: Story of the Negro Baseball League.

  • A total of 338 awards have been given out to 163 individuals.

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Keary Bramwell is a member of the CSK Technology Committee and children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs.


Continuing to Celebrate and Use Coretta Scott King Book Awards Titles After the 50th Anniversary

Image credit: Lauren Kratz

At the end of 2019, I went to see the Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library. I invited my friend and co-worker Daniella, who is eighteen and had never read any of the Coretta Scott King award-winning books growing up. While we were viewing the exhibit, I cheered when I saw John Steptoe’s beautiful artwork from his book Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Daniella was impressed and asked me about the story. As I explained, I remembered that I had first loved this book because of watching the television show Reading Rainbow hosted by LeVar Burton in the 1990s. I would have my lists of books prepared before trips to the library, all suggestions from the show Reading Rainbow. I then noticed that Daniella had her list of books she had written down. I asked her what that list was for, and she said, “Books that I am going to check out when we get back to the library.” 

As Daniella and I were leaving the exhibit, we paused again in front of Faith Ringgold’s magnificent Tar Beach story quilt. At that moment, I wondered to myself: As a children’s librarian, why am I not using more Coretta Scott King award-winning books in my programming throughout the year? Not just when there is the CSK 50th anniversary or African American Heritage Month, but regularly.  I decided to take action.

Inspired by my visit to see the Our Voice exhibit, the first CSK Book Award inspired program that I created for my library for 2020 was a quilt-inspired placemat. For this all-ages activity, we read Tar Beach aloud and projected a life-size image of Ms. Ringgold’s story quilt. We talked about what a quilt is and how each one tells a story. Many children shared that they had quilts at home from someone in their family. Then the children created their placemats by gluing different paper shapes and we laminated them.

Image credit: Lauren Kratz
Image credit: Lauren Kratz

During the program, I also projected CSK award-winning illustrated book, The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, onto a screen. We had copies of Tar Beach, The Patchwork Quilt and The Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubinon on hand and available for check out for project inspiration. The children could not wait to share the stories behind their quilt inspired placemats.

My next CSK Award related program will be a children’s book club where we will discuss recent CSK Author Honor winner Kwame Mbalia’s middle grade fantasy, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Throughout the year and in the future, I will continue to find ways to promote Coretta Scott King Award-winning books through library programming, outreach, and displays as well as with my colleagues and other educators.

You can check the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) website for further information about when the Our Voice exhibit may be traveling to you. Once public health circumstances permit and if you have the chance, please don’t miss seeing this beautiful exhibit in person. There is also a link to request more information about bringing the exhibit to your venue.

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Lauren Kratz is a member of the CSK Technology Committee, the CSK Awards Book Donation Grant Standing Committee, and a children’s librarian at Los Angeles Public Library. 


Jason Reynolds Inducted as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

CSK Award winning author Jason Reynolds was recently named the Library of Congress’ 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Not only will Mr. Reynolds be showcasing his works but also inspiring a love of reading. As ambassador, he will travel the United States, with help of StoryCorps, to meet and interview young people. These recordings will be added to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. 

When interviewed by CBS’ Gayle King, Mr. Reynolds said, “With reading, it’s about giving [youth] things they want and need and showing up for them to make it real.” Further, he spoke of elements of a book and hooks used to entice readers. Mr. Reynolds discussed reading his first book cover to cover at age seventeen and a half because Richard Wright’s Black Boy reeled him in on the second page. 
See the interview with Carla Hayden and Jason Reynolds with Gayle King on CBS This Morning.

Mr. Reynolds’ inauguration ceremony at the Library of Congress can be found here.

The ambassador program was established in 2008 though the LoC’s Every Child a Reader program to highlight lifelong literacy and education in the lives of young people. 

The CSK Book Awards committee would like to take this opportunity to officially offer our congratulations. This accolade is huge! 

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Claudette Mayne is a librarian with the Toronto Public Library. Her experience includes working in Outreach, Children, Digital Innovation and Accessibility Services. 


Teaching Harriet

Kasi Lemmons’s biographical movie Harriet was a box office sensation in 2019.  There has been both outcry and support for the film with some viewers homing in on points of historical accuracy as well as the choice of lead. 

Image source: IMDb.com

Debates aside, the fact of Harriet being the first big screen depiction of Tubman makes it likely that it will be used to teach history in homes and classrooms for years to come.   This being so, context is key.

Below is a collection of books that parents and teachers can use to help youth round out their understanding of the complex world that existed in Harriet Tubman’s time. Published over the last twenty-five years, all have either won a Coretta Scott King Book Award or Honor or are ones that were written or illustrated by CSK laureates. 

The content of these selections range from the songs and spiritual beliefs of the enslaved, to Black Jacks and free African American communities (whose historical presence and stories remain important yet are often grayed out in collective memory) as well as the sad reality of black slave catchers who abetted the “peculiar institution” and many topics in between. 

Elementary Readers

Image credits: Before She Was Harriet (Holiday House) / James Ransome, Never Forgotten (Schwartz & Wade) / Leo and Diane Dillon, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Hyperion) / Kadir Nelson and In The Time of the Drums (Lee and Low) / Brian Pinkney

Middle School Readers

Image credits: Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic), Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl (Harry N. Abrams) and The People Could Fly: The Picture Book (Knopf Books for Young Readers) / Leo and Diane Dillon

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Jené Watson is Chair of the CSK Technology Committee as well as a mother, writer, educator and librarian who lives and works in suburban Atlanta. She is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color.



LAPL WELCOMES OUR VOICE: CELEBRATING THE CORETTA SCOTT KING ILLUSTRATOR AWARDS EXHIBITION

Entrance to Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award exhibition. Artwork by Ekua Holmes, winner of the 2018 CSK Illustrator Award. Image credit: Michael McLinn

Thursday evening, November 14, 2019, was the opening reception of Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards in the Getty Gallery of the Los Angeles Central Library in Los Angeles, California. This traveling exhibition is the culminating activity of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee’s 50th Anniversary celebration. The exhibition features over 100 works from more than 30 CSK winners and honor illustrators and will remain on view through January 27, 2020. Our Voice is the largest and most comprehensive presentation of CSK Illustrator winners and honors ever assembled since the award was established in 1974.

From left to right: Kren Malone, John Szabo, Dr. Claudette McLinn, and Jené Brown. Image credit: Los Angeles Public Library.

Invited guests were greeted upon entering the exhibition by the magnificent cover art of Ekua Holmes, winner of the 2018 illustrator award for the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. This masterful exhibit was arranged in chronological sequence, beginning with George Ford’s winning illustration of the biography Ray Charles in 1974 to the present. 

Guests were welcomed by Jené D. Brown, Principal Librarian, Engagement & Outreach, and Kren Malone, Central Library Director. Guests also heard remarks from John F. Szabo, City Librarian, and Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Immediate Past-Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. Special remarks were delivered by Ernest Wilson, husband of CSK 1991 illustration award winner Kathleen Atkins Wilson, whose artwork titled The Storyteller appears on the advertisement of the show. 

Guests at the Our Voice opening reception in the Getty Gallery, Los Angeles Central Library. Image credit: Michael McLinn

Our Voice was curated by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas, in partnership with the Coretta Scott King Books Awards Committee of the American Library Association’s Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT). Guests enjoyed refreshments by Chef Marilyn of Los Angeles, cake by Big Sugar Bakeshop, and received gift bags which included a timeline of CSK events, a magnet and pin, accompanied by bookmarks. This is indeed a remarkable exhibition and a must-see for those visiting the Los Angeles area.

Our Voice exhibition storytelling area for children. Image credit: Michael McLinn

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Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, 2017-2019. She is Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL).




CSK Book Donation Grant Spotlight: NIA Community Services Network

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

Every year the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant is awarded to deserving institutions working with children. Winners receive a collection of sixty to one hundred titles submitted for consideration for the CSK Book Author, Illustrator and Honor Awards. One of the 2019 recipients was NIA Community Services Network, Inc., a not-for-profit community service organization in Brooklyn, New York.  I exchanged emails with Sarah Harlow, Director of Education, and Elaysel German, Literacy Manger, who let me know how things are going.

Keary Bramwell: Can you tell me a little about what you have done with the CSK Book Donation grant?

Sarah Harlow: The Coretta Scott King Book Donation Grant has allowed for the NIA at Public School 627 Brighter Choice Community School to create a lending library for all students and school community members. 

The lending library is housed in the special initiatives office within Bright Choice Community School. This space is designed for students to feel safe and comfortable enough to read independently and browse the book selection at their leisure. We have added comfortable seating (such as bean bag chairs) and artwork that promotes reading to make the space fun and inviting for kids. 

Students can also use the space for other literacy-related activities. This includes creative writing, drawing, and completing puzzles, as well as reflective and self-calming activities such as mediation. Students are welcome to visit during day school hours as well as after school. The lending library space is a welcoming place that encourages literacy exploration and we are so pleased to have it full of books that reflect our students. This is a safe space where students find social emotional support, self-affirmation, and encouragement. 

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

In addition to building our lending library, NIA has begun to integrate American Library Association (ALA) books into our literacy instruction during the after school hours. The after school literacy model is an interactive read aloud followed by a STEAM based project that students lead and complete. Students are always encouraged to revisit the books at our library space. We are so thankful to the CSK Awards Committee for their support of our students!

KB: What advice would you give to organizations applying for the grant?

Elaysel German: Our advice is to partner with the school leadership (stakeholders). We are a community-based organization that works closely with schools, and we recognize that the people in schools every day have the best insight into our students’ needs and wants. 

We worked as a team on submitting the proposal to ALA. The support and information we received from the day school leadership was invaluable. We also recommend that those seeking to apply really listen to the students and families they serve, to see how this grant will benefit them specifically. Get creative and think big about the possibilities that come from this opportunity.

KB: What sort of impact has the grant made on your organization?

EG: At NIA, we have always valued the impact books have on a person’s self-perception and world perspective. This grant has motivated us to be more intentional about what types of books we are recommending to our 40+ school sites. This meant that we are deep-diving into recommended book lists through research and book talks with educators. 

We believe our intentionality about curating book lists that offer windows, mirrors, bridges and sliding glass doors to our students, will have a deep and lasting impact on their development. As an organization, we are beginning to fuse the link between social emotional learning and literacy. Stories connect us, help us process, strengthen our empathy and compassion, build our own self-confidence and give us greater insight. Access to rich, diverse texts that are reflective of a broad range of experiences are crucial in helping students feel connected to books and to the human experience.  

KB: What sort of impact has the grant made on your students?

EG: Our students at Brighter Choice are deepening their love of literacy. We have been able to create a welcoming, safe and shared after school library space that gets students excited about reading. In addition, because the after school library is open until 6 p.m., students have access to books at all hours of the extended school day. They are seeing themselves in fantastical, realistic and new ways through these stories. They are also seeing new characters and stories from different worlds that were not previously available. 

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

KB: Do your students have any favorite titles?

EG: So far, Black Panther: Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith is our most requested title.

Other popular titles include:  

  • Mirror, Mirror by Barbara J. Freeman 
  • Leah is Seen by Claudette Esmerelda 
  • Puddinhead’s Sister, Zirah by Mariyln Foote
  • Benny Becomes an Architect by David C. Hughes 
  • Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann 

SH: We held a special book party where students got to look at all the new books, read together, and celebrate this amazing opportunity. The students’ excitement was so amazing to see!

EG: We also discovered an amazing connection because we found out that one of the children is related to the illustrator of Let the Children March. During the book party, he proudly came up and told us that his uncle was the illustrator.

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

The application portal for the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award Donation Grant is now open. The deadline to apply is Friday, January 31, 2020. Visit this link to learn more. 

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Keary Bramwell is a member of the CSK Technology Committee and children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. 




CSK Legends: Mildred D. Taylor

Photo Credit: The Hornbook

Family history has always fascinated me. Like the elders of many African American families, mine migrated from backwater Southern towns to a more thriving one in the 1930’s.  Their personal histories were, however, closed doors. Fortunately, encountering Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken in elementary school gave me keys to understanding. Once this access was granted, I could feel and imagine the worlds of my grandparents and their predecessors– comforts and terrors alike.

Like the West African griots of long ago who passed down family histories, Taylor has devoted most of her literary career to telling one story: that of the Logans, a proud black family of the Southern United States. Her stories are to children’s literature what Alex Haley’s Roots is to adult historical fiction. Both make history dance and command our attention, awakening ancestral memory in a way that cold facts and timelines cannot.

Special thanks to Janell Walden Agyeman of Marie Brown Associates and Regina Hayes of Penguin Random House for helping to arrange this exchange which happened by email in Spring 2019. It has been lightly edited for posting on this blog.

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JW: First, thank you for agreeing to this interview. After Song of the Trees was published in 1975, did you have any idea that you would continue to share parts of Cassie’s family story for the next forty years? Also, you’re putting the finishing touches on the final installment which you’ve titled All the Days Past, All the Days to Come. How does it feel drawing the Logan family saga to a close?

MDT:  I had planned from the very beginning to tell Cassie’s family story, although I didn’t have any idea how long it would take.  I have felt such an obligation to finish the story; it has pressed on me.  At one point I even gave back the contract advance for the final book, feeling the pressure was too much.  But I had made a commitment, and I wanted to finish the Logan story. It saddens me that this book is the end, but there is also a sense of relief. I am done!

Photo courtesy of Mildred D. Taylor

JW: Along with the inspiration that you got from your family, specifically your father, what published writers influenced your storytelling?

MDT: It may surprise you to learn that the writer who influenced me the most was Harper Lee.  I loved Scout of To Kill A Mockingbird.  My Cassie Logan had a different story to tell, from a Black point of view.

JW: Your work foregrounds the dignity and self-respect of the Logan family in the face of the indignities of the Jim Crow era. In every instance, your stories move beyond struggle and woe to emphasize courage, the power of family unity. I also love how nature plays an important role in all of the Logan stories that I’ve read. Do you intentionally place courage and reverence for nature at the heart of your work?

MDT:  Yes, both courage and reverence for nature. I was born in Mississippi but left when I was three months old, and although I grew up in Toledo, my family went yearly–sometimes even twice a year— back home to Mississippi, to the land.  It was beautiful, with forests and ponds and we would walk it drinking in the beauty and appreciating the calm and peace of the trees and the land our family had struggled to obtain and hold onto. This was land my great-grandparents had bought after they came from slavery. When I saw the land where I now live in Colorado, it spoke to me in the same way.

JW: After winning your first literary awards, namely the CSK, what changes happened in your career? And did this kind of recognition have any effect-on how you approached your writing?

MDT:  Well, actually, my first literary award was winning the contest sponsored by The Council on Interracial Books for Children, and that led to the publication of Song of the Trees.  My second literary award was the Newbery Medal, for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  So in a sense, big changes had already occurred.  But of course it was wonderful to win the Coretta Scott King award for four of my books. I have never liked making speeches.  Preparing speeches and delivering them drained and distracted me from my work; therefore, I have seldom attended award ceremonies. When The Road to Memphis won the award, I was actually on the dais with Mrs. Rosa Parks and was able to talk with her. My greatest regret concerning the award is when I was unable to attend the ceremony to accept the Coretta Scott King award for The Land, and I missed the chance to receive the award from Mrs. King herself.

Image Credit: Kadir Nelson/Puffin Books

JW: Before becoming an established writer, I read that you taught on both a Navajo reservation in Arizona and in Ethiopia. These cultures have strong poetry and verbal storytelling traditions. How, if at all, did these experiences influence your own storytelling?

MDT:   I spent three weeks on the Navajo reservation in preparation for teaching with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.  There were only white teachers on the reservation and the children crowded around me since my skin was brown like theirs.  One little boy in particular was so sweet to me; he put his arm next to mine and said, “Look, Miss, we’re alike!” I had similar experiences in Ethiopia, where the people I met had never seen an African American.

Although both Navajo and Ethiopian cultures have a storytelling tradition, my own storytelling grew entirely out of the Southern tradition [of the U.S].  We were a family of storytellers. Whenever the family was together, we loved hearing and telling the stories of past events.

JW:  From your perspective as a literary veteran and culture keeper, what value do you think that awards like the CSK have? Are they still as important as they once were? And how would you compare what’s being published today for children of color to that of past decades?

MDT:  I am not in a position to evaluate this.  When I am writing, I don’t read other writers’ work, and I’m usually quite unaware of the awards and their impact.  One trend I deplore is the pressure to whitewash the past. The past was not pretty – I lived it and I remember and I am determined to portray it as it was.


Mildred D. Taylor has won the Coretta Scott King Author Award for The Land (2002), The Road to Memphis (1991), The Friendship (1988) and Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1982). She is also a two-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (1977) and Song of the Trees (1976).

Jené Watson is Chair of the CSK Technology Committee as well as a mother, writer, educator and librarian who lives and works in suburban Atlanta. She is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color.

A Night of Enchantment

Alan R. Bailey

I had been excited about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala since the day it was announced, but my stomach was filled with so many butterflies on Friday, June 21st, I thought they would lift me off the ground and out of Washington, DC. Waiting for the doors of the celebration to officially open at 6:30 p.m. was truly getting the best of me. These were not butterflies associated with anxiety, fear, doubt, or uncertainty, however, but butterflies of joy and anticipation. It reminded me of how I felt around Christmas Eve as a young child.

As I walked towards the carriage house entrance, I noticed a luxurious black car parked near the entrance. When I heard the car door close and people began to chatter, I looked over my shoulder out of curiosity and saw Dr. Carla Hayden, looking radiant in a black and fuchsia dress, standing next to the car. She smiled warmly as our eyes met, and I must admit I blushed. A minute later, while I was still in awe from seeing Dr. Hayden, Ashley Bryan was escorted by me and into the building. At that very moment, I knew June 21, 2019, would be an enchanting night.

When I entered the great hall, I was temporarily immobilized by the majestic staircases, floors, arches, lighting, dome, and more. Everything in sight, including the beautiful people surrounding me, was magnificent. Although I have been a librarian for more than 35 years and visited DC more times than I can count, I am a bit embarrassed to say I had not visited the Library of Congress. Of course, I expected it to be majestic, but what I saw and felt surpassed everything I had imagined – I felt as if I had taken a step back in time.  

Photo credit: Susan Polos

Seven o’clock was rapidly approaching, so everyone was ushered quickly to Coolidge Auditorium, where the gala took place. As I entered the auditorium, I immediately knew I was amongst my true tribe. Authors, illustrators, librarians, and many others sharing a common thread – an admiration for books for and about African American children, especially those with seals representing the Coretta Scott King Book Award on their covers. Saying the auditorium was filled with the crème de la crème is an understatement. As I walked down the aisle, James and Lesa Cline Ransome were in front of me, Christopher Myers was standing on my left, and George Ford was engaged in a lively conversation on my right. Adrenalin pumped vigorously as I finally took my seat. I glanced around before opening my program and saw amazing individuals like Kadir Nelson, Kekla Magoon, Jerry Pinkney, R. Gregory Christie, Sharon Flake, and Jason Reynolds. And, remember, this was before the event officially began.

As the lights dimmed and the eloquent voice of Andrea Davis Pinkney came over the microphone, the night of nights began, and, oh, what a night it was. The program included a heartfelt welcome from Dr. Carla Hayden, the spectacular voice of Jewell Booker, the presentation of the astonishing commemorative painting of Mrs. Coretta Scott King by Kadir Nelson, poetry written especially for this 50th Celebration delivered by Kwame Alexander and accompanied by guitarist Randy Preston, and inspirational remarks by Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. What a powerful lineup. And to close the program, “Dream for Tomorrow,” a piece choreographed by Dobbin Pinkney, and performed by Dobbin and a troupe of gifted dancers. And yes, Dobbin is a member of the amazing Pinkney family – a family that will never stop astonishing us with their talents!

Photo credit: Susan Polos

The gala concluded with a reception filled with food, champagne, and lively conversation. Unity and love radiated throughout the great hall. Love for both children’s literature and for humanity – how could you not feel its presence? I proudly rode that wave of unity and love as I greeted and chatted with Rita Williams Garcia, Angie Thomas, Sharon Draper, Ekua Holmes, and the legendary Eloise Greenfield. In addition to some of the world’s greatest children’s authors and illustrators, I had the pleasure of seeing Fran Ware (Chair of the CSK Book Awards Committee when I joined the committee in 2005), Dr. Carole McCollough (Chair of my first CSK jury), and Satia Orange (former Director of OLOS). My heart swelled with joy as I conversed with these three amazing women who influenced me over the past 15 years more than they can ever imagine.

When the gala ended, I exchanged warm goodbyes, descended one of the majestic stairwells, called for a car, and returned to my hotel room with intentions to shower and go directly to bed. Showering was easy but going to bed was more difficult than I imagined. Although I was exhausted, memories of the spectacular evening flooded my mind in waves too strong to allow me to retire for the evening. For me, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala was a moving, almost spiritual, event of a lifetime. Undoubtedly, a night of enchantment.

Alan R. Bailey is the 2019-2021 Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, He is a Professor at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.