A Shared Vision: 2020 CSK, Newbery & Caldecott Award Selections

For over five decades, the Coretta Scott King Book Award has provided a platform for showcasing the talents of numerous authors and illustrators. Historically speaking, the CSK Award has recognized African American authors and illustrators where no such distinction existed before.   CSK awardees are literary luminaries who have successfully brought African American children’s literature out of the shadows, thus providing much-needed diversity in children’s literature.

The announcement of the ALA 2020 Youth Media Awards marked an unprecedented milestone. For the first time in the history of children’s literature awards, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards as well as the Newbery and Caldecott Medals chose the same winning books:  The Undefeated (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson won both the CSK Illustrator Award and the Caldecott Medal.  Additionally, the New Kid (Harper) written and illustrated by Jerry Craft won the CSK Author Award and the Newbery Medal. An examination of the Newbery and Caldecott selections over time and their consideration of African American awardees yields some interesting insights.  

Established in 1922, the Newbery Medal is the oldest children’s literature award.  In 1975, Virginia Hamilton became the first African American author to win the Newbery Medal for her M. C. Higgins, the Great (Macmillan). Two African American authors followed:  Mildred D. Taylor for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial) in 1977 and Kwame Alexander for The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in 2015. In addition, some twenty-six African American authors have been recognized with Newbery Honor Awards.  Yet, the Newbery has chosen the same book as the CSK Book Awards jury only one other time.  This occurred in 2000 for Bud, Not Buddy (Delacorte)  by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Since 1937, the Randolph Caldecott Medal has annually recognized the most distinguished American picture book for children and is awarded to an illustrator. The first Caldecott Medal awarded to an African American occurred in 1976 and went to Leo and Diane Dillon, an interracial couple, for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Dial) written by Verna Aardema. The Dillons won a second medal in 1977 for Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (Dial) written by Margaret MusgroveIn 2010, Jerry Pinkney became the first solo African American illustrator to win a Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown and Company)At present, some thirty African American illustrators have been awarded Caldecott Honors. However, the only other time an illustrator won both the CSK Award and Caldecott Medal was in 2017 when Javaka Steptoe received both for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquitat (Little, Brown and Company). 

These prize-winning books have continued to influence reading choices and inspire young readers. And while the CSK, Newberry and Caldecott  have long served as guides to those seeking the best in children’s literature, it’s rare that the juries of these prestigious book awards have shared the same vision.   Bravo to new directions! 

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Carolyn L. Garnes served as CSK Book Awards Chair from 1993 to 1997.

John Steptoe Award for New Talent: 1995-2000 in Review

In 1970, the first Coretta Scott King Book Award was given. Significantly, the award’s namesake, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stressed the critical importance of children’s books as learning instruments that taught universal human values. Among these values was the enduring belief that individuals must assume agency or responsibility for creating a world where the intrinsic beauty of African Americans was reflected in books with well-conceived and executed plots, fully-delineated characters, and images which thematically complement the book’s specific and overarching themes. 

The John Steptoe Award for New Talent was established in 1995 and is awarded annually to an author or illustrator of books for children and young adults that celebrate African American life and culture. As one of several distinctions given by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, the Steptoe Award confers distinction to recipients with fewer than three published works. It seeks to “affirm new talent and to offer visibility for excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year, and at the beginning of a career as a published book creator.” 

In this post, we’ll review the first decade’s recipients of the award. 

In 1995, Sharon Draper won the first John Steptoe Award for Tears of a Tiger. The first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, this novel describes the guilt and grief of Andy, driver of a car involved in a traffic accident that killed a fellow “Tiger” or student at Hazelwood High School. The book title and content ask a primarily adolescent reading audience to examine drunk driving, death, guilt, depression, suicide, and healing. 

Notably, the novel is presented through the eyes of an African American male, which is a device Draper uses to share public responses to African American males. Formerly an English teacher, Draper’s novel is also used in high school English classes for its use of complementary narrative voices which deconstruct the notion of truth and tone. 

Draper’s other works include her Jericho series, Sassy series, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs series as well as ten standalone novels, nonfiction and poetry. 

Image credit: SharonDraper.com

Martha Southgate won the Steptoe for her debut novel, Another Way to Dance in 1997. Like Draper, Southgate’s novel is relayed through the eyes of an African American teen. This bildungsroman describes a fourteen-year-old Vicki Harris and her desire to become a ballerina. While Vicki wins acceptance at the distinguished School of American Ballet in New York City, Southgate describes the isolation Vicki experiences as one of two African Americans at the school as well as her exploration of her identity as an African American. The racism she encounters and her efforts to negotiate this racism are a vital part of this narrative. Thematically, the negotiation of race and racism is presented in Southgate’s four novels (three of which are narrated by female protagonists) that examine the African American middle class and their diverse responses to other African Americans, race, and racism in America. 

Image source: Goodreads.com

In 1999, Eric Velasquez, illustrator of The Piano Man won the Steptoe Award. Velasquez’s images appeal to young readers who are the target audience for his first children’s picture book. Set in the decades leading up to and including the coming of sound in film in 1927, the book’s seventeen illustrations show the dignity and grace of African American men, women, and children as they enjoy entertainments like traveling shows and films. Velasquez’s depictions center on the life of Sherman Robinson, the grandfather of The Piano Man author Debbie Chocolate. Robinson was a pianist trained by jazz pioneer, Jelly Roll Morton. Young readers see Robinson’s composure and polish as he achieves milestones like purchasing his home, and meets professional and personal challenges. Velasquez also highlights African American culture by depicting African American filmgoers supporting filmmaker Oscar Micheaux by attending his 1931 film, The Exile

Image source: TheBrownBookshelf.com

In 1999, Sharon Flake received the Steptoe Author Award for The Skin I’m In. The novel is a bildungsroman that also addresses bullying, racism, family loss, and low self-esteem experienced by Maleeka Madison, an African American girl with a deep skin tone. Flake unflinchingly describes the world around Maleeka, made brutal by a select few, and the specific encounters Maleeka endures as a darker-skinned African American. Ultimately, Maleeka gains self-confidence through her writing and validating experiences with teachers and can defend herself. However, Flake targets victims as well as victimizers in her novel by asking those who bully to explore the motivations for their actions. 

Image source: SharonGFlake.com

John Steptoe Award Chronology 

2000 No award 

1999 The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake (Steptoe Author Award) 

1999 The Piano Man illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Steptoe Illustrator Award) 

1998 No award 

1997 Another Way to Dance by Martha Southgate (Steptoe Author
Award) 

1996 No award 

1995 Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper (Steptoe Author Award) 

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Dr. Leslie Campbell Hime is manager of the Richland Public Library in Richland, Washington. She is an incoming ALA Councilor and a former chair of EMIERT and ALA’s Diversity Research Grant Advisory Committee. She obtained her MLIS from the University of Arizona and PhD in English from Michigan State University. 

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.