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.
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.
Debates aside, the fact of Harriet being the first big screen depiction of Tubman makes it likely that itwill 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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, Zirahby 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.
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.
Keary Bramwell is a member of the CSK Technology Committee and children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It is with a great sense of gratitude and satisfaction that I write my final message as Chair of Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community during the 50thAnniversary of the CSK Book Awards founding.
As of June 26, 2019, the end of the Annual Conference, my esteemed colleague Alan Bailey will assume the role of Chair, and I cannot think of anyone more qualified and prepared to serve as your 2019-2021 Chair. Indeed, all the CSK Executive Board members with whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve, as well as the incoming members, are eminently qualified to help lead the committee into the future. My thanks and best wishes also go out to those CSK Standing Committee members and CSK 50thAnniversary Planning Committee members whose terms will be completed at the end of this month and who have served with diligence, enthusiasm, and commitment.
As I transition to the role of Immediate Past-Chair, I am truly humbled and honored to join such an outstanding group of individuals who have served CSK in this role. As I look back over the past two years, I am immensely proud of all that our committee has accomplished during that time, especially during the CSK 50thAnniversary celebration.
For now, suffice it is to say that our CSK committee members, ODLOS staff, ALA supporters and leaders have done an outstanding job of moving the committee forward despite numerous challenges. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Finally, I would simply like to say “Thank you!” to every CSK Committee member for allowing me the privilege of serving as your Chair over this past two years. It is an experience I will never forget and which I will treasure for the rest of my life. You, the members, are the reason our committee exists and the reason why we as leaders do what we do. I hope you will keep fighting the good fight and never forget that your skills are crucial to the safety, health, and well-being of countless librarians, library workers, authors and illustrators, parents, and students across this country. That is something we can ALL be proud of!
Thank you, and onward and upward!
Dr. Claudette S. McLinn Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, 2017 – 2019 Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50thAnniversary Planning Committee, 2016 – 2019 #CSK50
This is the message delivered by Dr. Claudette McLinn, outgoing Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, at the 2019 ALA Annual’s CSK Membership Meeting on June 26.
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards engage communities in multiple opportunities to increase the love of literacy in our youth, including the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant. Every year, the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) of the American Library Association receives approximately 60-100 books for the Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury to review, including a full set of that year’s Coretta Scott King Award winning and honor book titles. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant brings these books into the lives of children and their communities. When an organization is selected as a grant winner, it is sent the books EMIERT collected and these books are used to support innovative projects that foster community connections, build reading opportunities, and increase children’s access to quality materials.
The 2019 recipients of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grants have been announced! Please read below to learn more about the ways this year’s grant recipients are connecting communities through innovative literacy- and youth-centered projects.
Kane County Juvenile Justice Center: Saint Charles, IL The Kane County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) has a library run by volunteers who believe reading adds “immeasurable value to young lives.” Library materials are open and available to all people living in the Center for checkout, and the library works to support patrons as they develop a passion for reading. The books received from the grant will be featured in a special collection area celebrating the Coretta Scott King Book Awards.
Main Street Academy: Winston-Salem, North Carolina Main Street Academy (MSA) is an alternative school serving young people in grades 6-12, with a newly renovated media center that is open daily for the community. The books acquired from the grant will support the media center’s print collection, and staff will continue to nurture a culture of reading and learning through face-out displays, book talks, book clubs, and by promoting community-wide enrichment programs that connect learners inside and outside the school’s walls.
NIA Community Services Network: Brooklyn, NY NIA Community Services Network, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “building strong children, strong families, and strong communities.” Through a collaboration with PS 627 Brighter Choice Community School, the books acquired from the grant will be used to support an after-school program that supports students as they develop a love of reading through culturally relevant literature activities. The books will also be available to students throughout the school day.To learn more about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant and how to apply for a grant in 2020, visit http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/bookgrant. To learn more about the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, visit http://www.ala.org/rt/emiert/cskbookawards/csk50.
Elisa Gall & Marguerite Penick-Parks are Chair and member of the CSK Book Awards Donation Grant Committee, respectively.
As we celebrate 50 years of the the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards, many of these award-winning and honor titles have resonated with many of us throughout this celebratory time. Today, however, we want to acknowledge CSK titles that offer the same level of intrigue through the mesmerizing experience of audiobooks by highlighting a few remarkable and memorable selections.
Reading a book is definitely an excellent way to enjoy a story, but experiencing that story in an audiobook version can be just as enjoyable, if not more, depending on the title. Oftentimes, audiobooks are viewed as “not reading” and tend to be overlooked. Nevertheless, select audiobooks, including CSK titles, can elevate these stories, serving as a means to catapult young people into an unexpected and pleasant ride full of captivating music, vivacious characters heard in various voices, or stunning sound effects. In addition, audiobooks offer several benefits for youth and teens that are worth noting.
Benefits of audiobooks
Promote active listening and offer engaging entertainment
Introduce vocabulary and increase comprehension skills
Foster an interest in reading through high quality narration, often from well-trained actors, actresses, or skilled authors (e.g. Jason Reynolds)
Provide an opportunity to experience a book that is higher than one’s reading level
In this digital age, audiobooks can be enjoyed in a number of ways beyond the traditional CD format; for instance, eAudiobooks are easily accessible from a smartphone, tablet, or browser. Furthermore, this convenient format migrates well on the go, in the car, or on a walk.
Now, let’s take a look at a few CSK titles that are worth a listen if you have yet to hear any of these works.
Notably, Trombone Shorty and The Hate U Give are a couple of CSK titles that should be promoted and experienced in the audiobook format since they represent the extraordinary sound of storytelling in an unforgettable way. In fact, any of the CSK titles as audiobooks could potentially heighten the story for a listener in such a way that the memories of the production linger long after the story ends for an awe-inspiring journey that could never be muted.
Ashley Mensah is the Customer Service Manager at the Pickerington Public Library and the newly elected corresponding secretary for the CSK Book Awards Executive Board. She currently serves on the CSK Technology and Publication Committees.
On Sunday, June 24, 2018, in New Orleans, I attended my very first Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast where Jason Reynolds warmed up the room by saying, “My cousin comes to visit and you know he’s from the South / ‘Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth” and, BOOM, just like that the room remembered and followed along, chuckling softly. I hadn’t heard or thought about those words since I was a little girl but in an instant I smiled and went back to being little-me, peering inside the little pocket-sized gem that is Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems.
I had the pleasure of meeting Eloise Greenfield the day before the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast at her Virginia Hamilton Award celebration. I stood outside of her circle of admirers, friends and greeters, waiting for my turn to say hello. I told her how much I love and appreciate her work and then asked if I could take a quick picture with her. She has a quiet, kind manner about her.
A few months later, I remembered Jason Reynolds telling us at the breakfast that he kept a copy of Honey, I Love in his back pocket when he was young because it was an important text for him. So, I went to the bookstore and bought myself a little paperback copy, too. Though I consider it to be a part of my “canon” of black children’s books, I’m pretty certain I never owned a copy as a child.Because the book has been on my mind lately, I included it in a guest lecture I gave this past March at Cornell University. The title of my lecture was: Challenging the White Default: Diversity and Representation in Children’s Literature.
I enjoyed rediscovering the book in preparation for the lecture; it’s such a gorgeous celebration of black childhood. I forgot to bring my copy with me to Ithaca, so I visited the Tompkins County Public Library to copy down the first poem, “Honey, I Love.” I opened my lecture by showcasing books I loved in addition to Honey, I Love, like I Need a Lunch Box, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters and Jambo Means Hello. And then I spoke “Honey, I Love” out loud and into existence in that space. I wanted to show the power, endurance and beauty of diverse children’s literature, of black children’s literature. It was such a privilege to share it.
I lectured at Cornell University only a few weeks after my mother passed away from a long battle with colon cancer. This stanza of the poem really resonated with me: “My mama’s on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat / I go and sit beside her, I’m through playing with my boat / I hold her arm and kiss it ‘cause it feels so soft and warm / Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama’s arm / I love to kiss my mama’s arm.” My mama had a soft, brown arm, too, and I’m grateful for such a vivid, positive image of black motherhood and love.
It’s important that black children grow up seeing themselves in all shades & variations of blackness in books. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards do such important work in highlighting and celebrating these stories, authors and illustrators. As a kid growing up in the 90s, it wasn’t easy to find many beautiful images of blackness in books, but when I found texts like Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield, they reassured me that my black existence mattered. I’m so thrilled to celebrate fifty years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and can’t wait to see what the next fifty years of black books bring for our children.
Alia Jones is a member of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community. She is a Sr. Library Services Assistant at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and blogs at readitrealgood.com.