Classic CSK Titles

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

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

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

What CSK titles do you consider classics?

Post by Jonda C. McNair

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

4 thoughts on “Classic CSK Titles”

  1. I certainly think “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred Taylor is a broadly-recognized classic, but it also has the Newbery Medal to its name; unlike its predecessor CSK Honor Book “Song of the Trees,” which SHOULD be a classic but is much less known among the general public.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up in the ’70s, but I feel like “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich” by Alice Childress also counts as a classic, although I confess I don’t know how widely it’s read today.

  2. Great post, Jonda!

    You’ve listed some great ones (and some titles that, sadly, I’ve never seen… gonna have to fix THAT). I’ll add a few from the last few years: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe; Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith (I don’t know of another gothic horror novel set in the 1930s that features primarily characters of color); and The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds.

  3. Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold was the first children’s book that swept me away. It won the CSK Award in 1992.

    In 1991, Leo and Diane Dillon received the CSK illustrator award for Aida, their collaboration with Leontyne Price. Definitely a classic.

    Mildred D. Taylor’s Let the Circle Be Unbroken (one of my favorites as a child), The Land, The Friendship, Long Road to Memphis. All of these are CSK winners that I still love.

    Tom Feelings won the CSK Illustrator Honor back in 1982 for Daydreamers. A classic book that celebrates black children at play and using their imaginations.

    Though still a pretty recent book, 2011 CSK winner One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is one that holds its own with the heavyweights listed above.

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