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CSK Comes to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

Black Books Matter Panel Speakers and Moderator.
Photo credit Sylvia Vardell.

The Coretta Scott King Book (CSK) Awards Committee/Community was well represented at the 56th edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, April 1-4, 2019. The CSK Community was invited to present at a flagship event titled: Black Books Matter: African American Words and Colors. The goal of the presentation was to promote the importance of diversity in children’s books at this international festival with a special focus on African American literature and illustration.

Dr. Claudette McLinn; Chris Myers; Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop; Nikki Grimes; Ilaria Dall’Olio (host); Joshunda Sanders. Photo credit: Mike McLinn.

The distinguished panel included: Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee; Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Author and Professor Emerita at The Ohio State University; Christopher “Chris” Myers, CSK Award-winning author and illustrator; Nikki Grimes, CSK Award-winning poet and author; and Joshunda Sanders, author and journalist. Leonard S. Marcus, critic and historian of children’s literature, was the moderator.

The thought-provoking discussion centered on the various representations of African American life and culture. It also focused on the Coretta Scott King Books Awards, one of the most important prizes in the field of children’s literature. Many questions were generated from the packed meeting room with varying view points from the international attendees.

OUR VOICE art exhibit. Photo credit: Mike McLinn

The event was paired with the art exhibition Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, which showcased the work of over 30 major picture book illustrators and their representation of life, history and culture of African Americans. This exhibition was organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the award.

OUR VOICE art exhibit. Photo credit: Mike McLinn.

CSK members who attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair events were Therese Bigelow, Mary Beth Dunhouse, Dr. Elizabeth Poe, and Barbara Scotto.

This panel presentation and art exhibition was a true excursion into the African American experience, which was intensified by the lively exchange between the panel members and audience. In the words of Therese Bigelow, “What an amazing experience!”

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

CSK Through the Decades: The 2000s

The 2000s were a decade of change: a new decade, a new century and a new millennium. A time when our nation experienced the consequences of a horrifying tragedy: the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, but also a time that fortunately ended on a joyful note when as many children across the country saw themselves represented in our nation’s highest political office for the first time with the election of the first African American President, Barack Obama. This decade also witnessed the Coretta Scott King Books Awards continuing to shine its light on numerous prominent authors and illustrators. In the 2000s, the CSK Book Award was given to its first Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison, 2005 CSK Author Winner for Remember: The Journey to School Integration. Jerry Pinkney won an additional CSK Illustrator Winner Award in 2002 for Goin’ Someplace Special and was awarded an CSK Illustrator Honor two more times, in 2005 for God Bless the Child and in 2009 for The Moon Over Star. Ashley Bryan added two more CSK Illustrator Winner Awards to his mantle, in 2004 for Beautiful Blackbird and in 2008 for Let It Shine. Mildred D. Taylor won her final CSK Author Award in 2002 for The Land.

Perhaps most significantly, this was the decade where two prominent illustrators made a splash in the children’s publishing world and made a huge impact on the Coretta Scott King Book Award community. Kadir Nelson and Bryan Collier received numerous honors and awards for their work both through art and the written word for celebrating many prominent African Americans in history while also illuminating lesser known, yet equally important, stories.

Bryan Collier

Born in Maryland in 1967 as the youngest of six children, Bryan was always an artistic child. With a mother who worked as a teacher, Bryan was always surrounded by books and was primarily drawn to the art in picture books. He remembers reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Harold and the Purple Crayon and becoming fascinated by the illustrations and the joy they conveyed. This led to him to attend art school at Pratt Institute in New York where his signature watercolor and collage pieces attracted the attention of children’s book publishers. Of his nine CSK winner and honor awards, five of them were awarded in the 2000s.  He has won more CSK awards than any other illustrator.

In 2001, Bryan was awarded his first CSK Illustrator Winner Award for Uptown, which he also wrote. Uptown celebrates Harlem, the historic African American New York City neighborhood that has been the home of Black intellectuals, poets, and activists. This thriving community, seen through the eyes of a young boy, allows the reader to feel the vibrant nature of the neighborhood and its people through everyday life experiences. From basketball courts and brownstones to the Apollo Theater and the jazz stylings of Duke Ellington, Bryan’s artwork effectively conveys the joy and sometimes struggles of this community.

That same year, Collier was awarded a CSK Illustrator Honor for Freedom River, written by Doreen Rappaport. A story that highlights the little known tale of John Parker, an African-American man who bought his freedom from slavery and devoted his life afterwards to helping hundreds of people escape slavery through the dangerous Underground Railroad. Unlike Uptown, where Bryan’s art conveys joy and effusion, the art in Freedom River conveys the fear and terror experienced by those trying to escape to a better life. Bryan’s use of deep blues and blacks in his collage work accentuates the emotions and the treacherous path that many had to experience in order to achieve their basic human right of freedom.

In 2002, Bryan won his second CSK Illustrator Honor and his third CSK Book Award overall for his work in Martin’s Big Words, a picture book biography about minister and civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Working again with Doreen Rappaport, Collier achieved an accessible look at the complicated life of one of modern history’s most famous people. Dr. King was a Baptist minister; many of Bryan’s illustrations effectively juxtapose light against the stained glass windows endpapers, revealing King’s majestic serenity.  A young boy features prominently throughout these illustrations, providing young readers with a gateway into the life of this distinguished man and his activism, making this book stand above other MLK, Jr., biographies for children. For his artistic achievement in this work, Bryan was awarded the first of his four Caldecott Honors.

The following year (2003), Bryan won his third Illustrator Honor and fourth CSK award overall for Visiting Langston. Collaborating with acclaimed poet Willie Perdomo, Bryan showcases the joy of Langston Hughes and his work by telling the story of a young girl who is excited about the thought of going to Langston Hughes’s house in NYC (which is still open and operational today) with her father. The appreciation for Hughes’s work resonates through his complex art that, at times, incorporates Perdomo’s words in the illustrations. In one particularly breathtaking spread, the young girl sees the highest peak of Hughes’s home drenched in light reminiscent of light shining through the window of a church.

In 2006, Collier received his second CSK Illustrator Award and fifth CSK award overall for his larger than life work in Rosa. Joining forces with legendary poet Nikki Giovanni, Collier illustrates the story of Rosa Parks, an ordinary woman who did something extraordinary by taking a stand. What makes this story tower over the mountain of titles about Ms. Parks is the breathtaking artwork from Bryan. Not only do the illustrations complement the text but they also extend the text with his glorious signature use of color and light. Murky greens and grays convey the hot hazy Alabama heat while bright beacons of light shine on Rosa throughout her journey. The illustration on the front cover is the pièce de résistance of this fine work. The tall white police officer stands menacingly over Rosa while her bright eyes convey her courage, her fear, and her determination to stand up (or in her case, sit down) for what is right. In the background, Rosa is surrounded by what looks like a halo. This stunning work gave Bryan his second of four Caldecott Honors.

Kadir Nelson

“I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror, reflecting the innermost beauty and divinity of the human spirit, and is most effective when it calls the viewer to remember one’s highest self. I choose subject matter that has emotional and spiritual resonance and focuses on the journey of the hero as it relates to the personal and collective stories of people.” – Kadir Nelson, author website.

Kadir Nelson was born in Maryland in 1974. He has always been drawn to art and the techniques behind art. His uncle was a well-known artist who took Kadir under his wing and nurtured his artistic gifts. His work earned him a spot at Pratt Institute in New York (which Bryan Collier also attended.) Since his graduation in 1996, his work has been in constant demand and attracted the attention of several children’s book publishers. Kadir Nelson has spent his career showcasing and highlighting African-American culture and history. Kadir Nelson has nine CSK awards including two Author Awards, two Illustrator Awards and five Illustrator Honors for his work. Five of these awards were given during the 2000s.

In 2004, Kadir won his first CSK Book Illustrator Honor for Thunder Rose, a tall tale featuring a young African American girl with a can-do attitude and the ability to help out those around her. Rose is born during a thunderstorm and controls the lightning as it zig-zags across the deep dark night sky, portrayed to chilling effect in a double page spread. Kadir illustrates Rose almost always from below to convey her height but to also show how her mighty presence can fill a room. The cover image portrays Rose decked out in country-western gear as she oozes confidence and relatability, looking upon the young reader with a smirk.

A year later, Kadir won his first CSK Illustrator Award for Ellington Is Not A Street, an adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo”. This poem is a snapshot of young Shange’s experiences with many prominent African-American writers, thinkers and activists as they made appearances in her father’s home. In this work, Nelson perfects his oil painting portraits of legendary African-Americans including W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and Duke Ellington, to name a few. These portraits would become a signature part of his work. The respect Kadir has for these people shines through as the personality of each person leaps off the page, giving the young reader a strong sense of who these people are and how important they are.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, Nelson’s collaboration with Carole Boston Weatherford in 2007 earned Kadir his second Illustrator Award. This tribute to the prominent abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader is overflowing with esteem for its subject. Nelson’s dramatic signature portrait is on full display on the cover that not only displays his regard for his subject but also conveys the deep connection that Tubman had to God and her religious beliefs. Nelson showcases the admiration that the people who relied on Tubman’s help had for her as shown in dramatic double page spreads throughout. This exquisite work earned Kadir his first Caldecott Honor.

In 2009, Kadir Nelson made history with We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. This first book that he both wrote and illustrated earned him his first CSK Author Award, third Illustrator Honor Award and fourth and fifth wins overall. These wins made Kadir the first person to win both a CSK Author Award and a CSK Illustrator Award. In this retelling of the history of Negro League Baseball, Kadir’s deep regard for his subjects bursts from the page through both words and pictures. Told through his signature oil paint portraits, Kadir makes an everyman baseball player look like a head of state. The perspectives of many of these portraits are shown from below or straight on, making this an awe-inspiring experience for young readers. Readers will smell the dusty fields where the teams played and feel the hard wooden benches they sat on while experiencing all nine innings of Kadir’s delicate yet powerful prose.

These two artists, Bryan Collier and Kadir Nelson, represent some of the greatest talent to earn CSK Awards. Since the 2000s, they have continued to work steadily and have collected more awards for their mantle in the process.

Christopher Lassen is a Youth Materials Selector for The New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library. Chris is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.

CSK Book Awards: A CSK Juror Reflects

Four days after winning a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award for The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas attracted over 500 patrons to Downtown Cleveland.  Not only was this one of the most significant author events the library had witnessed in a while, but it was also the most diverse.   Several generations of book lovers of all colors came to hear Angie speak; some drove hours from out of town to be present. 

Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium
Photo Credit: The Cleveland Public Library

On a cold Saturday morning in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 2018, a line formed in front of the Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes Wing auditorium doors two hours before they were scheduled to open.  An abundance of local high school students, college students, professors, and neighborhood book club members from the Fair Fax community were dropped off by bus.  Auditorium seats became scarce, overflow seating began to fill up inside the Indoor Reading Garden, followed by seating on the second floor.  Unfortunately, once we reached the maximum capacity of 500, patrons had to be turned away. 

Thomas’ presentation was just as raw and humorous as her debut novel, as she spoke on her love for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the movie Black Panther, released the same weekend of her visit to Cleveland.

The shooting death of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man killed by a police officer at Fruitvale BART Station motivated Thomas to create this novel, which began as a short story.  Thomas explained the title, which is inspired by Tupac Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. tattoo; The Hate U Give Little Infants F*s Everyone. 

Angie Thomas
Photo Credit: The Cleveland Public Library

 “Last year, more than 900 people were killed by police.  People should care more about that number than the number of f-words.” Thomas said, after discussing the banning of her book in a suburban school district in Texas, and how students fought to get T.H.U.G. back on the shelves.

The question of colorism in selecting Amandla Stenberg in the Fox 2000 film did arise.  Thomas informed the oversized crowd, just as she did on twitter, that she was not involved in casting, but that fully supported Stenberg and hoped people would give her a chance.

In closing, Thomas addressed young people in the audience, informing them that their actions mold the future.  Thomas let the crowd of 500 plus know, “I am here to beg you to change the world.”

Having served on the 2016-2018 Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury, I am cognizant of thoughts jurors may have; that great feeling of knowing your team got it right.   This author event, which is still talked about until this day, was proof that Angie’s book was as powerful as our committee believed it to be.

Erica Marks and Angie Thomas
Photo Credit: The Cleveland Public Library

The Hate U Give is one of many titles representing the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.  After Angie Thomas’ author visit, the Cleveland Public Library hosted an author event featuring Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Honor Winners for Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James in partnership with Case Western Reserve University Schubert Center for Child Studies, The Cleveland Foundation and Anisfield Book Awards. Our most recent visit, was from Floyd Cooper, Coretta Scott King Honor, and Illustrator Winner, in partnership with A Cultural Exchange.   As we celebrate 50 years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, I am truly honored to share the work our CSK community upholds with patrons in my neighborhood, spreading peace and love through literature.  

Erica Marks is Corresponding Secretary for the CSK Book Awards Executive Board. She is Youth Outreach & Programming Coordinator for the Cleveland Public Library. 

CSK Through the Decades: The 1990s (Part 2)

By the mid 1990s, the CSK Book Awards was on solid ground and fully positioned to recognize and reward the new African American children’s and young adult literary talent emerging, as well as those already on the path of excellence. From 1995 and on through the remainder of the decade, the CSK Book Awards journeyed full-steam ahead, bringing extraordinary authors and illustrators along for the glorious ride.

James E. Ransome

Illustrator James E. Ransome is second to none in his visual creations that superbly depict all manner of African American history, life, and culture.  In 1995, he received the CSK Illustrator Award for his artistic contribution to the picture book The Creation.

Ransome’s greatest award-winning picture books include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Visiting Day and 1994 CSK Honor Book Uncle Jed’s Barbershop. In recognition of his extraordinary artistic ability, The Children’s Book Council named Ransome as one of 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know in 1994.

Often Ransome teams up with his talented wife, author Lesa Cline-Ransome. Together the two have produced several noteworthy titles, including their latest highly praised picture book, Before She Was Harriet, which tells of the many names and roles Harriet Tubman had throughout her life in a reverse chronology.  Ransome received his second CSK Illustrator Award. for this work, in 2018.

Sharon Draper

1995 was a ground-breaking year for new young adult author Sharon Draper, who quickly gained national recognition and regard when she emerged as the inaugural recipient of the CSK John Steptoe Award for Outstanding New Talent for her riveting first novel, Tears of a Tiger. After a successful career as an educator and the state of Ohio’s Teacher of the Year, Draper would go on to win four more CSK Author Awards and Honors during her notable literary career.

Tears of a Tiger takes the reader along for the ride into the life of Andy, an African American teen who struggles to cope and accept the alcohol-related death of his best friend, whose life was cut shore in a terrible car accident while he was behind the wheel.  Using letters, journal writing and class assignments or activities to organize and advance the novel, Draper aptly draws on school experiences that are relatable to young adults and help them understand and even empathize with several of the book’s characters.

Fellow educators have frequently marveled over the book’s ability to compel youth who had never finished a novel before to read Tears of a Tiger in its entirety. Tears of a Tiger was also honored as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, recognized as one of the best books of the year by the Children’s Book Council and named Best of the Best by VOYA and the American Library Association, as one of the top 100 books for young adults. It is the first book in what would later become the Hazelwood High trilogy and was followed by the sequel, Forged by Fire, also a winner of the CSK Author Award in 1997 and Darkness Before Dawn in 2001.

In Forged by Fire, Draper provides an unfortunate, yet authentic, account of the life of African American teenager and basketball player Gerald as he tries to handle his tough home life and protect his younger sister and himself from the inattention and neglect experienced by their emotionally absent mother and the mental and physical torment endured at the hands of his abusive step-father.

Continuing to amass literary accolades and accomplishments, Draper received three more CSK Awards within a four-year span.  In 2004 her book, The Battle of Jericho was selected as a CSK Honor Book; it gives the reader a raw look into the often-ignored topic of hazing and succumbing to peer pressure based on the desire to be accepted at all costs.

In 2007 Draper again won a CSK Author Award for Copper Sun. This emotion-filled and gut-wrenching historical fiction story details the horrific circumstances of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the resulting harsh plantation life in America from the perspective of 15-year-old Amari, an enslaved Ashanti girl who, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, demonstrates fortitude, inventiveness, and hope for a better future.  Copper Sun was also named as one of the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth by Booklist, nominated for the 2007 NAACP Image Award for Literature, and listed as a New York Times Bestseller.

A year later Draper’s novel November Blues, was chosen as a CSK Honor Book in 2008. It is the second novel in the Jericho trilogy which ends with Just Another Hero, published in 2009.  November Blues was also featured on the 2008 New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age list. This story allows the reader to peer into the crisis-filled life of November, a teenager who is grieving the recent death of her boyfriend as the result of a high school hazing event gone terribly wrong. Matters are made worse when she soon learns that she is pregnant with his child and must decide on the best path forward as an expectant mother and high school student grappling with the unexpected consequences of life-altering, split-second choices that deeply affect her and the people she loves and cares for.

Out of my Mind, published in 2010, is considered by many to be Draper’s most well-written and received work thus far.  The book remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for nearly two years, has been translated into 20 languages, and was selected to 32 state reading lists.

In 2015 the American Library Association honored Draper as the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime literary achievement. Acknowledging her interconnected relationship with reading, writing and teaching, the author has shared that she learned to dream through reading, to create dreams through writing and to develop dreamers through teaching.  

Draper’s latest book, Blended, was published in 2018 and deals with issues of divorce, racism and blended families from the perspective of Isabella, a bi-racial preteen. Draper continues to skillfully ignite and engage a diverse body of youth and young adult readers with her appealing, realistic and thought-provoking storylines and writing style.

Javaka Steptoe

Javaka Steptoe, the phenomenal son of literary groundbreaker and CSK New Talent Award eponym John Steptoe, is as eclectic and unique an artist and author as his name suggests. In 1998 he was the recipient of the CSK Illustrator Award for his first book, In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall:  African Americans Celebrating Fathers, and dedicated it to the memory of his own father. This beautifully illustrated book celebrates the majesty and splendor of African American fathers through poetry (one he contributed, titled “Seeds,” was written in homage to his father) and an African proverb. In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall was an ALA Notable Children’s Book selection and received a nomination for Outstanding Children’s Literature Work at the 1998 NAACP Image Awards.

Almost 20 years later, Steptoe was once again recognized and rewarded for his dual talent as an illustrator and author when he received the CSK Author Award in 2017 for his picture book biography, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. In Radiant Child, Steptoe writes the sometimes complicated yet ever remarkable life story of the young, gifted and Black visual artist Basquiat, with a compassion and dignity that helps to lessen the sadness the reader cannot help but feel for the loss of a rare genius, gone too soon.  His words, coupled with the colorful and captivating collages that comprise the book’s illustrations, make this work an artistic and literary masterpiece, bar none. Adding to his professional success that year, Steptoe also received the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Regarding his use of collage as a frequent art form, Steptoe once declared it a means of survival. From his perspective, this hodge-podge artistic method is analogous to how Black people have survived 400 years of oppression and taken the scraps life has thrown them and fashioned them into art.

Sharon Flake

Rounding out the 1990s CSK Book Award recipients is none other than children and youth author Sharon Flake, who in 1999 burst onto the literary scene as the last of only three recipients of the CSK John Steptoe Award for New Talent during the 10-year span. In that year Flake was recognized and rewarded for her highly acclaimed book The Skin I’m In, which featured the head shot of a dark-skinned beauty on the cover that captivated and commanded the attention of countless readers in the United States and internationally.  Possessing its own literary brand of Black Girl Magic, The Skin I’m In tells the all-too-familiar story of Maleeka, a 13-year-old middle school student who suffers from low self-esteem because of her dark skin and profound sadness due to the sudden death of her father.  With the aid of an unexpected ally, Maleeka ultimately develops the strength to battle and defeat the internal and external foes she faces in order to finally be content in her own skin. Written in a culturally relevant and realistic style that speaks the language of so many Black youths globally, the book was a compelling force that sparked important conversations about race and demanded that attention be paid to the deleterious effects of racism and colorism in our contemporary culture. In 2018, The Skin I’m In celebrated its 20th Anniversary, which included a foreword written by Jason Reynolds. With well over one million copies in print and translated into several languages, this powerful work has withstood the literary test of time and promises to forge ahead in popularity and praise for many more decades to come.

In recognition of her incredible ability to reach active and reluctant young readers alike through her engaging, keeping-it-real writing style, Flake received a CSK Book Honor in 2002 for Money Hungry, which takes the reader on the journey of a teenage girl’s challenges to overcome the cyclical poverty her family has endured for generations. Who Am I Without Him: Short Story Collection about Girls and Boys in Their Lives earned Flake her second CSK Honor in 2005; this book recounts a variety of social, emotional and physical entanglements and experiences endured by girls facing real-life relationship challenges and struggles.

Sharon Flake’s literary repertoire includes eight novels, a short story collection and a children’s picture book.  Her written works continue to receive numerous awards, honors and recognition for their literary merit and distinguished style.

Without question, the 1990s was a decade bursting with new and established African American literary notables as evidenced by the bestowing of more than 30 prized CSK Author, Illustrator and Honor Awards during this time period.  Many first time and relatively new award recipients in the 1990s went on to receive additional CSK Book Awards in later years, as well as other book awards and recognitions.

Regarded as the gold standard for annually evaluating the best in African American children’s and young adult literature created by a cadre of exceptionally talented African American authors or illustrators, the CSK Book Awards is unparalleled in acknowledging literary works that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.  Growing increasingly stronger in its reputation for identifying, recognizing and showcasing the meritorious contributions of emerging and existing talent, the CSK Book Awards firmly established its distinctive place among other literary award programs during the 1990s.

For a printable list of all the CSK winners to date, with a thumbnail image of each book cover, visit https://aalbc.com/books/csk-list.php


Nichole Lynn Shabazz is a Media and Educational Technology Specialist for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her forthcoming book, Engaging Boys of Color at the Library:  Proven Strategies for Reading Achievement (ABC-CLIO, Libraries Unlimited) will be available Summer 2020.  She is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.

CSK Through the Decades: The 1990s (Part 1)

The two decades prior to the 1990s firmly established the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, among its earlier created counterparts, as exemplary and essential. During the 1990s, incredibly talented authors and illustrators such as Angela Johnson, Sharon Draper, Sharon Flake, James Ransome, Tom Feelings, Javaka Steptoe, and Patricia and Fredrick McKissack received award recognition and honors for their outstanding written works and exceptional illustrations celebrating and showcasing the remarkable culture and history of African Americans.

Patricia and Fredrick McKissack

At the start of the decade, literary couple extraordinaire Patricia and Fredrick McKissack won the 1990 CSK Author Award for A Long Hard Journey:  The Story of the Pullman Porter. This title recounted the true story of the powerful union effort and victory of African American Pullman porters known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters as they ultimately became the first major Black labor union admitted to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1925.

The McKissacks were inspired to write African and African American stories and make history come alive for children in order to introduce them to the greatness exhibited and pain endured by such extraordinary people. Their aim was to provide stories that deeply resonated with young people in a way they could understand, internalize, and connect with emotionally. Together, this literary power couple co-wrote more than 50 books, with Fred serving as the primary researcher and Patricia writing the text. They attributed their continued success to constant communication and conferring with one another throughout the writing process.

In 1993, the McKissacks won a CSK Honor Book designation for Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman? This biographical account told the story of Sojourner Truth, an African American female activist, abolitionist and preacher who dedicated her life to the cause for African American and women’s equal rights.

Writing numerous books herself, in 1993 Patricia McKissack received the CSK Author Award for what has been considered, by some, as her most notable work, The Dark Thirty:  Southern Tales of the Supernatural.  This compilation of nine stories and a poem was written from memories of her childhood when the half hour before nightfall was considered the dark thirty.  This award-winning title was illustrated by Brian Pinkney, who also won the CSK Illustrator Award for Sukey and the Mermaid in the same year.

Teaming up again, two years later, Fred and Patricia won their second CSK Author Award in 1995 for Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters. This historical story described the contrast between the slaveholder and the enslaved as they prepared the Big House for the Christmas holiday on a Virginia plantation in the 1850s, while also revealing the triumphant spirit of a people, who, in spite of oppression, find a way to prepare their humble yet heart-filled living quarters for the “Big Times.” In this same year, the couple receive another CSK Honor Book recognition for, Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues. In this non-fiction book, they share the history of the Negro League Baseball and pay homage to the legendary players whose perseverance and enduring spirit paved the way for others to follow.

Honoring their illustrious careers and unforgettable contributions to African American children’s literature, the McKissack’s were awarded the prestigious Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014, shortly after Fred’s death a year earlier.  After what can only be regarded as a remarkable literary ride of more than 40 years, Patricia McKissack died in 2017. Her final picture book What is Given from the Heart, an endearing tale about the priceless act of giving, was posthumously published in 2019.

Tom Feelings

In 1994 Tom Feelings received the CSK Illustrator Award for Soul Looks Back in Wonder. Throughout his multi-dimensional artistic and literary career, Feelings created as a painter, sculptor, cartoonist, illustrator and author whose work visually exuded the uplifting mantra, “Black is Beautiful,” which evoked pride and respect from people of African descent while commanding awe and appreciation from fans all over the world.

Just two years later, Feelings was again awarded the CSK Illustrator Award in 1996 for his breathtaking picture book The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo. The arresting illustrations visually tell the harrowing and tragic story of the forced journey of Africans to the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  Once asked, who he was and what he did, Feelings responded that he was an African who was born in America and a visual storyteller producing art rooted in African culture, informed by the African American experience and reflecting and interpreting the lives and experiences of the people who gave him life. After more than four decades fulfilling his mission to encourage and inspire Black children to know and love their beauty, in every way. Tom Feelings died in 2003.

Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson’s first CSK Book Award recognition came in 1991 when she received a CSK Honor for her book When I Am Old with You.  This lovely story features a small African American boy and his grandfather, who share happiness and family ties that transcend generational differences.

Like Tom Feelings, who was recognized for his artistic talent by the CSK Book Awards in 1994, Angela Johnson won the CSK Author Award, in the same year, for her book Toning the Sweep.  In this poignant novel, the lives of three generations of African American women, 14-year-old Emily, her mother and grandmother (who is dying of cancer), are chronicled as each holds their own separate truths that are ultimately revealed to the others.

Fairly new on the literary scene in the early 1990s, Johnson’s acclaim quickly grew as young readers, fellow authors and book reviewers marveled at her rare and resonant writing style which captured her audience with relevant stories that spoke to children and older youth. Her goal was and still is to write books filled with characters who come alive and stick with the reader far after the story has ended.  

Johnson closed out the decade by earning her second CSK Author Award in 1999 for her book, Heaven.  In this story, the main character Marley’s world is turned upside down when she learns that she is not the biological daughter or the parents who raised her and must come to terms with what it truly means to be someone’s family. In 1999 she also received a CSK Honor for her book, The Other Side: Shorter Poems.

Five years later, Johnson won her third CSK Author Award in 2004 for her novel, The First Part Last, and the prequel to Heaven. This novel offers an alternating before and after perspective inside the life of 16-year-old Bobby, a new father, raising his daughter as a single parent.

Impressed with an admiring reader and aspiring writer, Elizabeth Acevedo, Johnson dedicated the novel to Miss Acevedo and her 1999-2000 sixth grade class. Fast forward almost 20 years later and it is as if the nod in recognition of the writer’s emerging talent and Johnson’s intuitive foresight, coupled with her own literary and poetic prowess, added fuel to Acevedo who, in 2018, skyrocketed to even higher heights of recognition and respect by winning the coveted National Book Award, and the Globe-Horn Book Award for her book The Poet X.  The novel-in-verse also won the 2019 Pura Belpre and Printz Awards. Fondly recalling the importance of being regarded and the impact Johnson’s book dedication had on her, Acevedo noted it as the first time she’d ever seen her name in print.

Among her vast career accomplishments, Angela Johnson has been named a MacArthur Foundation fellow and Genius Grant recipient. This rare honor is given to a select few who are considered exceptionally talented in their creative endeavors and comes with a hefty $500,000 prize. Over the years, Johnson has received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, the Printz Award and the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth’s Literary Award. To date, she has written over 40 picture books, poetry, short stories and young adult novels.

Please stay tuned for Part Two, which will feature Sharon Draper, Sharon Flake, James Ransome, and Javaka Steptoe.

Nichole Lynn Shabazz  is a Media and Educational Technology Specialist for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her forthcoming book, Engaging Boys of Color at the Library:  Proven Strategies for Reading Achievement (ABC-CLIO, Libraries Unlimited) will be available Summer 2020.  She is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.

Opportunity at ALA Annual: Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photo credit: Susan Polos

As you visit DC for Annual, there are some sites that must not be missed. One is the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).  Here are some tips to expedite your visit:

  • VIP TOURS are being offered on Thursday June 20 and Tuesday June 25 beginning at 9:30 am on each day. Contact Bettye Smith at bls.csktreas2018@gmail.com if you would like to participate.  Sign up is required – Deadline is May 3. For security reasons, all names must be submitted to the museum.
  • GROUP VISITS – If VIP tours are not convenient or available, group tickets may be obtained.  Go to website https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/groups for more details.  (This does not include any tours.  The Welcome Desk inside the museum will have more information if any tours are available.)
  • WALK-INS – For entry into the museum Monday through Friday after 1:00 pm, no passes are required.
  • SAME DAY PASSES – These are available online at https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes each day beginning at 6:30 am. Up to 4 passes per order may be obtained.
  • ADVANCED TIMED PASSES – These are available online 3 months prior to the month of your visit.  Unfortunately the date for June has passed.

Please check the museum website https://nmaahc.si.edu or email Bettye Smith at bls.csktreas2018@gmail.com if you have additional questions.

Bettye Smith is treasurer of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee.

CSK Through the Decades: The 1980s

In the 1980s, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards became an official ALA award as African American literature evolved and transformed the landscape of children’s literature.  The work of authors, Walter Dean Myers and Virginia Hamilton, as well as that of illustrators, Jerry Pinkney, John Steptoe and Ashley Bryan, forever changed the face of children’s literature. These literary giants claimed their rightful place by producing some of the best in children’s literature.  All have received multiple CSK Book Awards during this period that played a significant role in propelling their careers.

Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers, a pioneer of young adult fiction, won his first CSK Book Award for the groundbreaking Young Landlords in 1980.  Myers captured two more CSK Author Award wins in 1985 for Motown and Didi: A Love Story and in 1989 for Fallen Angels, a Vietnam conflict saga.  Some 80-plus titles later, Myers’ books have stood the test of time as moving, tough stories for and about black male teens.  Myers has won more CSK Book Awards than any other author, garnering five wins and six honors.  He is the recipient of the numerous other book awards. He also served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post appointed by the Library of Congress.  Mostly recently, he posthumously became the winner of ALSC’s Children Literature Legacy Award.   

    

Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton had already ignited the children’s book world by becoming the first African American author to win a Newbery Medal in 1975 for M. C. Higgins, the Great, for which she also won the National Book Award. In the eighties, her talent continued to soar and she captured two CSK Book Awards, in 1983 for Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush and in 1986 for The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. The 1980s also brought Hamilton four CSK Honor book awards: The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl (1984), A Little Love (1985), Junius Over Far (1986), and Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave (1989)Hamilton was one of the most distinguished authors of twentieth century children’s literature.  She received nearly every award in the field during her 35-year career, including the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the MacArthur Fellowship, becoming the first author of books for youth to do so.  In 2010 the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award was named in her honor.

John Steptoe

John Steptoe was only 18-years-old when his first book, Stevie, received national attention in 1969. The eighties witnessed Steptoe winning two CSK Illustrator Awards: Mother Crocodile: An Amadou Tale from Sengal written by Rosa Guy in 1983, and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: an African Tale in 1988He also won a CSK Illustrator Honor award in 1983 for All the Colors of the Race.  Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters became his breakthrough book; the African tale is still widely used today, appearing on school reading lists and a favorite among storytellers.  In his 20-year career, Steptoe illustrated 16 picture books, 12 of which he also wrote. With the permission of his family, the John Steptoe New Talent Award was established by the CSK Book Awards committee to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration. The award has existed since 1995 but began bearing the Steptoe name in 1999.

Jerry Pinkney

Jerry Pinkney’s career as book illustrator was launched at a critical time in the evolution of African American children’s literature. When the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC) was established, dedicated to integrating the content of children’s books and also securing more African American writers and illustrators to create these books, Pinkney was there as a greeting card designer and creator of the first black stamps. His initial work with CIBC included book cover art and illustrations in fiction titles. Pinkney reviewed his first CSK nod in 1981 with an Illustrator Honor for Count on Your Fingers African Style. That was followed by three CSK Book Awards wins: Mirandy and Brother Wind (1989), Half a Moon and One Whole Star (1987), and The Patchwork Quilt (1986)There is no doubt that the CSK Book Awards was instrumental in bringing visibility and recognition to his work. Pinkney’s career now spans some fifty-plus years and he has received numerous awards and honors.  In 2010, he captured the Caldecott Medal for his adaption of the classic tale The Lion and the Mouse.  He had previously won five Caldecott honors.   With more than a hundred books to his credit,   Pinkney has made an incredible contribution to the world of children’s books and has helped to advance multiculturalism and African American themes.

Ashley Bryan

Author and artist Ashley Bryan could be called the “grandfather’’ of African American children book illustrators because he has been the inspiration for so many up and coming illustrators.  It was in 1980s when Bryan met his stride, his talent was revealed, and the CSK Book Awards acknowledged and rewarded his work. He received four CSK Illustrator Honors during the 1980s: Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum (1981), I’m Going to Sing: Black American Spirituals (1983), Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales (1987) and What a Morning! The Christmas Story in Black Spirituals (1988) .  Bryan’s remarkable career has spanned half a century and he has published over 50 titles.  Motivated by the black oral tradition, many of Bryan’s books were influenced by African American spirituals and African folktales.  He has been the recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder/Legacy Award; he has been a May Hill Arbuthnot lecturer and the recipient of countless other awards and recognitions.   It is gratifying to know that Bryan’s legacy and his lifelong collection of letters, books and artwork will be preserved for generations to come at the University of Pennsylvania.

As you can see, this vanguard of black children’s book creators achieved literary success, bringing African American children’s literature to the forefront and providing much needed diversity to children’s literature.

Carolyn Garnes is Chair of the CSK Marketing Committee /past CSK Committee Chair 1990-1994 & CSK Book Awards Jury, 1987-1994.

CSK Awards – 50 Years Strong!

Photo credit: Pat Toney
Photo credit: Pat Toney

On Monday, January 28, Dr. Claudette McLinn, Chair, announced the 2019 Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Award winners and Honor books, the 2019 John Steptoe winning titles for author and illustrator, and the 2019 CSK-Virginia Hamilton Award winner. This is the 50th year of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and the logo was prominently displayed on the screen at the ALA Youth Media Award annoucement ceremony.

First announced was the 2019 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Acheivement (Practioner), Dr. Pauletta Bracy.

Photo credit: Pat Toney

Next up was the John Steptoe Award for New Talent. The 2019 Steptoe Award for New Talent (Illustrator) was awarded to Oge Mora, author and illustrator of Thank You, Omu! The 2019 John Steptoe Award for New Talent (Author) was awarded to Tiffany D. Jackson for Monday’s Not Coming (HarperCollins)

2019 Coretta Scott King Book Award Honors for Illustration were awarded to Laura Freedman for Hidden Figures (written by Margot Lee Sherrerly, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books); Frank Morrison for Let the Children March (written by Moncia Clark-Robison, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); and R. Gregory Christie for Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop (written by Alice Faye Duncan, published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights).

The 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustration was awarded to Ekua Holmes, illustrator of The Stuff of Stars (written by Marion Dane Bauer and published by Candlewick Press).

2019 Coretta Scott King Book Award Author Honors  were awarded to Lesa Cline-Ransome for Finding Langston (Holiday House); Varian Johnson for The Parker Inheritance ( Arthur A. Levine Books, a division of Scholastic); and Kekla Magoon for The Season of Styx Malone (Wendy Lamb Books, a divison of Penguin Random House LLC ).

The 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Author Award winner is Claire Hartfield for A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Photo credit: Pat Toney

Many thanks to the members of the 2019 Coretta Scott Book Awards Jury and to the 2019 CSK-Virginia Hamilton Award Jury.

Don’t forget to purchase your ticket to the CSK Breakfast to be held in June during ALA Annual when we will celebrate all these awards!

Susan Polos works as a school librarian at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, NY.  She is chair of the CSK Book Awards Technology Committee.

CSK Legends: Eloise Greenfield

 

Children need to know, and to see in books, the truth — the beauty, intelligence, courage, and ingenuity of African and African American people.  Eloise Greenfield, CSK Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech


CSK Legends
is a series of interviews saluting early recipients of the Coretta Scott King Book Award.  For our first post in this series we raise the spotlight on Eloise Greenfield.

With a career spanning over fifty years and nearly as many books to her credit, Eloise Greenfield is one of the most beloved authors of children’s literature.  

With work that spans a range of genres, including poetry and informative prose, Greenfield won her first Coretta Scott King Honor for her biography Paul Robeson in 1976. In 1978 she received the CSK Author Award for Africa Dream and a CSK Author Honor for her biography of Mary McLeod Bethune. She subsequently won CSK Author Honors for Childtimes: A Three Generation Memoir (1980), Nathaniel Talking (1990),  Night on Neighborhood Street (1992) and The Great Migration: Journey to the North (2012).

The following interview took place over several email exchanges and has been edited for clarity. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Jené Watson: What an honor to interview you! Congratulations on being the 2018 recipient of Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Eloise Greenfield: It is my honor to have received such a special award.

JW: You originally planned to be a teacher, then worked in civil service for a while before (or at the same time that) you began writing in earnest. What made you decide to focus your attention on writing exclusively for children?

EG:  My shyness interfered with my plan to become a teacher, and after I had worked for a while in the 1950s as a civil service clerk-typist, I became bored.  I had always loved books and words, and I felt that I could become a writer, one who was reclusive, as some writers are.

Throughout the 1950s, I studied books on the craft of writing and submitted my poems, stories and articles to publishers. After many rejections, I finally had a poem published in 1962, and throughout the sixties my poems and short stories for children and adults were published in Scholastic Scope and in Negro Digest.

Courtesy of Eloise Greenfield

In 1971, I headed the adult fiction division of the D.C. Black Writers’ Workshop, founded and directed by Annie Crittenden. I had written Bubbles, which later became my first children’s book, and  Sharon Bell Mathis, who headed the children’s literature division, suggested that I write a picture book biography for the Crowell Publishers series, now a part of HarperCollins. Subsequently, I continued to write for children.

JW: Songs are the stories that children are first introduced to, and in some cases songs and poetry are one and the same. Two of my favorite things about your work are its everyday poetic language and your commitment to offering more rounded views of black children, families and communities. Please talk about why this is so important.

EG: I feel that poetic language is not restricted to formal speech. We can hear in all kinds of language the in-depth meanings and the musicality that make it poetic. I want children to know this, to hear the power of language and also to know how beautiful and intelligent African and African American people are.

On the other hand, writing is never fun for me. It’s work, because I have to concentrate on the craft I have studied and keep revising until all aspects —  the meanings and the musicality of language — are exactly what I want them to be. No, writing is not fun, but it’s satisfying work, and I love every minute of it!

JW: You won your first CSK Honor in 1976 for your biography Paul Robeson.  A little before that, in 1973, you wrote a similar biography on Rosa Parks and in 1977 you devoted one to the life of educator Mary McLeod Bethune. How did you select the subjects for your biographies? Did you choose the subjects to write about or did a publisher suggest them to you?

EG:  These biographies are all a part of the Crowell Biography Series. I chose them because I didn’t feel that enough had been said about them and the importance of their work.  

JW: What effect did winning your first CSK have on how you thought about your writing?  What kinds of shifts did you notice in your career after winning it?

EG:  Awards have not changed the way I feel about my writing. I feel that it’s important that writers take seriously their efforts and the effect they have on the public and always to do their best work. Awards bring attention to an author’s work and often an increase in sales, and are wonderful pats on the back to let us know that our work is appreciated.

JW: Some critics insist that the world has moved beyond the need for ethnically-based awards and that awards like the CSK are not as relevant or necessary as they once were.  As an elder who’s witnessed trends and cycles, can you speak to this? And how would you compare the present terrain of publishing for children of color to that of past decades?

EG: Although there have been improvements in the number and quality of good books about African and African American people, these awards are as important as they ever were.  Racism still exists in life and in literature, and even if racial discrimination were to end, the awards would take their place among all the other awards that exist in literature and in so many other fields.

JW: You’re keeping busy with fun projects where you’re collaborating with younger artists.  One of them is a lively Youtube video of you doing “Nathaniel’s Rap,” filmed and produced by your grandson, Terique Greenfield.  The other is a gorgeous picture book about a boy and his dog titled Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me illustrated by Iranian artist, Ehsan Abdollahi.  How did these projects come about?

EG: The “Nathaniel’s Rap” video was produced several years ago. [It’s a] poem from my book Nathaniel Talking. My grandson, Terique Greenfield, who is a composer and also has sometimes directed videos, wrote the music and directed the video for me. It turned out very well, and it was fun, because I had no creative responsibility. I just had to follow Terique’s directions.

Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me cover courtesy of Ehsan Abdollahi and Tiny Owl Publishing

About two years ago, I was followed on Twitter by Tiny Owl Publishing, a company in Britain. I followed them back.  I then sent the manuscript for Thinker. They loved it and engaged Ehsan Abdollahi, a highly regarded artist, to illustrate it. The book was published in April 2018, and has received many favorable reviews. The British edition of Thinker contains a few British spellings, and I am happy that an edition with U.S. spellings will be published in the U.S., in April 2019, by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Two other acclaimed artists have recently illustrated my books:  Don Tate, PAR-TAY!: Dance of the Veggies and Their Friends (2018) and Daniel Minter, The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives (2019), both by Alazar Press.

JW: Many of your earlier books are still in print after more than 40 years. To what to you credit your literary longevity?

EG:  I credit the longevity of some books to many factors. In addition to the quality of the text and illustrations, there is the subject matter and the tastes of the reading public, the work of the agents and publicists, marketing by the publisher and booksellers, as well as the awards and favorable reviews that bring attention to the work.

 

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives and Par-Tay: Dance of the Veggies and their Friends courtesy of Alazar Press

 

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Follow Eloise Greenfield on Twitter @ELGreenfield

Jené Watson is a writer, mother and public librarian who lives in suburban Atlanta.  She loves arts and history and is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color (indigopen.com).

The Man Behind the Coretta Scott King Award Seal: Lev T. Mills

Have you ever wondered about the CSK seal? Who designed it and what do all those symbols mean? For an insight into the seal’s design and the artistic journey of Lev Mills, visit the 50th anniversary website.  You can hear from Lev Mills, and it will be an inspiring educational experience.

 

Carolyn Garnes is CSK Marketing chair and past CSK Task Force chair, 1993-1997.