For over five decades, the Coretta Scott King Book Award has provided a platform for showcasing the talents of numerous authors and illustrators. Historically speaking, the CSK Award has recognized African American authors and illustrators where no such distinction existed before. CSK awardees are literary luminaries who have successfully brought African American children’s literature out of the shadows, thus providing much-needed diversity in children’s literature.
The announcement of the ALA 2020 Youth Media Awards marked an unprecedented milestone. For the first time in the history of children’s literature awards, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards as well as the Newbery and Caldecott Medals chose the same winning books: The Undefeated (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson won both the CSK Illustrator Award and the Caldecott Medal. Additionally, the New Kid (Harper) written and illustrated by Jerry Craft won the CSK Author Award and the Newbery Medal. An examination of the Newbery and Caldecott selections over time and their consideration of African American awardees yields some interesting insights.
Established in 1922, the Newbery Medal is the oldest children’s literature award. In 1975, Virginia Hamilton became the first African American author to win the Newbery Medal for her M. C. Higgins, the Great (Macmillan). Two African American authors followed: Mildred D. Taylor for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial) in 1977 and Kwame Alexander for The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in 2015. In addition, some twenty-six African American authors have been recognized with Newbery Honor Awards. Yet, the Newbery has chosen the same book as the CSK Book Awards jury only one other time. This occurred in 2000 for Bud, Not Buddy (Delacorte) by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Since 1937, the Randolph Caldecott Medal has annually recognized the most distinguished American picture book for children and is awarded to an illustrator. The first Caldecott Medal awarded to an African American occurred in 1976 and went to Leo and Diane Dillon, an interracial couple, for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (Dial) writtenby Verna Aardema. The Dillons won a second medal in 1977 for Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (Dial) written by Margaret Musgrove. In 2010,Jerry Pinkney became the first solo African American illustrator to win a Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown and Company). At present, some thirty African American illustrators have been awarded Caldecott Honors. However, the only other time an illustrator won both the CSK Award and Caldecott Medal was in 2017 when Javaka Steptoe received both for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquitat (Little, Brown and Company).
These prize-winning books have continued to influence reading choices and inspire young readers. And while the CSK, Newberry and Caldecott have long served as guides to those seeking the best in children’s literature, it’s rare that the juries of these prestigious book awards have shared the same vision. Bravo to new directions!
Carolyn L. Garnes served as CSK Book Awards Chair from 1993 to 1997.
“…I started writing my own comics because, I guess, I wanted to see characters who looked like me. Then slowly but surely, I realized that in order to draw these stories, I had to write them myself.” – Jerry Craft
The Los Angeles Public Library – Studio City Branch Children’s Book Club was honored to interview Coretta Scott King and Newberry Award winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft for its latest Children Chatting with Authors podcast episode.
Here is the link to enjoy hearing Craft talk about New Kid, reflect on his favorite authors for children and young adults, and offer some valuable advice.
Lauren Kratz is a member of the CSK Technology Committee, the CSK Awards Book Donation Grant Standing Committee, and a children’s librarian at Los Angeles Public Library.
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.
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.
Christopher Paul Curtis and I are longtime special friends who celebrate the pervasive prominence of the Coretta Scott King Awards and salute their enduring legacy on this occasion of the fiftieth anniversary.
In 1995, I attended the annual National Council of Teachers of English convention. Scanning the program, I noted a session featuring an African American author named Christopher Paul Curtis who was to appear in a panel discussion. His name was slightly familiar, but I could not remember a context in which I had heard of him. With heightened curiosity and my ongoing search for emerging African American voices, I proceeded into the venue announced in the printed program. Christopher and another author who was seated on stage read from their books. Christopher read from his newly published book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1965 (a Coretta Scott King Book Awards Honor). I realized immediately I had discovered a truly gifted storyteller. When I approached him at the end of the session to commend him and introduce myself, I was affected by the humility with which he accepted my comments. His radiating smile portended a new friendship that would be forever and everlasting.
The School of Library and Information Sciences had been
sponsoring a biennial symposium on African American children’s literature at
the time Christopher and I met. I
invited him to deliver a keynote address at the event the next year. He was spectacular as I had expected. From that appearance, at least in North
Carolina, his celebrity was firmly established and I was thrilled for him and
The publication of Bud,
Not Buddy brought special accolades of the Coretta Scott King Books Award
and the Newbery Medal in 2000. I was
present at the Breakfast and the Dinner among the hundreds of others to
celebrate the accomplishment. The book
was personally gratifying for me as Christopher had asked me to read the
manuscript. We had memorable discussions
about my opinions as I continuously predicted it to be an award-winning
In 2008, the year following the publication of Elijah of Buxton which won the Coretta
Scott King Books Award, I visited Christopher who was living in Windsor,
Ontario, Canada. The setting of the
novel is Buxton, a historical settlement in Canada on the Underground
Railroad. My surprise during the visit
was a trip to the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum. It was a wonderfully enlightening Sunday
afternoon of exploring the grounds and reliving the literarily acclaimed story
of Elijah, the first free child born in Buxton.
Christopher had always said he had to return to Bud Not Buddy because he wanted the character Dessa (Deza) Malone who makes a slight appearance to have her own story. He sent the manuscript, The Mighty Miss Malone, to me to read. I was at once intrigued by the 12-year-old main character, Deza, who aspires to be a teacher. In the chapter, I came to a complete stop overwhelmed by what I was reading! Deza’s brother had taken a pie from a window sill placed there to cool. His parents directed him to return the pie, apologize, and seek terms of restitution. With Deza by his side, they meet the woman described as “A very pretty, very tall and distinctive-looking woman with a glorious mane of pulled-back silver-and-black hair and tiny glasses on her nose…”. She eventually introduced herself, “My name is Dr. Bracy.”
One could only imagine how I felt: surprised and shocked, but elated and ecstatic. I was also humbled and hoped that he would realize my humility as the same from the impression I had of him when we first met.
Pauletta Brown Bracy is an Associate Professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences of North Carolina Central University. She is the Immediate Past President of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee and the 2019 winner of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
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.
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 the 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
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.
“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 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 discussed until this day, was proof that Angie’s book was as powerful as our committee believed it to be.
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.
Walter Dean Myers was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, Class of 2017, at the New York Center for the Book Induction ceremony on Monday, June 5,2017, at the Princeton Club in New York City.
Master-of-Ceremonies William Schwalbe noted that among Myers’ many accomplishments are five Coretta Scott King Awards as well as two Newbery Honors, the first Printz Award and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. Myers, the author of over 100 books, was also appointed by the Library of Congress as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post he held from 2012- 2013.
Phoebe Yeh, publisher of Crown Books, Random House, delivered a moving tribute, speaking of Myers connections to New York, where he was raised by his father’s first wife, Florence Dean, after the death of his mother.
Accepting the plaque in Myer’s memory was his widow, Connie Myers. Also in attendance were Andrea Davis Pinkney, Vice President and Editor-at-Large of Scholastic Press, Emily Heddleson, Senior Manager of Library and Educational Marketing for Scholastic, and Jessica MacLeish, Editor at HarperCollins.
This is the not the first recognition of Walter Dean Myers by the Empire State Center for the Book. In 2015 during Children’s Book Week, the Center for the Book together with United for Libraries and the Children’s Book Council honored Myers with the dedication of a Literary Landmark at the George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library, the library Myers frequented as a child.
Rocco Staino, Director of the Empire State Center for the Book, notes that in Myers’ memoir, Bad Boy, Myers wrote, “Harlem is the first place called ‘home’ that I can remember.” This sense of New York as home is reflected in Myers’ writing, including the picture book Harlem and the novels Monster and Darius & Twig. Staino also notes that Florence Dean taught Myers to read in their kitchen, and when he began attending Public School 125, he could read at a second grade level.
Other writers in the Class of 2017 include Lillian Ross, Frederick Law Olmsted, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, Christopher Morley and William Kennedy.
Anticipation ran high as the crowd began to gather at 6:00 a.m. for the 8:00 a.m. American Library Association Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 23, 2017, held in the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Many distinguished books were published in 2016; the buzz and enthusiasm were practically palatable as one entered the rapidly filling room. As the committees entered to sit in the reserved spaces, we got a shot of the Coretta Scott King committee settling in. The Coretta Scott King Award jury was chaired by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who had a great day herself.
Before the book awards were announced, we learned that Dr. Sims Bishop was honored as the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. After the standing ovation, CSK Awards Committee Chair Pauletta Brown Bracy had to ask Dr. Sims Bishop to stand so that the crowd could see her!
The CSK (Author) Medal was awarded to Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, who won an unprecedented number of awards for March: Book Three, including Printz, Sibert, and YALSA Nonfiction), while the CSK Andrew Aydin (Illustrator) Medal was awarded to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe also won the Caldecott Medal.
CSK (Author) Honors were awarded to Jason Reynolds for As Brave As Me and Ashley Bryan for Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. Bryan also won a CSK (Illustrator) Honor for Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life. CSK (Illustrator) Honors were also awarded to R. Gregory Christie for Freedom in Congo Square and Jerry Pinkney for In Plain Sight.
The John Steptoe New Talent Award was given to Nicole Yoon for The Sun is Also a Star.