Category Archives: CSK Award Winners

LAPL Welcomes Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards Exhibition

Entrance to Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award exhibition. Artwork by Ekua Holmes, winner of the 2018 CSK Illustrator Award. Image credit: Michael McLinn

Thursday evening, November 14, 2019, was the opening reception of Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards in the Getty Gallery of the Los Angeles Central Library in Los Angeles, California. This traveling exhibition is the culminating activity of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee’s 50th Anniversary celebration. The exhibition features over 100 works from more than 30 CSK winners and honor illustrators and will remain on view through January 27, 2020. Our Voice is the largest and most comprehensive presentation of CSK Illustrator winners and honors ever assembled since the award was established in 1974.

From left to right: Kren Malone, John Szabo, Dr. Claudette McLinn, and Jené Brown. Image credit: Los Angeles Public Library.

Invited guests were greeted upon entering the exhibition by the magnificent cover art of Ekua Holmes, winner of the 2018 illustrator award for the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. This masterful exhibit was arranged in chronological sequence, beginning with George Ford’s winning illustration of the biography Ray Charles in 1974 to the present. 

Guests were welcomed by Jené D. Brown, Principal Librarian, Engagement & Outreach, and Kren Malone, Central Library Director. Guests also heard remarks from John F. Szabo, City Librarian, and Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Immediate Past-Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. Special remarks were delivered by Ernest Wilson, husband of CSK 1991 illustration award winner Kathleen Atkins Wilson, whose artwork titled The Storyteller appears on the advertisement of the show. 

Guests at the Our Voice opening reception in the Getty Gallery, Los Angeles Central Library. Image credit: Michael McLinn

Our Voice was curated by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas, in partnership with the Coretta Scott King Books Awards Committee of the American Library Association’s Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT). Guests enjoyed refreshments by Chef Marilyn of Los Angeles, cake by Big Sugar Bakeshop, and received gift bags which included a timeline of CSK events, a magnet and pin, accompanied by bookmarks. This is indeed a remarkable exhibition and a must-see for those visiting the Los Angeles area.

Our Voice exhibition storytelling area for children. Image credit: Michael McLinn


Dr. Claudette S. McLinn is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, 2017-2019. She is Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL).

CSK Book Donation Grant Spotlight: NIA Community Services Network

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

Every year the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant is awarded to deserving institutions working with children. Winners receive a collection of sixty to one hundred titles submitted for consideration for the CSK Book Author, Illustrator and Honor Awards. One of the 2019 recipients was NIA Community Services Network, Inc., a not-for-profit community service organization in Brooklyn, New York.  I exchanged emails with Sarah Harlow, Director of Education, and Elaysel German, Literacy Manger, who let me know how things are going.

Keary Bramwell: Can you tell me a little about what you have done with the CSK Book Donation grant?

Sarah Harlow: The Coretta Scott King Book Donation Grant has allowed for the NIA at Public School 627 Brighter Choice Community School to create a lending library for all students and school community members. 

The lending library is housed in the special initiatives office within Bright Choice Community School. This space is designed for students to feel safe and comfortable enough to read independently and browse the book selection at their leisure. We have added comfortable seating (such as bean bag chairs) and artwork that promotes reading to make the space fun and inviting for kids. 

Students can also use the space for other literacy-related activities. This includes creative writing, drawing, and completing puzzles, as well as reflective and self-calming activities such as mediation. Students are welcome to visit during day school hours as well as after school. The lending library space is a welcoming place that encourages literacy exploration and we are so pleased to have it full of books that reflect our students. This is a safe space where students find social emotional support, self-affirmation, and encouragement. 

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

In addition to building our lending library, NIA has begun to integrate American Library Association (ALA) books into our literacy instruction during the after school hours. The after school literacy model is an interactive read aloud followed by a STEAM based project that students lead and complete. Students are always encouraged to revisit the books at our library space. We are so thankful to the CSK Awards Committee for their support of our students!

KB: What advice would you give to organizations applying for the grant?

Elaysel German: Our advice is to partner with the school leadership (stakeholders). We are a community-based organization that works closely with schools, and we recognize that the people in schools every day have the best insight into our students’ needs and wants. 

We worked as a team on submitting the proposal to ALA. The support and information we received from the day school leadership was invaluable. We also recommend that those seeking to apply really listen to the students and families they serve, to see how this grant will benefit them specifically. Get creative and think big about the possibilities that come from this opportunity.

KB: What sort of impact has the grant made on your organization?

EG: At NIA, we have always valued the impact books have on a person’s self-perception and world perspective. This grant has motivated us to be more intentional about what types of books we are recommending to our 40+ school sites. This meant that we are deep-diving into recommended book lists through research and book talks with educators. 

We believe our intentionality about curating book lists that offer windows, mirrors, bridges and sliding glass doors to our students, will have a deep and lasting impact on their development. As an organization, we are beginning to fuse the link between social emotional learning and literacy. Stories connect us, help us process, strengthen our empathy and compassion, build our own self-confidence and give us greater insight. Access to rich, diverse texts that are reflective of a broad range of experiences are crucial in helping students feel connected to books and to the human experience.  

KB: What sort of impact has the grant made on your students?

EG: Our students at Brighter Choice are deepening their love of literacy. We have been able to create a welcoming, safe and shared after school library space that gets students excited about reading. In addition, because the after school library is open until 6 p.m., students have access to books at all hours of the extended school day. They are seeing themselves in fantastical, realistic and new ways through these stories. They are also seeing new characters and stories from different worlds that were not previously available. 

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

KB: Do your students have any favorite titles?

EG: So far, Black Panther: Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith is our most requested title.

Other popular titles include:  

  • Mirror, Mirror by Barbara J. Freeman 
  • Leah is Seen by Claudette Esmerelda 
  • Puddinhead’s Sister, Zirah by Mariyln Foote
  • Benny Becomes an Architect by David C. Hughes 
  • Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann 

SH: We held a special book party where students got to look at all the new books, read together, and celebrate this amazing opportunity. The students’ excitement was so amazing to see!

EG: We also discovered an amazing connection because we found out that one of the children is related to the illustrator of Let the Children March. During the book party, he proudly came up and told us that his uncle was the illustrator.

Image credit: Sandra Herrera

The application portal for the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award Donation Grant is now open. The deadline to apply is Friday, January 31, 2020. Visit this link to learn more. 


Keary Bramwell is a member of the CSK Technology Committee and children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. 

CSK Legends: Mildred D. Taylor

Photo Credit: The Hornbook

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!

Photo courtesy of Mildred D. Taylor

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.

Image Credit: Kadir Nelson/Puffin Books

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.

A Night of Enchantment

Alan R. Bailey

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.  

Photo credit: Susan Polos

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!

Photo credit: Susan Polos

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.

Meet the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant Recipients

Students in PS 627 and NIA Community Services Network’s after-school program explore their new books. Photo credit: Elaysel German

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 To learn more about the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, visit

Elisa Gall & Marguerite Penick-Parks are Chair and member of the CSK Book Awards Donation Grant Committee, respectively.

Experiencing the Coretta Scott King Book Awards through Audiobooks

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. 

Love for Honey, I Love

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.

Eloise Greenfield and Alia Jones

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 part of my “canon” of black children’s books, I’m pretty certain I never owned a copy as a child. But, 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. Unfortunately, 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 Loveout 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.

Alia Lecturing at Cornell University

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.

“Honey, I Love” by Eloise Greenfield

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

The photos attached are all mine & are: (1) Eloise Greenfield and Alia Jones, (2) Alia Lecturing at Cornell University, & (3) “Honey, I Love” by Eloise Greenfield.

Refection of an Experience with a Coretta Scott King Book Awards Winning Author

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 readers everywhere. 

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 bestselling novel.

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.

Exploring In Plain Sight

Jewel Davis speaking to 4th and 5th-grade students Photo Credit: Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork

On a cool early morning in mid-March 2019, I arrived at the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork, where over 200 elementary students were participating in a Mad about Books March Madness tournament. The tournament featured a weekly bracket of four picture books from major book awards–the Caldecott, Pura Belpré, Sibert, and Coretta Scott King Book Awards. Each week featured a new award, and I was visiting to present information about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards criteria and tips for reading and selecting award-winning picture books.  

During each presentation, I was met with bright-eyed and excited children. Together, we talked about the unique criteria of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and how we could read picture books to select the best ones. We practiced using the tips below as we read In Plain Sight, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and written by Richard Jackson.  

  1. Look at the whole book!

Taking the time to examine the various parts of a picture book (cover art, book jacket, casing, endpapers, text, illustrations, etc.) can give more insight into how all of the parts of the book work together to tell the story.

Before even diving into the text of In Plain Sight, readers are given a number of clues about the characters and story through the illustrated jacket, cover, and endpapers. We spent time making inferences about the beginning illustrations, and the students were delighted to find that the clues they pointed out made appearances later in the story and supported their observations.

2. Use your eyes, your heart, and your brain!

Asking readers to describe what they see on the page and how that makes them feel and what it makes them think can help push readers beyond simple observation into interpretation and analysis.

Looking at the illustration on the title page, students made insightful remarks about the close relationship between the characters because of how they interpreted the characters’ body language and facial expressions.

3. Listen to what others notice.

A major part of choosing the best books requires listening to what others think and notice about the book. Working together to understand and make meaning of the various elements of a book helps ensure the best book rises to the top. Together we listened to each other’s observations, inferences, and insights, and together we began to realize what a magical and exemplary book In Plain Sight is.

Some of the magic of In Plain Sight can be found in the interactive and participatory hide and seek game within the story. The elementary students excitedly engaged in exploring with each other to find the hidden items Grandpa placed around the room. Pinkey’s highly skilled pencil and watercolor illustrations are brimming with details. Students who made close observations could see the illustrated items around the room telling Grandpa’s rich past and present. In Plain Sight also showcases the warm and joyous cross-generational relationship between Sophie and her grandfather. Both characters delight in their time together, and I talked with the students about the importance and benefits of spending time with older relatives or family friends.

After using In Plain Sight to introduce students to the criteria and tips, I highlighted the titles they would be reading and judging for their March Madness brackets. It was heartwarming to see many of the children eager to read and judge newly awarded titles. With the award criteria fresh in their minds and some practice under their belts, I am sure they will work together to select their own winning title!

Jewel Davis is the Education Librarian in a PreK-12 Curriculum Materials Center at Appalachian State University’s Belk Library and Information Commons. She is a member of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury.

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 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 a 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 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 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 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 afterward 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. In his collage work, Bryan’s use of deep blues and blacks accentuates the emotions and the treacherous path that many had to experience 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 the 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 has 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 also to 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 each person’s personality 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. The first book he 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 talents 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.