Nearly one year ago, Coretta Scott King Book Award Honoree and three-time Caldecott Honoree, Carole Boston Weatherford, traveled to Wilmington, NC, a coastal town, with her award-winning illustrator son Jeffrey Weatherford to share their traditions and storytelling to fourth-grade students in the library at Dr. John Codington Elementary School.
Entrancing the audience with African rhythms on the djembe, a slow cadence of call-and-response spirituals, and spoken word poetry, the Weatherfords immersed students into the world of the African-American experience. The Weatherford family history was told through their published literature. African American traditions of storytelling sessions with grandparents and African Americans who changed the world highlighted the visit.
Between taps on the tambourine and the pulsing of the shekere, Carol and Jeffrey Weatherford showcased North Carolina’s participation in critical events from the Civil Rights movement during their read alouds of CSK John Steptoe Award Winner Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins and Sink or Swim: African American Lifesavers of the Outer Banks.
Jeffrey shared his early illustrative works from childhood. Students asked questions about his journey to becoming an award-winning illustrator. His interests in art began when his family celebrated his early class doodles drawn when he was supposed to be taking notes in class and framed his works. He told the students about self-portraits and anime drawings. Jeffrey enamored the students with a time-lapsed video of his illustrative process.
Making music with their spoken word and lyrical presentations of their published works, the Weatherfords graced the Codington school community with an incredible experience and performance that ignited continued studies in African American history, the African diaspora, and award-winning literature that continued throughout the school year.
Students’ non-fiction studies with Weatherford’s texts continued long after their visit during remote learning. CSK Author Honor title Becoming Billie Holiday and CSK Illustrator Honor title Before John Was a Jazz Giant were utilized during their studies during International Jazz month and Black History Month. Archival footage of Billie Holiday and John Coltrane’s performances entranced the students while showing them the inspiration for Weatherford’s works.
A regular rotation of book displays along with the integration of Weatherford’s texts during instruction, both in-person and remote, enriched students’ understanding of the historical impact made by the Greensboro Four, John Coltrane, and Billie Holiday. Thanks to Carole Boston Weatherford’s texts and her visit, fourth-grade students in the Codington Elementary library have fortified their understanding of African American heroes, traditions, and storytelling and are enthusiastic about continuing their learning.
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Delandrus Seales is a member of the CSK Executive Board as the CSK Publications Standing Committee Chair and a member of the CSK Technology Standing Committee. She is a Branch Manager with Onslow County Public Library, and a former school librarian in North Carolina. Delandrus completed her M.L.S. at East Carolina University and her M.S. Ed at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Recognizing the importance of inspirational images and stories for children, the annual Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement is presented in even-numbered years to an African American author, illustrator, or author/illustrator living in the United States and with a body of work that inspires youth. The award-winning work must be in print, which guarantees accessibility for readers. In odd-numbered years, the award is presented to a practitioner.
In 2017, the Coretta Scott King Book Award Committee recognized the body of work produced by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who has been called the “mother of multicultural literature.” As Professor Emerita of Education at The Ohio State University, a position preceded by a professorship at the University of Massachusetts, Sims Bishop has focused her research, teaching, and writing on children’s literature. In her award acceptance speech, she noted that her introduction to African American children’s literature began in graduate school with suggestions made by Virginia Hamilton, who had an endowed chair at Wayne State University. Under Hamilton’s tutelage, Sims Bishop began examining depictions of American middle-class families in children’s literature.
Sims Bishop continued this examination in her book Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience in Contemporary Children’s Fiction, which is considered a foundational text in children’s literature and required reading for graduate studies in education. Published in 1982, the book examines African Americans’ treatment in books intended for a white audience, books written for a multiracial audience consisting of Blacks and Whites, and books written for African Americans.
Her article titled “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” explored the importance of children seeing themselves reflected in books. She famously considers books to be “windows . . . [that] you can look through and see other worlds and see how they match up or don’t match up to your own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well. And so that’s the reason that diversity needs to go both ways. It’s not just children who have been underrepresented and marginalized who need these books. It’s also the children who always find their mirrors in the books and, therefore, get an exaggerated sense of their self-worth and a false sense of what the world is like because it’s becoming more colorful and diverse as time goes on (Sims Bishop).
Dr. Leslie Campbell Hime is manager of the Richland Public Library in Richland, Washington. She is an incoming ALA Councilor and a former chair of EMIERT and ALA’s Diversity Research Grant Advisory Committee. She obtained her MLIS from the University of Arizona and PhD in English from Michigan State University.
In 1970, the first Coretta Scott King Book Award was given. Significantly, the award’s namesake, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stressed the critical importance of children’s books as learning instruments that taught universal human values. Among these values was the enduring belief that individuals must assume agency or responsibility for creating a world where the intrinsic beauty of African Americans was reflected in books with well-conceived and executed plots, fully-delineated characters, and images which thematically complement the book’s specific and overarching themes.
The John Steptoe Award for New Talent was established in 1995 and is awarded annually to an author or illustrator of books for children and young adults that celebrate African American life and culture. As one of several distinctions given by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, the Steptoe Award confers distinction to recipients with fewer than three published works. It seeks to “affirm new talent and to offer visibility for excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year, and at the beginning of a career as a published book creator.”
In this post, we’ll review the first decade’s recipients of the award.
In 1995, Sharon Draper won the first John Steptoe Award for Tears of a Tiger. The first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, this novel describes the guilt and grief of Andy, driver of a car involved in a traffic accident that killed a fellow “Tiger” or student at Hazelwood High School. The book title and content ask a primarily adolescent reading audience to examine drunk driving, death, guilt, depression, suicide, and healing.
Notably, the novel is presented through the eyes of an African American male, which is a device Draper uses to share public responses to African American males. Formerly an English teacher, Draper’s novel is also used in high school English classes for its use of complementary narrative voices which deconstruct the notion of truth and tone.
Draper’s other works include her Jericho series, Sassy series, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs series as well as ten standalone novels, nonfiction and poetry.
Martha Southgate won the Steptoe for her debut novel, Another Way to Dance in 1997. Like Draper, Southgate’s novel is relayed through the eyes of an African American teen. This bildungsroman describes a fourteen-year-old Vicki Harris and her desire to become a ballerina. While Vicki wins acceptance at the distinguished School of American Ballet in New York City, Southgate describes the isolation Vicki experiences as one of two African Americans at the school as well as her exploration of her identity as an African American. The racism she encounters and her efforts to negotiate this racism are a vital part of this narrative. Thematically, the negotiation of race and racism is presented in Southgate’s four novels (three of which are narrated by female protagonists) that examine the African American middle class and their diverse responses to other African Americans, race, and racism in America.
In 1999, Eric Velasquez, illustrator of The Piano Man won the Steptoe Award. Velasquez’s images appeal to young readers who are the target audience for his first children’s picture book. Set in the decades leading up to and including the coming of sound in film in 1927, the book’s seventeen illustrations show the dignity and grace of African American men, women, and children as they enjoy entertainments like traveling shows and films. Velasquez’s depictions center on the life of Sherman Robinson, the grandfather of The Piano Man author Debbie Chocolate. Robinson was a pianist trained by jazz pioneer, Jelly Roll Morton. Young readers see Robinson’s composure and polish as he achieves milestones like purchasing his home, and meets professional and personal challenges. Velasquez also highlights African American culture by depicting African American filmgoers supporting filmmaker Oscar Micheaux by attending his 1931 film, The Exile.
In 1999, Sharon Flake received the Steptoe Author Award for The Skin I’m In. The novel is a bildungsroman that also addresses bullying, racism, family loss, and low self-esteem experienced by Maleeka Madison, an African American girl with a deep skin tone. Flake unflinchingly describes the world around Maleeka, made brutal by a select few, and the specific encounters Maleeka endures as a darker-skinned African American. Ultimately, Maleeka gains self-confidence through her writing and validating experiences with teachers and can defend herself. However, Flake targets victims as well as victimizers in her novel by asking those who bully to explore the motivations for their actions.
John Steptoe Award Chronology
2000 No award
1999The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake (Steptoe Author Award)
1999The Piano Man illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Steptoe Illustrator Award)
1998 No award
1997Another Way to Dance by Martha Southgate (Steptoe Author Award)
1996 No award
1995Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper (Steptoe Author Award)
Dr. Leslie Campbell Hime is manager of the Richland Public Library in Richland, Washington. She is an incoming ALA Councilor and a former chair of EMIERT and ALA’s Diversity Research Grant Advisory Committee. She obtained her MLIS from the University of Arizona and PhD in English from Michigan State University.
As the Coretta Scott King Book Awards enter the second half of their first century, the John Steptoe Award for New Talent is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement is celebrating ten years. This seems like a natural time to review the history of the awards.
Even though the Steptoe award is twenty-five years old, it has only been awarded to seventeen authors and twelve illustrators. There were six years (2013, 2012, 2001, 2000, 1998, and 1996) that no one received the award – neither author or illustrator – and another seven years that no one received the illustrator award.
Of the twenty-nine Steptoe winners, seven have gone on to win additional CSK awards. That’s twenty-four percent. Five for writing (Hope Anita Smith, Jason Reynolds, Kekla Magoon, Sharon Draper, and Sharon Flake) and two for illustration (Ekua Holmes and Frank Morrison).
Walter Dean Meyers has won the most CSK Author Awards with five. Three people are tied with the most CSK Author Honors: Walter Dean Myers, Virginia Hamilton, and James Haskins. All of these writers have won six CSK Honors.
Bryan Collier has won the most CSK Illustrator Awards with six. Ashley Bryan has the most CSK Illustrator Honors with seven.
Nineteen people have won at least five times. Ashley Bryan has been recognized the most with a total of thirteen times, while Walter Dean Meyers comes in a close second with twelve wins. In fact, fifty authors or illustrators (or thirty-one percent) of the total number of CSK winners have multiple awards/honors. Patricia McKissack has actually garnered ten CSK Awards or Honors. Eight of them were co-awarded with her husband Fredrick and displayed on the chart below. The other two were awarded to her as an individual writer and not reflected below. This makes her the most recognized female in CSK history with a total of ten CSK Awards or Honors.
The CSK Awards jury handbook specifies that zero to three CSK Honors may be given for author and illustrator. However, this rule must have started after 1984, since prior to this year as many as eight author honors had been awarded in a single year. When considering the most common number of honors given out, it turns out that three recognitions is the most common for CSK Author Honors. On nineteen occasions, three CSK Author Honors were given out. On the other hand, two is the most common for CSK Illustrator Honors. On seventeen occasions, two illustrator honors were given out compared to only eleven occasions when three honors were. Of course, each committee is its own entity and can recognize however many titles up to three titles during one award year.
Other interesting facts include the following:
Every time Rita Williams-Garcia won the author award Bryan Collier won the illustrator award (2011, 2014, and 2016).
R. Gregory Christie has received six CSK Illustrator Honors, but has not yet won the CSK Illustrator Award.
Kadir Nelson and Ashley Bryan are the only people who have received recognition as both author and illustrator. In 2009, Kadir Nelson won the CSK Author Award and a CSK Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. In 1987, Ashley Bryan won a CSK Illustrator Honor and a CSK Author Honor for Lion and the Ostrich Chicks and Other African Folk Tales.
The most CSK Honors given out in one year is eight. That was in 1971, the second year of the award and before the CSK Illustrator Award was even started.
Four times (1970, 1972, 1973, and 1975) no CSK Author Honors were awarded.
Ten times no CSK Illustrator Honors were named, the most recent being in 1991.
In 1975, no CSK Author or CSK Illustrator Honors were awarded.
1974 was the first year for the CSK Illustrator award to be given out.
Three people have won two awards in the same year for different books. In 2016, Jason Reynolds won honors for different books (All American Boys and The Boy in the Black Suit) In 1980, James Haskins won honors for Andrew Young: Young Man with a Mission and James Van Der Zee: The Picture Takin’ Man. In 1995, Patricia C. & Fredrick L. McKissack won the award for Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters and an honor for Black Diamond: Story of the Negro Baseball League.
A total of 338 awards have been given out to 163 individuals.
Keary Bramwell is a member of the CSK Technology Committee and children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs.
At the end of 2019, I went to see the Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library. I invited my friend and co-worker Daniella, who is eighteen and had never read any of the Coretta Scott King award-winning books growing up. While we were viewing the exhibit, I cheered when I saw John Steptoe’s beautiful artwork from his book Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Daniella was impressed and asked me about the story. As I explained, I remembered that I had first loved this book because of watching the television show Reading Rainbow hosted by LeVar Burton in the 1990s. I would have my lists of books prepared before trips to the library, all suggestions from the show Reading Rainbow. I then noticed that Daniella had her list of books she had written down. I asked her what that list was for, and she said, “Books that I am going to check out when we get back to the library.”
As Daniella and I were leaving the exhibit, we paused again in front of Faith Ringgold’s magnificent Tar Beach story quilt. At that moment, I wondered to myself: As a children’s librarian, why am I not using more Coretta Scott King award-winning books in my programming throughout the year? Not just when there is the CSK 50th anniversary or African American Heritage Month, but regularly. I decided to take action.
Inspired by my visit to see the Our Voice exhibit, the first CSK Book Award inspired program that I created for my library for 2020 was a quilt-inspired placemat. For this all-ages activity, we read Tar Beach aloud and projected a life-size image of Ms. Ringgold’s story quilt. We talked about what a quilt is and how each one tells a story. Many children shared that they had quilts at home from someone in their family. Then the children created their placemats by gluing different paper shapes and we laminated them.
During the program, I also projected CSK award-winning illustrated book, The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, onto a screen. We had copies of Tar Beach, The Patchwork Quilt and The Quilts of Gee’s Bend by Susan Goldman Rubinon on hand and available for check out for project inspiration. The children could not wait to share the stories behind their quilt inspired placemats.
Throughout the year and in the future, I will continue to find ways to promote Coretta Scott King Award-winning books through library programming, outreach, and displays as well as with my colleagues and other educators.
You can check the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) website for further information about when the Our Voice exhibit may be traveling to you. Once public health circumstances permit and if you have the chance, please don’t miss seeing this beautiful exhibit in person. There is also a link to request more information about bringing the exhibit to your venue.
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.
I had been excited about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala since the day it was announced, but my stomach was filled with so many butterflies on Friday, June 21st, I thought they would lift me off the ground and out of Washington, DC. Waiting for the doors of the celebration to officially open at 6:30 p.m. was truly getting the best of me. These were not butterflies associated with anxiety, fear, doubt, or uncertainty, however, but butterflies of joy and anticipation. It reminded me of how I felt around Christmas Eve as a young child.
As I walked towards the carriage house entrance, I noticed a luxurious black car parked near the entrance. When I heard the car door close and people began to chatter, I looked over my shoulder out of curiosity and saw Dr. Carla Hayden, looking radiant in a black and fuchsia dress, standing next to the car. She smiled warmly as our eyes met, and I must admit I blushed. A minute later, while I was still in awe from seeing Dr. Hayden, Ashley Bryan was escorted by me and into the building. At that very moment, I knew June 21, 2019, would be an enchanting night.
When I entered the great hall, I was temporarily immobilized by the majestic staircases, floors, arches, lighting, dome, and more. Everything in sight, including the beautiful people surrounding me, was magnificent. Although I have been a librarian for more than 35 years and visited DC more times than I can count, I am a bit embarrassed to say I had not visited the Library of Congress. Of course, I expected it to be majestic, but what I saw and felt surpassed everything I had imagined – I felt as if I had taken a step back in time.
Seven o’clock was rapidly approaching, so everyone was ushered quickly to Coolidge Auditorium, where the gala took place. As I entered the auditorium, I immediately knew I was amongst my true tribe. Authors, illustrators, librarians, and many others sharing a common thread – an admiration for books for and about African American children, especially those with seals representing the Coretta Scott King Book Award on their covers. Saying the auditorium was filled with the crème de la crème is an understatement. As I walked down the aisle, James and Lesa Cline Ransome were in front of me, Christopher Myers was standing on my left, and George Ford was engaged in a lively conversation on my right. Adrenalin pumped vigorously as I finally took my seat. I glanced around before opening my program and saw amazing individuals like Kadir Nelson, Kekla Magoon, Jerry Pinkney, R. Gregory Christie, Sharon Flake, and Jason Reynolds. And, remember, this was before the event officially began.
As the lights dimmed and the eloquent voice of Andrea Davis Pinkney came over the microphone, the night of nights began, and, oh, what a night it was. The program included a heartfelt welcome from Dr. Carla Hayden, the spectacular voice of Jewell Booker, the presentation of the astonishing commemorative painting of Mrs. Coretta Scott King by Kadir Nelson, poetry written especially for this 50th Celebration delivered by Kwame Alexander and accompanied by guitarist Randy Preston, and inspirational remarks by Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. What a powerful lineup. And to close the program, “Dream for Tomorrow,” a piece choreographed by Dobbin Pinkney, and performed by Dobbin and a troupe of gifted dancers. And yes, Dobbin is a member of the amazing Pinkney family – a family that will never stop astonishing us with their talents!
The gala concluded
with a reception filled with food, champagne, and lively conversation. Unity
and love radiated throughout the great hall. Love for both children’s
literature and for humanity – how could you not feel its presence? I proudly
rode that wave of unity and love as I greeted and chatted with Rita Williams
Garcia, Angie Thomas, Sharon Draper, Ekua Holmes, and the legendary Eloise
Greenfield. In addition to some of the world’s greatest children’s authors and
illustrators, I had the pleasure of seeing Fran Ware (Chair of the CSK Book
Awards Committee when I joined the committee in 2005), Dr. Carole McCollough
(Chair of my first CSK jury), and Satia Orange (former Director of OLOS). My
heart swelled with joy as I conversed with these three amazing women who influenced
me over the past 15 years more than they can ever imagine.
When the gala
ended, I exchanged warm goodbyes, descended one of the majestic stairwells, called
for a car, and returned to my hotel room with intentions to shower and go
directly to bed. Showering was easy but going to bed was more difficult than I
imagined. Although I was exhausted, memories of the spectacular evening flooded
my mind in waves too strong to allow me to retire for the evening. For me, the Coretta
Scott King Book Awards 50th Anniversary Gala was a moving, almost
spiritual, event of a lifetime. Undoubtedly, a night of enchantment.
Alan R. Bailey is the 2019-2021 Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, He is a Professor at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.
It is with a great sense of gratitude and satisfaction that I write my final message as Chair of Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community during the 50thAnniversary of the CSK Book Awards founding.
As of June 26, 2019, the end of the Annual Conference, my esteemed colleague Alan Bailey will assume the role of Chair, and I cannot think of anyone more qualified and prepared to serve as your 2019-2021 Chair. Indeed, all the CSK Executive Board members with whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve, as well as the incoming members, are eminently qualified to help lead the committee into the future. My thanks and best wishes also go out to those CSK Standing Committee members and CSK 50thAnniversary Planning Committee members whose terms will be completed at the end of this month and who have served with diligence, enthusiasm, and commitment.
As I transition to the role of Immediate Past-Chair, I am truly humbled and honored to join such an outstanding group of individuals who have served CSK in this role. As I look back over the past two years, I am immensely proud of all that our committee has accomplished during that time, especially during the CSK 50thAnniversary celebration.
For now, suffice it is to say that our CSK committee members, ODLOS staff, ALA supporters and leaders have done an outstanding job of moving the committee forward despite numerous challenges. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Finally, I would simply like to say “Thank you!” to every CSK Committee member for allowing me the privilege of serving as your Chair over this past two years. It is an experience I will never forget and which I will treasure for the rest of my life. You, the members, are the reason our committee exists and the reason why we as leaders do what we do. I hope you will keep fighting the good fight and never forget that your skills are crucial to the safety, health, and well-being of countless librarians, library workers, authors and illustrators, parents, and students across this country. That is something we can ALL be proud of!
Thank you, and onward and upward!
Dr. Claudette S. McLinn Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, 2017 – 2019 Chair, Coretta Scott King Book Awards 50thAnniversary Planning Committee, 2016 – 2019 #CSK50
This is the message delivered by Dr. Claudette McLinn, outgoing Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee, at the 2019 ALA Annual’s CSK Membership Meeting on June 26.
On Sunday, June 24, 2018, in New Orleans, I attended my very first Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast where Jason Reynolds warmed up the room by saying, “My cousin comes to visit and you know he’s from the South, ‘Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth,” and BOOM, just like that the room remembered and followed along, chuckling softly. I hadn’t heard or thought about those words since I was a little girl, but in an instant I smiled and went back to being little-me, peering inside the little pocket-sized gem that is Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems.
I had the pleasure of meeting Eloise Greenfield the day before the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast at her Virginia Hamilton Award celebration. I stood outside of her circle of admirers, friends, and greeters waiting for my turn to say hello. I told her how much I love and appreciate her work and then asked if I could take a quick picture with her. She has a quiet, kind manner about her.
A few months later, I remembered Jason Reynolds telling us at the breakfast that he kept a copy of Honey, I Love in his back pocket when he was young because it was an important text for him. So, I went to the bookstore and bought myself a little paperback copy, too. Though I consider it 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 Love” out loud and into existence in that space. I wanted to show the power, endurance, and beauty of diverse children’s literature, of black children’s literature. It was such a privilege to share it.
I lectured at Cornell University only a few weeks after my mother passed away from a long battle with colon cancer. This stanza of the poem really resonated with me: “My mama’s on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat / I go and sit beside her, I’m through playing with my boat / I hold her arm and kiss it ‘cause it feels so soft and warm / Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama’s arm / I love to kiss my mama’s arm.” My mama had a soft, brown arm, too, and I’m grateful for such a vivid, positive image of black motherhood and love.
It’s important that black children grow up seeing themselves in all shades & variations of blackness in books. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards do such important work in highlighting and celebrating these stories, authors, and illustrators. As a kid growing up in the 90s, it wasn’t easy to find many beautiful images of blackness in books, but when I found texts like Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield, they reassured me that my black existence mattered. I’m so thrilled to celebrate fifty years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and can’t wait to see what the next fifty years of black books bring for our children.
Alia Jones is a member of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee/Community. She is a Sr. Library Services Assistant at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and blogs at readitrealgood.com.
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.