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.
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.
The Coretta Scott King Book (CSK) Awards Committee/Community was well represented at the 56th edition of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, April 1-4, 2019. The CSK Community was invited to present at a flagship event titled: Black Books Matter: African American Words and Colors. The goal of the presentation was to promote the importance of diversity in children’s books at this international festival, with a special focus on African American literature and illustration.
The distinguished panel included: Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee; Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Author and Professor Emerita at The Ohio State University; Christopher “Chris” Myers, CSK Award-winning author and illustrator; Nikki Grimes, CSK Award-winning poet and author; and Joshunda Sanders, author and journalist. Leonard S. Marcus, critic and historian of children’s literature was the moderator.
The thought-provoking discussion centered on the various representations of African American life and culture. It also focused on the Coretta Scott King Books Awards, one of the most important prizes in children’s literature. Many questions were generated from the packed meeting room with varying viewpoints from the international attendees.
The event was paired with the art exhibition Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, which showcased the work of over 30 major picture book illustrators and their representation of life, history, and culture of African Americans. This exhibition was organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) in Abilene, Texas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the award.
CSK members who attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair events were Therese Bigelow, Mary Beth Dunhouse, Dr. Elizabeth Poe, and Barbara Scotto.
This panel presentation and art exhibition was a true excursion into the African American experience, which was intensified by the lively exchange between the panel members and audience. In the words of Therese Bigelow, “What an amazing experience!”
Dr. Claudette McLinn is Chair of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. She is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature.
CSK Legends is a series of interviews saluting early recipients of the Coretta Scott King Book Award. For our first post in this series we raise the spotlight on Eloise Greenfield.
With a career spanning over fifty years and nearly as many books to her credit, Eloise Greenfield is one of the most beloved authors of children’s literature.
With work that spans a range of genres, including poetry and informative prose, Greenfield won her first Coretta Scott King Honor for her biography Paul Robeson in 1976. In 1978 she received the CSK Author Award for Africa Dreamand a CSK Author Honor for her biography of Mary McLeod Bethune. She subsequently won CSK Author Honors for Childtimes: A Three Generation Memoir (1980), Nathaniel Talking (1990), Night on Neighborhood Street (1992) and The Great Migration: Journey to the North (2012).
The following interview took place over several email exchanges and has been edited for clarity. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Jené Watson:What an honor to interview you! Congratulations on being the 2018 recipient of Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Eloise Greenfield: It is my honor to have received such a special award.
JW: You originally planned to be a teacher, then worked in civil service for a while before (or at the same time that) you began writing in earnest. What made you decide to focus your attention on writing exclusively for children?
EG: My shyness interfered with my plan to become a teacher, and after I had worked for a while in the 1950s as a civil service clerk-typist, I became bored. I had always loved books and words, and I felt that I could become a writer, one who was reclusive, as some writers are.
Throughout the 1950s, I studied books on the craft of writing and submitted my poems, stories and articles to publishers. After many rejections, I finally had a poem published in 1962, and throughout the sixties my poems and short stories for children and adults were published in Scholastic Scope and in Negro Digest.
In 1971, I headed the adult fiction division of the D.C. Black Writers’ Workshop, founded and directed by Annie Crittenden. I had written Bubbles, which later became my first children’s book, and Sharon Bell Mathis, who headed the children’s literature division, suggested that I write a picture book biography for the Crowell Publishers series, now a part of HarperCollins. Subsequently, I continued to write for children.
JW: Songs are the stories that children are first introduced to, and in some cases songs and poetry are one and the same.Two of my favorite things about your work are its everyday poetic language and your commitment to offering more rounded views of black children, families and communities. Please talk about why this is so important.
EG: I feel that poetic language is not restricted to formal speech. We can hear in all kinds of language the in-depth meanings and the musicality that make it poetic. I want children to know this, to hear the power of language and also to know how beautiful and intelligent African and African American people are.
On the other hand, writing is never fun for me. It’s work, because I have to concentrate on the craft I have studied and keep revising until all aspects — the meanings and the musicality of language — are exactly what I want them to be. No, writing is not fun, but it’s satisfying work, and I love every minute of it!
JW:You won your first CSK Honor in 1976 for your biography Paul Robeson. A little before that, in 1973, you wrote a similar biography on Rosa Parks and in 1977 you devoted one to the life of educator Mary McLeod Bethune. How did you select the subjects for your biographies? Did you choose the subjects to write about or did a publisher suggest them to you?
EG: These biographies are all a part of the Crowell Biography Series. I chose them because I didn’t feel that enough had been said about them and the importance of their work.
JW:What effect did winning your first CSK have on how you thought about your writing? What kinds of shifts did you notice in your career after winning it?
EG: Awards have not changed the way I feel about my writing. I feel that it’s important that writers take seriously their efforts and the effect they have on the public and always to do their best work. Awards bring attention to an author’s work and often an increase in sales, and are wonderful pats on the back to let us know that our work is appreciated.
JW: Some critics insist that the world has moved beyond the need for ethnically-based awards and that awards like the CSK are not as relevant or necessary as they once were. As an elder who’s witnessed trends and cycles, can you speak to this? And how would you compare the present terrain of publishing for children of color to that of past decades?
EG: Although there have been improvements in the number and quality of good books about African and African American people, these awards are as important as they ever were. Racism still exists in life and in literature, and even if racial discrimination were to end, the awards would take their place among all the other awards that exist in literature and in so many other fields.
JW: You’re keeping busy with fun projects where you’re collaborating with younger artists. One of them is a lively Youtube video of you doing “Nathaniel’s Rap,” filmed and produced by your grandson, Terique Greenfield. The other is a gorgeous picture book about a boy and his dog titled Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me illustrated by Iranian artist, Ehsan Abdollahi. How did these projects come about?
EG: The “Nathaniel’s Rap” video was produced several years ago. [It’s a] poem from my book Nathaniel Talking. My grandson, Terique Greenfield, who is a composer and also has sometimes directed videos, wrote the music and directed the video for me. It turned out very well, and it was fun, because I had no creative responsibility. I just had to follow Terique’s directions.
About two years ago, I was followed on Twitter by Tiny Owl Publishing, a company in Britain. I followed them back. I then sent the manuscript for Thinker. They loved it and engaged Ehsan Abdollahi, a highly regarded artist, to illustrate it. The book was published in April 2018, and has received many favorable reviews. The British edition of Thinker contains a few British spellings, and I am happy that an edition with U.S. spellings will be published in the U.S., in April 2019, by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Two other acclaimed artists have recently illustrated my books: Don Tate, PAR-TAY!: Dance of the Veggies and Their Friends (2018) and Daniel Minter, The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives (2019), both by Alazar Press.
JW: Many of your earlier books are still in print after more than 40 years. To what to you credit your literary longevity?
EG:I credit the longevity of some books to many factors. In addition to the quality of the text and illustrations, there is the subject matter and the tastes of the reading public, the work of the agents and publicists, marketing by the publisher and booksellers, as well as the awards and favorable reviews that bring attention to the work.
Follow Eloise Greenfield on Twitter @ELGreenfield
Jené Watson is a writer, mother and public librarian who lives in suburban Atlanta. She loves arts and history and is the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color (indigopen.com).
The 1970s were the formative years for the Coretta Scott King Award as new African American writers emerged. One of those talents was Mildred DeLois Taylor. Taylor’s relationship with the Coretta Scott King Award is a long and illustrious one, spanning more than three decades and resulting in four CSK wins – Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1982), The Friendship (1988), The Road to Memphis (1991), The Land (2002) – and two honors, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (1977) and Song of the Trees (1976). Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1943, Taylor tells her own family’s story, like that of the Logan family whom she brings to life in her novels, one of pride, struggle, and endurance in the face of oppression. Wishing to raise their daughters in an area offering more economic opportunity and less racial strife, Taylor’s parents relocated the family to Toledo, Ohio, when she was three months old. Once a year, however, Taylor returned south to visit her relatives, where she was consistently regaled with tales of their family’s history.
Taylor recalls her father’s knack for storytelling with great pride, noting that “These stories of family history were handed down from generation to generation, and as a child I was inspired to pass these stories on.” Putting those narratives down on paper was more than a way to make a living; it was a calling that paid homage to her ancestors even as it introduced generations of children to a proud black family whose love and solidarity sustained them through the harshest of times. Her childhood experiences strengthened Taylor’s desire to write as one of the only black students in her classes. She was also horrified by how history textbooks downgraded the accomplishments of and injustices suffered by blacks, telling a history of her people that was unrecognizable from the narratives of fortitude and perseverance her own father recounted. Taylor graduated from high school in 1961 and enrolled at the University of Toledo, where she majored in English and minored in history. A frustrating first attempt at publishing a novel (Dark People, Dark World) did not deter her. After earning her Master’s in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Taylor moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and worked as a proofreader and editor.
Her big break came in 1973 when a friend told her about a writing contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. The story she submitted was based on her father’s life, but she decided to rewrite it from a girl’s perspective at the last minute. That tale – which won Taylor the contest and established her career as a children’s author – became Song of the Trees, the first installment chronicling the life of the Logan family. Set during the Great Depression in Jim Crow-era Mississippi, the Logans own four hundred acres of land, insulating them from some of the horrors visited upon their black peers who are forced to sharecrop on white plantations. What makes the Logans unique is not simply their land, which is a source of sustenance and pride, but the strength and dignity with which Taylor imbues each character. Taylor admits in her Penguin profile that she “wanted to show a different kind of black world from the one so often seen. I wanted to show a family united in love and self-respect, and parents, strong and sensitive.” In the sequel to Song, the Newbery Award-winning and CSK Honor Roll of Thunder, Taylor gave readers a family anchored by three generations of strong black women, most notably Cassie, the nine-year-old protagonist and granddaughter of Paul and Caroline, who purchase the land upon which the family lives.
Rodney Marcel Fierce is a Humanities Teacher at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, and is finishing his dissertation for his English doctoral program at The University of Southern Mississippi. He is a member of the CSK Marketing Committee.
“The Coretta Scott King Award is special because it does not only honor books for their literary merits. Of equal importance are the moral dimensions of a work. I learned what it is to be a moral writer from the work of Edward Lewis Wallant, a young Jewish writer who died much too early. He is best remembered for his novel The Pawnbroker. I read all of his novels while I was still a struggling, unpublished writer, and what amazed me about his work was that he never took sides against his characters, even ones whose actions were despicable. The other quality I took from his work was that, more often than people are given credit for, humans triumph over adversity, be it crushing poverty, illnesses teetering over the abyss of death, physical or psychological limitations. There is a transcendent dimension to the human experience, and it was this belief in a transcendent humanity that characterized the lives and works of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King. It is this belief in a transcendent humanity which the Coretta Scott King awards seek to draw attention in the books these awards honor. I accept this award on behalf of those whose condition may have been slavery but whose lives, more often than not, transcended their condition. Many of them entrusted their spirits and their stories to me to bring to you. We thank you.”
From the 2006 Coretta Scott King Author Award Speech by Julius Lester for Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue.
Post by Maegen Rose
Maegen Rose works as a school librarian at the Collegiate School in New York City, an independent school for boys. She works with students, staff, and families to provide and promote diverse literature.
Anything you can do that can stimulate the imagination of another…is the most exciting thing you can do as an artist. ~Ashley Bryan
With 50 books to his credit, Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ashley Bryan creates beautiful mindscapes for children. Full of love of life and humanity, his body of work shares the stories of people of the African Diaspora as preserved in songs, poems, and folktales.
In tribute to his longevity, Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre has staged two plays based on the works of the beloved artist, teacher, and scholar. Dancing Granny and Beautiful Blackbird, winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, are the books selected for production by the Alliance’s Theatre for the Very Young. The plays complement the exhibit Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan on view at the city’s High Museum of Art until January 21, 2018.
The opening voice of The Dancing Granny is a character patterned after Ashley Bryan himself. He is the tale weaver and griot whose narration and fancy footwork bookend this tale inspired by Mr. Bryan’s memories of his grandmother.
Elaborate lighting and vibrant costumes along with Afro-Caribbean choreography and a range of percussion instruments– some made by the children in the audience as a pre-show activity– all come together to set the joyful tone of this show which encourages children’s expressive engagement.
Beautiful Blackbirdis more understated than The Dancing Granny. Arranged like an interactive playground for babies and toddlers, children sit on felt sun patches that encircle a chuppah-style canopy. Bold quilts depicting night and day serve as backdrops for live electric guitarists who strum jazzy lines while the young ones roam and play.
The audience hears Blackbird before they see him. When he emerges, with rhinestones glimmering like dewdrops from his dark wings, he glides about the set, coaxing rhythm from his djembe. The little ones play along on miniature African drums as Blackbird shares his musical gifts with the multi-colored members of his flock. The message: know your beauty, find your unique groove.
Eugene Russell IV, who played the griot-tale weaver Ashley Bryan in The Dancing Granny and composed the music for Beautiful Blackbird, says: “The story is an unapologetic celebration of blackness which at the same time encourages all kids to be who they are, that who they are is beautiful, and enough. I think that’s a beautiful combination.” He goes on to say that stepping into the world of Ashley Bryan “really did change me life in a wonderful and beautiful way. I’m a forever fan. It will always be a part of my family’s life.”
Jené Watson works as a public librarian at a system in suburban Atlanta, where she coordinates Books in the Barbershop community outreach and Mindful Monday, a family meditation program. She is also the author of The Spirit That Dreams: Conversations with Women Artists of Color (indigopen.com).
This year’s Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast, held early Sunday morning, June 25th, in Chicago at the Hilton, sold out twice! Everyone was excited to celebrate the 2017 CSK winning authors and illustrators, the winner of the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and the recipient of the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Dr. Pauletta Bracy, Chair of the Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee, provided a welcome, Pastor Kimberly Ray of Angie Ray Ministries delivered the invocation, and ALA president Dr. Julie Todaro spoke. Breakfast was served.
Then the awards were presented. Nicola Yoon was awarded the John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte Press).
Coretta Scott Illustration Honors were awarded to R. Gregory Christie for Freedom in Congo Square (author Carole Boston Weatherford, Little Bee Books); Jerry Pinkney for In Plain Sight (author Richard Jackson, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press); and Ashley Bryan for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (author Ashley Bryan, Atheneum).
Ashley Bryan was also awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (illustrator Ashley Bryan, Atheneum). Jason Reynolds was awarded a Coretta Scott King Author Honor for As Brave as You (Atheneum).
The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award was presented to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (author Javaka Steptoe, Little Brown). Read Javaka Steptoe’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.
The Coretta Scott King Author winners were Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for the third volume of the March Trilogy (illustrator Nate Powell, Top Shelf). Nate Powell spoke for Andrew Aydin, who could not be present, and Congressman Lewis spoke, receiving his award. The acceptance speeches were not received in time to be published in the current edition of The Horn Book but can be viewed here.
The Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Read Dr. Bishop’s acceptance speech here as printed in The Horn Book.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop chaired the 2017 Coretta Scott Book Awards Committee Jury. Other jury members included Kacie V. Armstrong, Sam Bloom, Erica T. Marks, April Roy, Martha V. Parravano, and Ida W. Thompson.
The Texas Library Association and the Black Caucus Round Table celebrated the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Multiple conference programs reflected Dr. Bishop’s famous words that books can at times be windows or other times mirrors in which children might see themselves. Books can also be sliding glass doors, an entrance to a different world. African American authors and illustrators conveyed this message to hundreds of librarians. The CSK blog is proud to highlight four of those programs: The Brown Book Shelf with Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks; Speed Dating the Bluebonnet Books with Don Tate and Crystal Allen; Illustrator Sketch-off with Christian Robinson and Shadra Strickland; and My Life Beyond ‘Good Times’ with actress and author Bern Nadette Stanis.
Part One of Four
The Brown Book Shelf at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio, TX
Presenters: Kelly Starling Lyons (CSK 2013) and Gwendolyn Hooks (NAACP Image 2017)
What a treat for a room of more than 200 librarians to learn about The Brown Book Shelf from Kelly Starling Lyons and Gwendolyn Hooks. In February 2017, the Brown Book Shelf celebrated its 10th anniversary by recognizing authors and illustrators of color who have paved the way to heighten the awareness of the many Black voices in the world of books. Each day in February, an author/illustrator was featured with an in-depth profile and list of their body of work. There is currently a collection of 280 featured authors and illustrators from the past decade.
Kelly Starling Lyons from Raleigh, North Carolina, shared that the first time she saw an African-American child on the cover of a book was in third grade. The book was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Seeing a girl that looked like her let her know that her experiences and history mattered. It ignited her dream of writing too. Lyons didn’t see another book featuring a black child until in her 20s when she read Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. That book made her want to write for kids. Lyons shared that family relationships are the heart of what she writes about, but her latest book, One More Dino on the Floor, showcases her love of fantasy and dance. The counting story features colorful dinosaurs dancing at the disco, limbo, hip hop, Cupid Shuffle, and more.
Gwendolyn Hooks from Oklahoma City shared her career path from a military brat to a middle school math teacher and on to her full-time writing job. Her 2016 title Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas was inspired by the 2004 HBO show Something the Lord Made. In the 1940s, Vivien Thomas was instrumental in the successful surgery and development of procedures to treat young children with “blue baby syndrome.”
Hooks shared about her own family of readers. She explained that as a military family, the only constant in their lives was the library. No matter where they lived, they could always go to the library. After the debut of Tiny Stitches, her son, who is now in the military, phoned from Kuwait to ask her why he had to learn about this book from his commanding officer? A friend of the officer’s wife discovered the book and told her that this pediatric heart surgery had saved her own baby from “blue baby syndrome.”
Lyons and Hooks had several takeaways for their attentive audience:
Librarians should feel comfortable and confident choosing diverse books for diverse children.
Children’s books by Black authors and illustrators are books for all children.
Librarians must be intentional about their purchases and the power of their dollars, demanding that publishers produce more diverse books and bring back ‘into print’ popular diverse series from the past.
They stressed the message of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the value of “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.” Librarians need to make sure that there are books on the shelves with pictures and images of children and people who look like they do.
Books should have ‘cultural authenticity’ with people of color telling their own stories.
Lyons and Hooks shared a history of images in children’s books going back to painful pejorative titles from 1875 to a celebration of Ezra Jack Keats’ Caldecott Award for The Snowy Day in 1969. They referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center published statistics, demonstrating the great need for more books by and about people of color.
Finally, they ensured that this audience had tools ready to use back in their libraries by sharing favorite strategies for promoting diverse books. These included choosing fun stories like Nikki Grimes’ Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel; focusing on “who was that person” such as Schomburg, The Man Who Built a Library; using Riding Chance to demonstrate decision-making and consequences; and drawing kids in with the unexplainable such as The Jumbies, a Caribbean fantasy.
Afterward, Lyons and Hooks reported that they were pleased with this first presentation at the Texas Library Association and with the size of the audience and the attentiveness and the follow-up questions at the end. Lyons was very happy to get the opportunity to eat and perhaps have a margarita at one of Maya Angelou’s favorite San Antonio restaurants, La Margarita. Texas librarians were very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from these national speakers and to learn more about celebrating diversity in their own libraries.
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.