Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Continuing to Celebrate and Use Coretta Scott King Book Awards Titles After the 50th Anniversary

Image credit: Lauren Kratz

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.

Image credit: Lauren Kratz
Image credit: Lauren Kratz

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.

My next CSK Award related program will be a children’s book club where we will discuss recent CSK Author Honor winner Kwame Mbalia’s middle grade fantasy, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

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. 

Teaching Harriet

Kasi Lemmons’s biographical movie Harriet was a box office sensation in 2019.  There has been both outcry and support for the film with some viewers homing in on points of historical accuracy as well as the choice of lead. 

Image source:

Debates aside, the fact of Harriet being the first big screen depiction of Tubman makes it likely that it will be used to teach history in homes and classrooms for years to come.   This being so, context is key.

Below is a collection of books that parents and teachers can use to help youth round out their understanding of the complex world that existed in Harriet Tubman’s time. Published over the last twenty-five years, all have either won a Coretta Scott King Book Award or Honor or are ones that were written or illustrated by CSK laureates. 

The content of these selections range from the songs and spiritual beliefs of the enslaved, to Black Jacks and free African American communities (whose historical presence and stories remain important yet are often grayed out in collective memory) as well as the sad reality of black slave catchers who abetted the “peculiar institution” and many topics in between. 

Elementary Readers

Image credits: Before She Was Harriet (Holiday House) / James Ransome, Never Forgotten (Schwartz & Wade) / Leo and Diane Dillon, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Hyperion) / Kadir Nelson and In The Time of the Drums (Lee and Low) / Brian Pinkney

Middle School Readers

Image credits: Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic), Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl (Harry N. Abrams) and The People Could Fly: The Picture Book (Knopf Books for Young Readers) / Leo and Diane Dillon


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.

Time to Pass the Gavel: Coretta Scott King Book Awards Chair Dr. McLinn’s Message to the CSK Community at ALA Annual

Dr. Claudette McLinn

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.

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 Book Awards: A CSK Juror Reflects

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

Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium
Photo Credit: The Cleveland Public Library

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

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

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

Angie Thomas
Photo Credit: The Cleveland Public Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSK Titles: Combating the Single Narrative of the Black Experience

I am currently pursuing my doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and I had been going back in forth in my mind on what my dissertation focus would be.  But, finally, I just gave in to what is most dear to my heart—books that mirror the lives of black and brown children; and CSK plays a significant role in pushing such titles to the forefront.  So now, the working title of my dissertation is:  Avoiding the Single Story: University Professionals Explore Narratives of the Black Experience through Coretta Scott King Book Award Titles.”  I have selected four CSK titles for university faculty and/or leaders to read over the course of the fall semester via a virtual book club: Piecing Me Together, We Are the Ship, Crown, and The Crossover.  I wanted to choose titles that told varied narratives of the black experience.

I will never forget my experience as a little black girl perusing through books in the public library in search of titles that mirrored people, places, and experiences familiar to me.  Allow me to briefly take a stroll down memory lane to recall some of the friends I have met through CSK titles like Cassie, from Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Her ability to maintain her spunky personality and witty nature all while dealing with racism and social ills made me feel like we were best friends.  My heart ached for Gayle from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Like Sisters on the Homefront as she went through the trials and tribulations of being a teen mom. And I was terrified for Steve as he stood trial in a world that only saw him as a villain and not as the young, black teen or human he was, but instead, as a monster (Could art be imitating life today?)—an unforgettable character from the late, great Walter Dean Myers’ novel, Monster.  I could go on, and on.

I am honored, and I view it as a service to my community, to serve on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards jury. I know how important it is for little black and brown children to see themselves, their culture, their neighborhoods, and their language in literature.  But it is equally important for little white boys and girls to see that there are many stories that contribute to the black experience and that having only one narrative of the black experience is what contributes to unfair and inaccurate narratives that lead to stereotyping of black people, prejudice, and racial profiling—all of which we are witnessing in today’s political climate.   Through my research, I will challenge university faculty and leaders to open up their hearts and their bookshelves to not only this year’s winners but to go back and read previous CSK award-winning titles, in order to expose themselves to the plethora of narratives that contribute to the black experience. Libraries may transform lives, but the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles have the power to modify your spirit and to change your heart.  I’ll be sure to report my findings to the blog next year.  See you all in NOLA and happy reading!

LaKeshia Darden is a 2017-2019 member of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury.  She is the Curriculum Materials/Media Librarian at  Campbell University.