- By Karen MacPherson Scripps Howard News Service
Contributed photo/Simon & Schuster Bryan Collier earns the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for “I, Too, Am America.”
Each year, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards put a spotlight on the best children’s books created by African-American authors and illustrators.
Established in 1969 by two librarians, these awards have been a cornerstone of the effort to diversify American children’s literature.
The winners are chosen annually by a committee of librarians and other children’s-literature experts, under the sponsorship of the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table, a group within the American Library Association. The 2013 award winners were announced in late January.
Here’s a look at the latest winners.
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award:
Bryan Collier has won numerous awards since he began publishing children’s books nearly 15 years ago, including a number of Coretta Scott King Awards. This year, he picked up another Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his stunningly evocative illustrations for “I, Too, Am America” (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 6 up).
The text of the book is a brief, well-known poem by Langston Hughes; the poem is a love song to the “darker brother,” who is also an integral part of the nation’s history. Hughes’ poem is general in nature, but, in his illustrations, Collier interprets the text as if it were being told by Pullman porters, those African-Americans who served passengers on trains from the end of the Civil War through the 1960s.
Collier uses his trademark mixed-media style for the illustrations, adding in a flag motif. Writing in a note at the back of the book, Collier says he used the flag motif to show “how far African-Americans have come in this country since the Pullman porters’ time, and even
since Hughes’s time, and how bright our future can be.”
Note: Although it didn’t win any awards, Collier’s illustrations also offer a visual treat in “Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington” (Little Brown, $16.99, ages 7-10). Combined with a lyrical text written by Jabari Asim, Collier’s illustrations underscore the determination and courage of a well-known African-American hero.
Two Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor books were selected:
In “Ellen’s Broom” (Putnam, $16.99, ages 4-8), illustrator Daniel Minter uses a technique in which linoleum block prints are printed by hand and then painted.
The result is vibrant artwork that highlights both the joy and sorrow of a family of newly freed slaves who star in the text written by Kelly Starling Lyons. The main character is a young girl named Ellen, who is fascinated by the broom that is displayed above the fireplace in her family’s home, especially after she learns that, because they were slaves, her parents couldn’t legally marry. Instead, they “jumped the broom” to show their commitment to each other.
Now that they are free, Ellen’s parents decide to legally marry, and the broom plays a major part in their special day — with a little help from Ellen. Lyons’ text is simply told, while Minter’s illustrations portray a close-knit family just learning what freedom is all about.
The text by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a classic, but artist Kadir Nelson brings new power and inspiration through his artwork in “I Have a Dream” (Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $18.99, ages 8 up).
As always, Nelson’s illustrations, done in oil paint, are majestic, yet they also underline King’s humanity, as well as the humanity of those for whom his speech was meant. With his artwork, Nelson helps readers to truly understand King’s passion for nonviolent change.
Coretta Scott King Author Award:
In “Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America” (Hyperion, $19.99, ages 8 up), author Andrea Davis Pinkney offers stirring, meticulously researched biographies of a range of African-American heroes, from baseball’s Jackie Robinson to President Barack Obama.
While this volume could easily be used for school reports because of its wealth of information, Andrea Davis Pinkney’s entertaining, lively text, combined with husband Brian Pinkney’s illustrations, make this a book that also can be used for pleasure reading — especially for those times when a bit of inspiration would come in handy.
Two Coretta Scott King Author Honor books were chosen:
In “Each Kindness” (Penguin, $16.99, ages 4-8), author Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of a young girl named Chloe who refuses to be friendly with a new girl named Maya.
Even Chloe doesn’t quite understand why she is being mean to Maya, but Chloe’s decision to turn against Maya means that other girls will follow her lead. As a result, Maya has no friends and spends recess by herself, despite her repeated early efforts to reach out and make friends with Chloe and others.
Then, one day, Maya’s seat is empty, and she never returns to school. Chloe suddenly feels ashamed of how unkind she has been to Maya and wants to make it up to her. But it’s too late, because Maya and her family moved away. Chloe has learned about kindness, but she will never be able to be kind to Maya.
Woodson’s affecting story, with its strong echoes of Eleanor Estes’ classic “The Hundred Dresses,” is beautifully brought to life by the watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis. Overall, this is a book that will undoubtedly be used by parents and teachers as a way to help children understand that, as Woodson writes, “each kindness makes the whole world a little bit better.”
Author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson combines history and fiction in “No Crystal Stair” (Carolrhoda, $17.95, ages 12 up) as she tells the fascinating story of her great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, who created a bookstore in Harlem that became the premier place to find books by and about African-Americans.
Featuring eye-catching line drawings by R. Gregory Christie, “No Crystal Stair” is an unusual combination of fact and fiction. Nelson also incorporates photos into the text.
Nelson tells her story chronologically, from a variety of viewpoints, giving a well-rounded picture of Michaux, who had a checkered past but also a passion for promoting African-American authors.
The result is an intriguing portrait of a man who was called the “Harlem Professor.” At the book’s conclusion, Nelson includes reminiscences of key African-Americans, including poet Nikki Giovanni and award-winning artist Ashley Bryan, whose lives and work were deeply affected by Michaux and his Harlem bookstore.