In case you missed the news, the American Library Association (ALA) this week announced that the 2011 Coretta Scott King Author and 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Winners are, respectively, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia* and Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier.**
The Coretta Scott King Award is one of about two dozen prizes, including the long-renowned Newbery and Caldecott Medals, bestowed annually on original and outstanding contributions to the field of children’s and young adult literature and media. More widely recognized than the Good Housekeeping Seal, an ALA award all but guarantees that a work bearing its endorsement will remain in circulation forever. ALA awards guide parents, educators, librarians – not to mention kids themselves – in selecting the best materials for youth.
The Coretta Scott King Award was born when I was in grade school. The U.S. Civil Rights Movement was just beginning to make great strides, so for me, this award carries a particular sweetness. In the wake of this week’s announcements, I chatted with Jonda McNair, chair of this year’s Coretta Scott King committee about the Coretta Scott King Award itself, her experience on the committee, and the 2011 award winners.
What kind of books are eligible for the Coretta Scott King Award?
The CSK Book Award can be given to any African American author or illustrator of an outstanding book for children in grades preschool-12. The book must be about the Black experience—past, present, or future—and must have been published in the preceding year, So, for example, the 2011 book winner has to have been published in 2010.
Are there always at least two CSK Book Awards in a given year?
Yes, there are always at least two awards, one for an author, the other for an illustrator. The committee can also award up to three Honor Books in a given year for both of these two categories. In addition, there is the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award which can be awarded for text and or illustration.
The CSK Award was started over 40 years ago to promote the understanding and appreciation of African American people and their contribution to the American dream. But in an age of increased awareness of the value of multiculturalism is this award still necessary? Can’t other prizes, say the Newbery or Caldecott, cover the same territory?
Yes, they can cover the same territory, but if you look closely at the number of authors and illustrators of color who have received the Newbery and Caldecott Medals you can see that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to increase awareness about the value of multiculturalism.
Since the Newbery Medal was established in the 1920’s, only three black authors – Virginia Hamilton, Mildred Taylor, and Christopher Paul Curtis – have won this award. As for the Caldecott Medal which was established in the 1930’s, only two recipients have been African Americans: Leo Dillon (with his wife, Diane Dillon) and Jerry Pinkney. I strongly believe that the Coretta Scott King award is still necessary to promote the work of African American authors and illustrators.
Do the committee members meet in person?
Twice a year we do meet in person, at the ALA annual convention during the summer and at the Midwinter Meeting which takes place in January. We mostly just communicate with each other via email. It’s at the Midwinter Meeting that we make final decisions about the award-winners.
How are judges selected?
The committee is composed of seven members. The president of the CSK task force appoints the chair and three members.The task force members vote on the remaining three committee members.
Can you tell me a little about your own background?
I teach reading education courses in the School of Education at Clemson University. My main area of expertise is children’s literature with a special emphasis on books written by and about African Americans. I was elected to serve two years on the CSK Book Award jury. At the end of my term, I was contacted by the previous chair of the task force and asked to chair the committee in 2011 and 2012.
What are the rewards for you, personally, in serving as a judge on the CSK committee?
It means that my work will make a difference in the lives of teachers and most importantly, children. Libraries often choose to make award-winners very prominent which increases the likelihood that the Coretta Scott King books will be read by students and teachers. Also, my university is proud to have a faculty member serving on one of the top children’s literature awards in the country. This is considered important service work at my university.
What are the primary responsibilities of the chair?
I have several responsibilities. One is to keep a listing of all titles received. I have to make sure every book we consider is, in fact, eligible. I also make sure that all the committee members receive the books. I notify members of the committee about which books are recommended by individual members for the rest of us to read carefully.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell BTM readers about this year’s award winners, One Crazy Summer or Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave?
Both titles provide information about topics that are seldom addressed such as the positive things that Black Panthers did and the story of an unsung potter who was a slave. The writing and the illustrations in these two books are stellar and we were affirmed in our beliefs since both the Newbery and Caldecott committees selected these two titles as honor books.
*Amistad/Harper Collins Publishers
**Little, Brown, and Company/Hachette Book Group Inc. Publishers
For a list of all of this year’s ALA award winners, see http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048