Last Tuesday, our librarians discussed ten books we found worthy of the Coretta Scott King author and illustrator awards. The actual winners will be announced next Monday, January 18, at the American Library Association conference in Boston. Click here on Monday morning at 7:45 for a live webcast of the announcements.
The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions. Among our nominations for the Illustrator Award is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” a poem by Langston Hughes illustrated by E. B. Lewis.
Hughes calls on African history as his narrator remembers bathing in the Euphrates “when dawns were young,” building huts near the Congo and raising pyramids along the Nile. Lewis invites readers into the book with a stunning jacket illustration of a contemporary grandfather and grandson fishing by the side of a river bathed in golden light. The glittering expanse of water, the fishermen’s poles, and the way their bodies settle into the riverbank make up a glowing picture of ease, pleasure and contentment. In other illustrations, Lewis’s watercolors convey the spiritual connection the narrator feels with the earth’s great rivers. This is a stunning picture book for older readers.
Charles R. Smith, Jr. illustrates another well-known Langston Hughes poem in his book, “My People.” As the text celebrates the faces, the eyes, and the souls of his people, Smith’s photographs in sepia shades against a warm black background show joyful, somber, and playful faces. Accessible to a young audience, this will take its rightful place on picture book shelves as well as in the poetry section.
A family memory is the basis for Sharon Robinson’s picture book, “Testing the Ice, A True Story About Jackie Robinson.” The daughter of the famous ballplayer noticed that her father never joined the kids when they swam in the lake by their house in Connecticut. Then winter came and the kids clamored to go skating. Robinson learned the meaning of courage when her father gingerly walked out onto the ice despite the fact that he couldn’t swim.
Jacqueline Woodson’s “Peace, Locomotion,” one of our nominees for the Author Award, is a novel told in letters. Lonnie and his sister Lili are living in separate foster families after the death of their parents in a house fire. Through Lonnie’s letters to Lili, readers see how both children gradually come to call these new families their own. Lonnie is a believable kid who styles himself a poet (despite what this year’s teacher thinks) and likes to hang out with his buddies. Readers ten and up will warm to Lonnie and his story.
Sherri L. Smith presents a situation unfamiliar to today’s young readers in “Flygirl.” Living in Louisiana in the 1940s, Ida knows that no matter how much she loves to fly, being black and female will keep her out of the cockpit. But Ida’s a light-skinned girl. Could she pass for white?
She successfully joins the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), but at the price of denying her heritage and alienating her family. Plenty of period detail and a strong protagonist facing a moral dilemma make this a good read for middle schoolers.
Our committee's choices for the awards were "My People" by Langston Hughes for the illustrator award, and a tie between "Peace, Locomotion" by Jacqueline Woodson and "The Rock and the River" by Kekla Magoon for the author award. Stay tuned!
This article was first published in slightly different form in the Free Lance-Star on January 12, 2010.