Several recent national book awards honor diversity by highlighting inclusivity and social justice, as characterized and conceptualized by outstanding African-American authors!
On Wednesday, November 16th, National Children’s Book Literacy Alliance Board Member and author extraordinaire, Katherine Paterson, as Chairman of the Young People’s Literature Committee, presented Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s 5th District the National Book Award. Lewis’s remembrances of his participation in the pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement are portrayed in March: Book Three, a graphic novel which depicts a 25-year-old Lewis risking his very life in a stand-off across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, high above the Alabama River. Depicting the defining march which lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, The Washington Post describes the graphics for the novel, completed by Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, as “the closest American peer to Maus…” Congressman Lewis states he wrote the book “for all of America. It is for all people, but especially young people, to understand the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, to walk through the pages of history to learn about the philosophy and discipline of non-violence, to be inspired to stand up to speak out, and to find a way to get in the way when they see something that is not right, not fair, not just.” In his acceptance speech, Congressman Lewis noted as a child he was turned away from a public library due to his race, but was not deterred from reading, as his elementary teacher encouraged him to “Read, Child, Read.” He added: “I love books!”
On Saturday, November 19th, the National Council of Teachers of English honored the author of Stella by Starlight, Sharon Draper, who won NCTE’s 2016 Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children. This award honors Charlotte Huck, who led scholarly inquiry into children’s literature for 30 years at Ohio State. Yet, the award commemorates works connecting children to their own humanity while offering readers a rich experience to influence their lives and stretch their thinking, feelings, and imagination. In Ms. Draper’s acceptance speech, she explained the idea for Stella came from her grandmother’s story of growing up in the South during a time when the KKK continued to threaten African-Americans exercising the right to vote. She noted her Daddy’s voice stayed with her until she wrote the story: “When you gonna work on Mama’s story?” he asked her year after year until Stella was written. Noting the importance of the story to the present time, and to all times, Ms. Draper was beaming with gratitude, noticeably happy about the award and her ability to share this story of courage and determination with the world.
Another African-American author, Jason Reynolds, will deliver the Charlotte Huck Award acceptance speech in November, 2017, for during the NCTE award luncheon on the 19th, it was announced this coming year’s winner is his novel, Ghost. Written from the point-of-view of a character who must “run for his life,” Ghost finally comes to terms with his family’s problems with the help of a mentor, his track coach. This book was also a finalist for the National Book Award (Young People’s Literature).
Congratulations to these well-deserving authors, and be sure to find these excellent books at your local library. Then, read and share them with children!