Friday, February 07, 2020

Black History Month: 50 Years Of The Coretta Scott King Award

My more rabid followers may recall that last month I took a year's worth of Horn Books with me on retreat, because I had fallen a year behind in my reading. As a result, I've only recently read The Horn Book's special issue from last year on the 50th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Coretta Scott King Award is given each year "to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values." I think the focus on "appreciation of African American culture and universal human values" gives this award a much different spin than the Newbery Medal, which is "awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year." Because...what's that?

Which brings us to The Horn Book tribute issue. It covers a number of different aspects of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Rudine Sims Bishop's Let Our Rejoicing Rise: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards is an excellent overview on the subject and gets right to the point in its first sentence. "The Coretta Scott King Book Awards originated as a response to the failure of the children’s literature establishment to acknowledge the talents and contributions of African American writers and illustrators."  A publisher at the 1969 ALA conference overheard two librarians discussing that in the 47 years the Newbery Medal and the 31 years the Caldecott Medal had existed, neither had been awarded to an African American writer or illustrator. The publisher suggested the librarians establish an award that would do just that, so they did.

Editor Roger Sutton's interview with George and Bernette Ford, the winner of the first Coretta Scott King illustrator award and the first African American vice president of a children's publishing, respectively, has a "they-were-there-on-the-barricades" vibe that I always enjoy. George Ford says that pre-CSK, " Publishers did not even think Black people did any reading, so the notion of winning prizes was not on the radar."

In A Vision for the CSK: Past, Present, and Future, Kekla Magoon writes about the types of books that are recognized with the Coretta Scott King Award--a variety of books about young black life and not just stories with obvious racial themes. Nor do the judges limit the award to books that just support a traditional, "approved" narrative about civil-rights history.

"After the initial shock and ebullience of my first award call wore off, I was able to reflect on how remarkable it was for the Coretta Scott King Jury to so open-mindedly embrace a text that expands readers’ understanding of the civil rights era. And how important a statement it was for the jury to emphasize that my voice — as a debut author trying to expand young readers’ understanding of Black history — mattered to the powers-that-be of children’s literature."

Magoon also reminded me that two hits from my reading past are Coretta Scott King books. Mare's War by Tanita Davis is an Honor Book (2010) and Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won the award the same year. 

This Horn Book issue is also peppered with marvelous brief personal essays by authors and illustrators who have been CSK winners.

Looking for a copy of this Coretta Scott King Award Horn Book tribute issue would be well worth your time.

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