Back in June of 2022 I wrapped up one-year of service on the 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury. We were tasked with the responsibility of reading through children’s books published in 2021, for ages 0-18, that were written or illustrated by Black creators. The purpose of the award is to highlight books that “reflect the Black experience.” As any Black person knows, that is a difficult task, as there is no one “Black experience.” This is something we had to discuss time and time again as we broke down every book that made it to our final discussion list.
If I’m to be honest, for most of 2021 I struggled with making sure I gave my full time and attention to this award. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re on a book committee! Anyone who has served on a book committee knows how much work it takes to read, review and judge books for the purpose of an award. It was no easy task reading everything from baby board books to Young Adult literature. I was confident in my ability to review, evaluate and clearly discuss books, though. I know kids books. I understand the complex interplay between quality illustration and text. But the challenge for me was time management; I wanted to give each book a fair shake. For anyone looking to join a book awards committee, especially one for ALA, find comfort in the fact that you have your committee to fall back on. There’s a reason why we give feedback, share thoughts, deliberate and discuss. Life is bound to get in the way of reading and sometimes you just can’t give your all to every book. That’s why you have other people to fill in the gaps. I’m so grateful for my committee. We did the damn thing. We poured our hearts into our discussion and chose our winners with care, consideration and pride.
I’ve done this book-deliberation-thing twice now, in two very different ways, and there are pros and cons to both. If you look back through this blog, you’ll see that I was on the 2020 Caldecott Committee. For that process, since it was before COVID shutdowns, deliberation was done the old way, in person, in a big room where we were sequestered for an entire weekend. Because my committee experience for CSK (Coretta Scott King) was well into the COVID 19 pandemic, we shifted to a new virtual deliberation model. In January 2022, just a few weeks before the virtual Midwinter Conference, our committee “met” via Zoom for several days. There was lots of talking, laughing, reflecting, snacking and stretch-breaks. In some ways it mimicked the in-person deliberation experience (both were exhausting) and in other ways it was completely foreign. For example, we couldn’t pass the books around the table like we did with Caldecott. We weren’t able to go out and get lunch and dinner together. We had to have all our books ready at our tables/desks to pull out when discussion time was ready. By the way, major kudos to our Jury Chair Jason Driver for leading us through the virtual deliberation format with grace and ease. We were all so tired but also deeply energized by the end as we looked at our slate with pride and joy.
Here is a bonus fact about how I do book awards evaluation: printed paper (sorry trees!). I created an evaluation template where I noted criteria met (or not met) and strengths and weaknesses. I printed a copy for every book we read/evaluated. Everything went into one binder and I separated all my notes/evaluation sheets into categories (children’s, middle grade, and teen). As we narrowed down our choices to the books we knew we’d discuss, I pulled the note sheet for the corresponding book out of my binder and stuck it into the book. I put the books into boxes so they were neat and ready for when we needed to discuss them. Every reviewer has their own process; I knew online notes wouldn’t work for me. I needed to go analog so that I could spend time with just the books and notes, separate from the internet and a screen. This method worked very well for me. This is the same method I used for Caldecott. I have two BINDERS OF SECRETS. muahaha. As we got deep into discussion, I began to lay the books out on the floor so I could see them better and move them around.
After we deliberated in January 2021 and announced our winners to the world (which felt really good), we had to wait a few months for the summer conference in June in DC. There are many reasons why June 2022’s ALA conference was special to me but one major reason is because my Caldecott Committee never got to celebrate together because our Annual Conference (Summer 2020) was moved to the virtual format due to COVID 19. We never got to have a Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet or publisher dinners with the authors/illustrators whose books we chose. BUT I was finally able to do that with my CSK Committee and it felt damn good. It also felt good to SEE each other in person, not behind a computer screen! It felt good to have dinners with publishers, to meet the brilliant authors and illustrators whose work we fell in love with and to stand on the stage of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast celebrating them. We worked hard. We got to be with each other. We got to celebrate Black books. What a victory.
I created this graphic to celebrate the books we chose for the 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards:
Steptoe New Talent Author: Amber McBride for ME MOTH
Steptoe New Talent Illustrator: Regis and Kahran Bethencourt for THE ME I CHOOSE TO BE
CSK Author Winner: Carole Boston Weatherford for UNSPEAKABLE
CSK Illustrator Winner: Floyd Cooper for UNSPEAKABLE
CSK Author Honors: Kekla Magoon for A REVOLUTION IN OUR TIME: THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY’S PROMISE TO THE PEOPLE, Safia Elhillo for HOME IS NOT A COUNTRY, and Ibi Zoboi for THE PEOPLE REMEMBER
CSK Illustrator Honors: Christian Robinson for NINA: A STORY OF NINA SIMONE, C.G. Esperanza for SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, and Raissa Figueroa for WE WAIT FOR THE SUN
As I sat on the dias with my committee and the authors and illustrators and looked out on the audience and saw more friends and family, my heart was full nearly to bursting. We worked extremely hard to pick the books we chose, and we were blessed enough to be able to finally break bread with each other in celebration of the legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and the value of books that speak to the beauty of BLACK CHILDREN. Anyone who has attended the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast will tell you that is the warmest of vibes in that ballroom. It is all good energy. What an honor it was to finally be on the dias in that room. What an honor it was to labor over so many great books for an entire year. What an honor it was to make the difficult decision of only awarding nine of them.
My heart is with this year’s jury. I can’t wait to see what books you choose for the 2023 Coretta Scott King Book Awards!
If you’d like to watch the live webcast of ALA’s Youth Media Awards 2023, tune in here on June 20th, live from New Orleans.
I love Black books. I love us. I love our future. I love our past. I love being alive to witness a renaissance of Black children’s literature.
Enjoy more photos from the 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast below.