My 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury Experience

Me (on the far left) with my 2022 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury!

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.

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On the Eve of the Youth Media Awards…

Good evening.

I woke up today in the mood to write a quick blog post. Tomorrow (click here) at 8am CT, we’ll celebrate another round of excellent children’s literature & so I’ve been thinking about what touched me/left an impression over the last year. I know a little bit about the rigor and dedication that goes into serving on Caldecott Committee. After a year of reading and an entire weekend of debate (and snacks) in Philly, my 2020 committee chose THE UNDEFEATED for the gold & BEAR CAME ALONG, GOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY & DOUBLE BASS BLUES for honors.

2020 Caldecott Committee in Philly, January 27th, 2020 ‚̧ I’m in the back row, 3rd from left

I’ve been thinking about this year’s committee all year, especially since they’ve served in a way unlike ever before, virtually. I want to thank them for their hard work and passion for children’s literature & I can’t wait to see what they choose as the most “distinguished” “picture book for children.”

Now, I have to tell y’all my reading has been…not great over the last year or so. But based on the books I did get to read in 2020, I really loved these, so here we go:

My 2021 Caldecott GOLD Prediction:

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Long Time, No Write!

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Been busy, y’all…

Hi everyone,

*blows dust off website*

It’s been a while. Sheesh. I’ve been very, very busy doing some really cool stuff that I’ll share with you RIGHT NOW. ūüôā

 

  • I was appointed to the 2020 Randolph Caldecott Committee!! **AHHHHH** Anyone who’s been following my blog a while knows how passionate I am about picture books. This is a dream, y’all. And to be APPOINTED?! I’m SO grateful and EXCITED. Thank you ALSC for seeing my hard work and believing that I can do a great job on this committee. I can’t wait to spend 2019 reading and reflecting on EVERY ELIGIBLE PICTURE BOOK PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES! I’m also looking forward to excellent discussions with my committee members! This will mean I can’t blog about any 2019 book with illustrations next year but I hope to blog about older books.

 

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ALA Annual 2018 in New Orleans!

 

Hi everyone!

Here are some highlights from my trip down to New Orleans for ALA Annual (June 21st- June 26th). This was my first ALA Annual Conference and it was absolutely invigorating. Not only did I get to meet many authors and illustrators, I was able to catch up with friends doing crucial diversity, equity and social justice work in libraries and schools across the country. In many ways, it was a chance to re-charge and get inspiration for the work I do at home in Cincinnati.

 

On the first day, I got up early and waited in line for opening speaker Michelle Obama with my roommates Kazia and Stacy (<3). Though we waited in line for five hours, we had a fun time talking, exploring the massive Morial Convention Center and relaxing. Carla Hayden, our Librarian of Congress, walked by our line and everyone freaked out. It was surreal being in the same room as our Former First Lady AND our Librarian of Congress, two powerful and intelligent Black women. Before Michelle came out to speak, talented young musicians from Trombone Shorty’s foundation came on stage and performed for us and soon after, Trombone Shorty joined them. That was a really special way to welcome us to the city.

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Drag Queen Story Hour for Pride Month

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On June 30th, I attended Cincinnati Library’s very first Drag Queen Story Hour at our Northside Branch! It was a fun way to end Pride Month in Cincinnati and was very well attended for being Cincinnati’s first go at this fast-growing library trend. If you want to learn more about Drag Queen Story Hours, click here.

After a bit of a wait (she was getting ready in the bathroom), Ms. Amaya made a glamorous appearance, read two stories and sang songs with everyone. After she put on her special reading glasses, she began with the Todd Parr classic,¬†It’s Okay to Be Different and later read A Peacock Among Pigeons. In between stories we got moving & shaking to songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hips on the Drag Queen (Go Shake Shake Shake).” Northside Library did an great job with this event. They made sure to have a table with books available for check out. A few featured books were¬†I am Jazz, Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress and George, three¬†books that discuss identity and trans youth. They even had a craft table at the back of the room where kids decorated and bedazzled crowns to take home.

The mood in the room was happy and vibrant. Everyone was smiling, dancing and having fun. I had a conversation with an author friend (who recently attended a Drag Queen Story Hour in her neighborhood) about whether or not Drag Queen Story Hours are as subversive as they’re advertised to be, especially if kids don’t understand what they’re experiencing. At our story hour, the kids ranged in age from infancy to 6 or 7 years old. There wasn’t any discussion, by library staff or Ms. Amaya, about what exactly a Drag Queen is or what Pride Month celebrates. Drag Queen Story Hours can be enhanced by parents having discussions with their kids about Drag Queens, performance, queerness, inclusivity, and identity. This might help fill in gaps of understanding, introduce new concepts and maybe even inspire questioning kids in attendance.

Drag Queen Story Hours are perfect events for libraries because libraries are community centers & welcoming spaces for all types of people. They’ve always been centers for learning and growth. These story hours are a welcome addition to more inclusive programming for children & families nationwide!

Maybe find a Drag Queen Story Hour in your area?

I hope you had a great Pride Month 2017! ūüôā

Finding Community at the 2017 Kweli Conference in NYC

 

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This Cincinnati girl hopped on a plane and became a New Yorker for a few days!

On April 8th, I woke¬†up bright and early and took the train to downtown Manhattan for the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. As I walked down the massive hallway of The New York Times building and rounded the corner, I saw¬†conference organizer, Laura Pegram’s smiling face and I knew I was at home. I felt immediately welcome and energized¬†for a day of connecting with authors, illustrators and publishing industry professionals. My friend/debut author¬†Traci Sorell found me right away and gave me a huge¬†hug;¬†it was so great to finally meet her in person!¬† Continue reading

ALA Youth Media Awards: Predictions!

 

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The ALA Youth Media Awards (Monday, January 23rd) are upon us and it’s time to share my predictions! This is always fun. ūüôā

I have more faith in¬†my picture book predictions; my middle grade (and young adult) reading this year has been abysmal! The awards I’m covering¬†reflect this and I didn’t choose awards that are specifically for YA books though I did make a few YA predictions for other awards.

If you haven’t guessed already, Caldecott is my favorite, so I spent a lot of time thinking about this award. I even attended a Mock Caldecott at Cincinnati’s Main Library (which was a fun experience).

I picked awards that I had confident & informed guesses about¬†and I tried my best to research and read as many books as I could. I’m certain that I’m leaving a lot out! We’ll see what I miss on Monday! Please feel free to tell me if a pick is ineligible and leave your thoughts in the comments.

So…let’s start, shall we?¬†MY WINNERS ARE:

 

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Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Ashley Bryan

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING (AUTHOR) BOOK AWARD: FREEDOM OVER ME by ASHLEY BRYAN

HONORS: DON’T CALL ME GRANDMA by VAUNDA MICHEAUX NELSON & illustrated by ELIZABETH ZUNON

AS BRAVE AS YOU by JASON REYNOLDS

GHOST by JASON REYNOLDS

 

freedomincongosquare

Image Credit: Little Bee Books, Carole Boston Weatherford/R. Gregory Christie

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING (ILLUSTRATOR) BOOK AWARD: FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE illustrated by R. GREGORY CHRISTIE & written by CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD

HONORS: RADIANT CHILD by JAVAKA STEPTOE

IN PLAIN SIGHT illustrated by JERRY PINKNEY & written by RICHARD JACKSON

WHOOSH! illustrated by DON TATE & written by CHRIS BARTON

 

two-naomis

Image Credit: Harper Collins, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick

 

CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE NEW TALENT AWARD: OLUGBEMISOLA RHUDAY-PERKOVICH (for the middle grade novel TWO NAOMIS)

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lionisland

Image Credit: Simon & Schuster, Margarita Engle

 

PURA BELPR√Č AUTHOR AWARD:¬†LION ISLAND by MARGARITA ENGLE

HONORS: BURN BABY BURN by MEG MEDINA

 

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Image Credit: Abrams, Duncan Tonatiuh

 

PURA BELPR√Č ILLUSTRATOR AWARD: THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR by DUNCAN ¬† ¬† ¬† TONATIUH

HONORS: CANTICOS: LOS POLLITOS by SUSIE JAMARILLO

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL illustrated by RAFAEL L√ďPEZ & written by ISABEL CAMPOY & THERESA HOWELL

MARTA BIG & SMALL illustrated by ANGELA DOMINGUEZ & written by JEN ARENA

 

~*~

 

wolf-hollow

Image Credit: Penguin Random House, Lauren Wolk

 

JOHN NEWBERY MEDAL: WOLF HOLLOW by LAUREN WOLK

HONORS: AS BRAVE AS YOU BY JASON REYNOLDS

PAX BY SARAH PENNYPACKER

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON BY KELLY BARNHILL

 

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theyallsawacat

Image Credit: Chronicle Books, Brendan Wenzel

 

RANDOLPH CALDECOTT MEDAL: THEY ALL SAW A CAT by BRENDAN WENZEL

HONORS: RADIANT CHILD by JAVAKA STEPTOE

BEFORE MORNING illustrated by BETH KROMMES & written by JOYCE SIDMAN

FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE illustrated by R. GREGORY CHRISTIE & written by CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD

THUNDER BOY JR. illustrated by YUYI MORALES & written by SHERMAN ALEXIE

~*~

somewriter

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Melissa Sweet

 

ROBERT F. SIBERT INFORMATIONAL BOOK MEDAL: SOME WRITER by MELISSA SWEET

HONORS: GIANT SQUID by CANDACE FLEMING

WE WILL NOT BE SILENT BY RUSSELL FREEDMAN

SACHIKO: A NAGASAKI BOMB SURVIVOR’S STORY¬†by CAREN STELSEN

 

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STONEWALL BOOK AWARD (MIKE MORGAN & LARRY ROMANS CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE AWARD): WORM LOVES WORM¬†written J.J. AUSTRIAN & illustrated by MIKE CURATO

GIRL MANS UP by M-E GIRARD

 

~*~

cryheart

Image Credit: Enchanted Lion Books, Glenn Ringtved, Charlotte Pardi, Robert Moulthrop

 

MILDRED L. BATCHELDER AWARD: CRY, HEART, BUT NEVER BREAK written by GLENN RINGTVED, illustrated by CHARLOTTE PARDI and translated by ROBERT MOULTHROP

 

~*~

we-are-growing

Image Credit: Disney-Hyperion, Laurie Keller

 

THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL AWARD: WE ARE GROWING by LAURIE KELLER

HONORS: HORRIBLE BEAR! written by AME DYCKMAN & illustrated by ZACHARIAH OHORA

                  THUNDER BOY JR. written by SHERMAN ALEXIE & illustrated by YUYI MORALES

                  THIS IS NOT A PICTURE BOOK by SERGIO RUZZIER

~*~

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Image Credit: Harper Collins, Aaron Philip & Tonya Bolden

 

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARD: THIS KID CAN FLY: IT’S ABOUT ABILITY (NOT ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† DISABILITY)¬†by AARON PHILIP (and TONYA BOLDEN)

 

 

 

 

Children’s Diverse Books Matter!

Y’all!!!! ¬†ūüôā

On Saturday October 15th, in Cincinnati we had the Books by the Banks festival and…I was on a panel!

Cincinnati librarian Sam Bloom invited me (thanks again, Sam!) to join him and authors Greg Leitich Smith & Zetta Elliott on a panel about the state of diverse children’s books. Education Librarian Edith Campbell was in the audience.

On the morning of the festival, we squeezed next to each other at a small table in a small room…but the feeling was warm and inviting. There were about twenty people in attendance and Sam began the panel by asking us about the newly released infographic about diverse books. The white child in the infographic has lots of mirrors and sees himself in every type of role; even a rabbit sees itself more than the children of color and the Native child. Though Sam had a few questions to guide us, the panel was mostly open discussion with a few audience members chiming in.

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Click to view in more detail!

Zetta had really important points about how the system needs to be changed. She said we need more people of color in publishing who will speak up and we need more people of color engaging in community based publishing/self-publishing! I talked about the importance of #ownvoices. We have more books with children of color on the covers but still not enough authors of color. Sam asked me about my interactions with white customers in my bookstore; how often do they turn¬†down diverse books if they’re offered to them? I said that very often diverse books don‚Äôt make it to the check out. Greg Lietich Smith said that he feels that publishing is too centered in expensive New York City and people from upper classes (usually white) are the ones who can¬†afford to be there and¬†take unpaid publishing internships. ¬†Zetta and Greg both believe we need more regional publishing. Zetta also touched on the need for reparations in the kid lit community. Read more about that here. We also talked about the makeup of kid lit awards committees.

At the end of the panel, we agreed that it went by much too quickly! It‚Äôs always fun talking about diverse books and this was the first time I’ve talked about them¬†in a professional setting. I even gave a shout out to one of my favorite black girl books, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters! ¬†‚̧

Good times. Can’t wait to do it again.

Self Affirmation. Black Books. Black Lives

A friend of mine wrote a post on his¬†Facebook about being tired of feeling like he has to put on a smile while black men, men who look like him and his brothers, are being killed. This “performance” is exhausting. Most people of color know it well; we put it on in¬†mostly white spaces. We put it on even if we’re grieving,¬†even if we’re exhausted, even if we’re scared for our lives.

It’s a kind of¬†desensitization yet hyper-sensitivity.¬†It’s also depression.¬†I know I’ve felt it. It’s most acute the moment we hear another black person has been killed by the hands of law enforcement for little to no reason. Another reason to believe that our lives really don’t matter and that this system is not built to protect us. Not long ago we were chattel. Black parents continually worry¬†about not only their own lives but the¬†lives of their children; white¬†parents don’t have to worry about their children getting gunned down by police for the color of their skin and perceived aggressiveness.

While existing in this space as an educator, as a lover of books and as a black woman, I occasionally think¬†thoughts like “Well who gives a fuck about diverse books when there are black bodies in the streets?? Is it really that important?”

It is. Self affirmation is strength and books have power. To escape this world & get lost in a book¬†(even if only for a few minutes) can be a form of healing for families of color. Seeing a kid in a book that looks like you is empowering. That’s what we need, more empowered kids of color.

Representation matters now more than ever.