This week in Philadelphia, the American Library Association presented its 2020 Youth Media Award winners during the Midwinter Conference. This annual celebration of books is where the high prizes of the Randolph Caldecott and John Newbery medals are awarded.
The announcement of “New Kid” by Jerry Craft as the winner of the Newbery Medal made history as the first ever graphic novel to win the title. “The Undefeated” by Kadir Nelson and Kwame Alexander won the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book for children.
Strikingly enough, both of these books also split the title for the Coretta Scott King Book Award for author and illustrator; “New Kid” winning for best author, and “The Undefeated” winning for best illustrator.
If you’ll remember my column several weeks ago, I mentioned that the Coretta Scott King Awards recognize African-American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults.
It is fitting that we celebrate these milestones in American literature on the cusp of the celebration of Black History Month in the United States. Both stories illustrate, in either words or pictures, the Black experience in America of today and yesterday.
“New Kid” tells the story of Jordan Banks, an artistic Black middle school student who has transferred from public school to an elite, predominantly White private school and must contend not only with typical middle school challenges by also with microaggressions and code-switching.
“The Undefeated” takes an emotional deep dive into the unapologetic brilliance of the Black experience in the face of unspeakable injustice. Capturing the excellence of iconic figures in Black history, as well as the known and unknown victims of brutality, the book showcases the raw humanity of generations of determination and will.
For further reading in teen and young adult writings that illustrate the Black experience, check out these titles:
• “Swing” by Alexander Kwame. Noah and his best friend Walt want to become cool, make the baseball team, and win over Sam, the girl Noah has loved for years. When Noah finds old love letters, Walt hatches a plan to woo Sam. But as Noah’s love life and Walt’s baseball career begin, the letters alter everything.
• “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds. As Will, fifteen, sets out to avenge his brother Shawn’s fatal shooting, seven ghosts who knew Shawn board the elevator and reveal truths Will needs to know.
• “American Street” by Ibi Zoboi. Separated from her detained mother after moving from Haiti to America, Fabiola struggles to navigate the home of her loud cousins and a new school on Detroit’s gritty west side, where a surprising romance and a dangerous proposition challenge her ideas about freedom.
• “Watch Us Rise” by Renee Watson. Fed up with gender imbalances at their progressive NYC high school, two friends start a women’s rights club and post poems, essays and videos online until their work goes viral, compelling the principal to shut them down.
• “Slay” by Brittney Morris. An honors student at Jefferson Academy, seventeen-year-old Keira enjoys developing and playing Slay, a secret, multiplayer online role-playing game celebrating black culture, until the two worlds collide.
• “Dream Country” by Shannon Gibney. A riveting tale of five generations of young people from a single African-and-American family pursuing an elusive dream of freedom, all based on historical fact, tells a nightmarish story of a spiral of death and exile connecting America and Africa, and of how one determined young dreamer tries to break free and gain control of her destiny.
If you have a question that you would like to see answered in this column, mail it to Nicole Fowles, Delaware County District Library, 84 E. Winter St., Delaware, OH 43015, or call us at 740-362-3861. You can also email your questions by visiting the library’s web site at www.delawarelibrary.org or directly to Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org. No matter how you contact us, we’re always glad you asked!