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Published: Saturday, 2/25/2006

Coretta Scott King winners sensitively portray human values

This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Alexa Sandmann of Kent State University.

On Jan. 23, the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards were presented by the American Library Association in honor of Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In the future, because of her recent death, the Author Award, first given in 1970, and the Illustrator Award, first given in 1974, will be given in her memory.

The awards recognize the literary accomplishment of African-American writers and illustrators, and the winners demonstrate sensitivity to the true worth and value of all people.

CORETTA SCOTT KING

AUTHOR AWARD

DAY OF TEARS: A NOVEL IN DIALOGUE. Written by Julius Lester. Hyperion. Ages 12 and up. $15.99.

"I ain't never seen rain like this," Will said. "This ain't rain. This is God's tears." So ends the opening dialogue chronicling fateful days in American history, March 2 and 3, 1859, when the largest auction of slaves took place in Savannah, Ga. Lester explores this event through the perspectives of black and white, child and adult, slave and free person. The book shows the far-reaching effects of slavery - its personal, social, and moral costs. While the centerpiece of this text is slavery, the subtext is the consequence of every decision each person makes. A provocative novel for discussion.

AUTHOR HONOR AWARD

MARITCHA: A NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN GIRL. Written by Tonya Bolden. Harry Abrams. Ages 12 and up. $17.95.

Based on Maritcha Remond Lyon's unpublished memoir, Memories of Yesterdays: All of Which I Saw and Part of Which I Was, this biography focuses on Maritcha's younger years growing up in New York City. Born in 1848, Maritcha lived a normal childhood in lower Manhattan, but when the Draft Riots of 1863 drove her family from their home, Maritcha became the first black person to graduate from Providence High School, ultimately becoming a teacher and then a principal in the New York City schools. The text is artistically supplemented with archival photographs and drawings, a glimpse into another era.

DARK SONS. Written by Nikki Grimes. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion. Ages 12 and up. $15.99.

Ishmael and Sam are "dark sons," seemingly forgotten by their own fathers, Abraham and James, upon the arrival of new sons, Isaac and David. This novel, written in free verse, is told from two viewpoints: The contemporary son, Sam, abandoned by his father when he leaves home to marry another, and white at that; and by Ishmael, Biblical Abraham's first son. Both worry about their mother's sense of well-being since their abandonment. Both ponder their step-brother role. Grimes has written insightful and uplifting poetry boys will read.

A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL. Written by Marilyn Nelson. Illustrated by Phillippe Lardy. Houghton. Ages 12 and up. $17.

The poet laureate of Connecticut, Nelson already has won two Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, one for Carver: A Life in Poems, and last year, for Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem. Celebrating yet one more life, Nelson wrote this tribute to Emmett Till as a heroic crown of sonnets, a sequence of 15 connected sonnets, in which the last one is made up of the first lines of the preceding 14. Using this little-known poetic form, Nelson honors the memory of a young black man brutally murdered for ostensibly whistling at a white woman in 1955, reminding readers to "speak now, or bear unforgettable shame."

CORETTA SCOTT KING

ILLUSTRATOR AWARD

ROSA. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Written by Nikki Giovanni. Henry Holt. All ages. $16.95.

The story of Rosa Parks, called the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," is graciously and elegantly illustrated by Collier's paintings. In his note, he states that he painted Rosa "as if light is emanating from her." He wanted readers to feel the heat of the South, both geographically and spiritually, and impassioned by the mission. Sun-drenched golden tones radiate especially from a four-page spread that highlights the culmination of the bus boycott: the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was wrong. Paired with Giovanni's inspiring text, this picture book is a treasure.

ILLUSTRATOR

HONOR AWARD

BROTHERS IN HOPE: THE STORY OF THE LOST BOYS OF SUDAN. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Written by Mary Williams. Lee and Low Books. All ages. $17.95.

Told in first person, this story is inspirational. How did thousands of boys, typically 5 to 15, walk nearly 1,500 miles across deserts, over mountains, and through rivers? Orphaned because of the on-going war in Sudan, this recounting of their escape is compellingly written - Christie's art dramatically shows their flight. Broad, sweeping strokes of earth tones illustrate the seemingly unending journey, and facial expressions show the courage, love, and brotherhood among these survivors. An author's note and afterword provide helpful context.

CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE

NEW TALENT AUTHOR AWARD

JIMI & ME. By Jaime Adoff. Jump at the Sun/Hyperion. All ages. $15.99.

This award is given only if the committee chooses. Adoff won it for his free-verse novel of a young man whose music-producing father is murdered in Brooklyn when he is simply buying a diet soda at the wrong time. This shock, coupled with discovering his father's other "family," makes for an interesting read as bi-racial Keith tries to make peace with these two facts. The grieving process is made more difficult because of a financially necessary move to a small town in Ohio. Jimi Hendrix lyrics punctuate the text - they are Keith's solace and connection with his father.



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