This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by area teachers of children’s literature. Today’s are by Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.
Respecting and valuing each human being is the critical feature of literature chosen to be Coretta Scott King award winners. Named for the late wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., these books celebrate King’s mission. The awards, announced annually at the winter meeting of the American Library Association, honor the talents of African-American writers and illustrators. Typically, honor books also are named, the number varying year to year. While February is Black History Month, these books should be read year-round.
Coretta Scott King Author Award
HAND IN HAND: TEN BLACK MEN WHO CHANGED AMERICA. By Andrea Davis Pinkney. Paintings by Brian Pinkney. Disney/Jump at the Sun Books. Ages 9 and up. $19.99
From astronomer Benjamin Banneker to civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph to President Obama, 10 critically influential black men are honored by Andrea Pinkney’s eloquent biographies and husband Brian Pinkney’s dramatic portraits. Each biography is prefaced with a poem which encapsulates the essence of the man who is revealed in the prose, a fabulous introduction to each. Concise and yet detailed, these histories are well written and enlightening. A most engaging and satisfying read.
EACH KINDNESS. By Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Nancy Paulsen Books. All ages. $16.99
A powerful story about relationships, Each Kindness reminds readers that kindness is a limitless character trait — if each of us allows it to be. However, Chloe decides it is not important to befriend Maya, despite multiple opportunities to do so. And then one day, Maya is not in school, never to return. A poignant reminder of the consequence of hard-heartedness and the humanity that connects us all, the warmth of Lewis’ illustrations underscores the message. Truly a story for all ages.
NO CRYSTAL STAIR: A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF LEWIS MICHAUX, HARLEM BOOKSELLER. By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrated by R.Gregory Christie. Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing. Age 10 and up. $17.95
Told through multiple voices, Nelson chronicles the life of her great uncle, Lewis Michaux. In the 1930s, Michaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem which sold only “books by and about black people” when the prevailing notion was that blacks did not read. Michaux believed in the power of knowledge garnered through reading, that his people needed to “hear and learn from the voices of black men and women.” While the early years of the business were lean, the bookstore became the intellectual pivot of Harlem for more than 35 years. A fascinating story of one man’s vision for his community.
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
I, TOO, AM AMERICA. By Langston Hughes. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Simon & Schuster. Ages 8 and up. $16.99.
An illustrated version of Hughes’ famous poem of the same title, Collier’s interpretations of the key concepts leap off the page in their veracity and accuracy. Using train porters as the metaphor for increasing equality among those of all races, Collier focuses on them, “I am the darker brother.” Throughout the book, consistent stripes — reminiscent of the freedom our flag represents — support Hughes’ theme. A brilliant interpretation of a beloved poem.
H.O.R.S.E. Written and illustrated by Christopher Myers. Egmont USA. Ages 5 and up. $18.99
Subtitled, A game of basketball and imagination, Myers’ words and art explain the game called H.O.R.S.E. Played on a basketball court, the first person shoots any kind of shot and then the other person has to make the same shot — or that player gets a letter. “Spell ‘horse’ and it’s ‘Giddy-up, you’re out.’” A game of bravado on the court, it’s essentially a game of friendship. A “straight through the rim” winner.
ELLEN’S BROOM. By Kelly Starling Lyons. Illustrated by Daniel Minter. G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin. Ages 5 and up. $16.99
Minter’s linoleum block prints vividly capture the joy of Ellen’s parents when their marriage can be recognized by the law because of the Emancipation Proclamation. A simple but significant story, it celebrates the freedom of being able to marry and not be at the whim of a master who could dismantle a family at his mandate. It honors the slave tradition of “jumping the broom,” of a man and woman who held hands and “leaped into life together.” A celebration of family.
I HAVE A DREAM: DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. By Martin Luther King, Jr. Paintings by Kadir Nelson. Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House. All ages. $18.99
Bold oil paintings of this oversize book capture key words and concepts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This book, the only picture book version of Dr. King’s speech currently in print, also includes a CD recording of this landmark speech, as well as the text of the speech in its entirety. An inspiration as America still strives to live out Dr. King’s dream for all Americans — “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”