Award Winning Authors Address Glaring Diversity Gap In the Children’s Publishing Industry JACBA Newsletter 8Apr2016

Authors Use Awards to Advocate for Diversity in Children’s Books

In a 2014 New York Times op-ed, children’s book author Walter Dean Myers reminded readers that literature transmits values and that the messages of oppression and misrepresentation in current children’s books are appalling.

Books for young people represent a unique space in publishing, Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park asserted in her 2015 TEDx Talk. “If books have the power to help us find ourselves,” she said, “then a children’s book has superpowers.”

Want more on diverse literature and award-winners? Check out the South Asia Book Award, Disability in Kidlit, Vamos a Leer, and SLJ’s Cultural Diversity Booklist. See our Q&A with Zareen Jaffrey, executive editor of Salaam Reads (a Simon & Schuster imprint that will publish children’s and YA books featuring Muslim characters), for more about diversity initiatives in the publishing world.

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Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom by Walter Dean Myers 1992 Awardee

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam by Walter Dean Myers 2003 Awardee

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park 2011 Awardee

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park 2003 Awardee

Watch Bill Murray Read Empowering Poetry on ‘Kimmel’

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Bill Murray contributed a list of his favorite poems to a piece for the April issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine.

“Listen, you a wonder,” Murray read. “You a city of a woman. You got a geography of your own. Listen, somebody need a map to understand you. Somebody need directions to move around you. Listen, woman: You not a no place, anonymous girl. Mister with his hands on you, he got his hands on some-damn-body.”

The resulting piece features annotations from the actor; for “What the Mirror Said,” he wrote, “Everybody needs an ‘Attagirl!’ now and then.”

Clifton, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, died in 2010. Murray previously read her poem at a December benefit for New York City’s Poets House.

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Amifika by Lucille Clifton 1978 Awardee

CSU Dominguez Hills Theatre Produces Alice Childress’ ‘Wine In The Wilderness’

“Wine In The Wilderness” was first performed on WGHB-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, as part of the series, “On Being Black.” Playwright Alice Childress is the first woman to receive an Obie Award for Best Original Off-Broadway Play in 1956 for “Trouble In Mind” (1955). Some of her controversial yet highly acclaimed works include “Florence” (1949), “Wedding Band” (1966), and a novel, “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich.”

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A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich by Alice Childress 1974 Awardee

National Book Award-Winning Author Jacqueline Woodson to Speak April 5

Her talk, titled “Brown Girl Dreaming,” after her award winning memoir, is free and open to the public.

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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson 2013 Awardee

I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson 1995 Awardee

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson 1996 Awardee

Don’t overlook the power of biographies

“Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

The unorthodox portraits of these people accompanied by the text will convince you of their larger-than-life personalities. If you like this book, try other book by Kathleen Krull in the series "Lives of …”

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Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull 2004 Awardee

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull 1997 Awardee

Journey to the Emerald Isle in these satisfying reads

Where I Belong By Mary Downing Hahn, Clarion Books, 2014

Mary Downing Hahn, an exceptionally talented writer, presents this in a refreshingly realistic and personable manner, rendering a boy’s love of the outdoors and admiration of The Lord of the Rings wonderfully.

Green Shamrocks By Eve Bunting, Scholastic, 2011

With brightly colored illustrations that complement the widely spaced text, this story will entertain young ones, and it is ideal for activity extensions that invite children to grow their own plants.

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December Stillness by Mary Downing Hahn 1989 Awardee

The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting 1990 Awardee

Book Highlight: Part 7

The final installment of our seven part series on the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony features the introduction given by Heather Palmer for Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, written by Margarita Engle, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, named an Honor Book in the Books for Older Children.

Introduction by Heather Palmer

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal is a work of art. Written by Margarita Engle and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this historic novel in verse transports readers to the Panamanian jungle in the first years of the 20th century. Entranced by the americano recruiter’s clinking coins and false promises, a 14-year old Cuban boy has lied his way to Panama with thousands of other islanders for the purpose of digging a canal to link the world’s two largest oceans. It takes only a few days before he is struck with regret, having been introduced to the realities of the back-breaking labor, deplorable living conditions, wholly segregated organization and unjust pay scale for workers in the Canal Zone. In this story, we bear witness to innocent people who have been caught in a dangerous situation over which they have no control, and to the flora and fauna that is disrupted by the digging of what is widely proclaimed as the world’s 8th Wonder.

Ms. Engle’s Cuban-American roots, her studies in biology and agronomy, her thorough research and masterful writing are the perfect blend for this story. Her vibrant verse provides an informative, detailed picture of the Panama Craze, yet leaves ample room for readers to imagine life deep in the jungle. Her poems offer readers an unimpeded view of:

  • the contrasting realities of this jungle, called the land of many butterflies by indigenous people, and known as the land of boiling mud, raging sun, and furious fevers to the islander workers.
  • the ease with which the delicate balance of an ecosystem can be completely and shamefully destroyed in the name of innovation.
  • the necessity to seek and proclaim multiple sides of every story

As a committee, we were moved both intellectually and emotionally by Ms. Engle’s work. First, we admire her masterful approach to treating perspective. She has dug deeper than the information shared in the typical American history book, basing characters on documented historical records and personal interviews with descendants of silver people, and sharing insight into the viewpoints of the native peoples who call the jungle their home, the imported workers, and the creatures of the rainforest.

We appreciate the way in which Silver People expands children’s awareness of social justice issues such as civil rights, race, ethnicity and class to other lands, peoples and cultures. We find the timing of this novel to be extraordinary – it not only marks the centenary of the completion of the original canal, but also raises awareness of what is to come with the current day canal expansions in Panama and additions in Nicaragua.

Of particular note is the way in which Ms. Engle has succeeded in leaving readers with a glimmer of hope while writing about this unarguably dismal episode in our history. Indeed, if we strive to send forth young people that are able to understand human needs with compassion, find creative solutions to social injustice, and accept responsibility for the future of all people, we must model the art of “offering hope” in devastating circumstances.

Thank you for tackling with such grace a calamitous and regrettable chapter of our history. Thank you for telling the largely uncelebrated story of the silver people, and for sharing it in a way that is engaging and accessible to readers of varying abilities. Our committee believes that Silver People will leave a lasting impression on young readers, and is delighted to name it an honor book for the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

This concludes our final installment of the seven part series of the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Winners and Honorees leading up to the announcement of the 2016 award winners and honorees on April 25, 2016.

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes of topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literacy and artistic excellence.

A national committee chooses winners and honor books for younger and older children.

Read more about the 2015 Awards.

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