2014 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards

Congratulations to the 62nd Jane Addams Children’s Book Awardees Michelle Markel, Melissa Sweet, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Debbie Levy, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Elizabeth Suneby, Suana Verelst, Kathryn Erskine, and Anne Westrick.

Jane Addams Book Award Selection Committee

Jane Addams Book Award Selection Committee

Award Presentation

Winner of Books for Older Children

sugar bookIt is thrilling to be here today, introducing Jewell Parker Rhodes and her gift to us – Sugar. Sugar, the title of this winning novel is also the name of its ten-year-old heroine. And, Sugar is a great heroine – a spunky, inspiring role model for today’s young readers. Jewell has succeeded in writing a finely tuned historical novel about a time and a place that many don’t know much about. Set in Reconstruction-era Louisiana on the banks of the Mississippi, this story takes the reader through the cycle of seasons in the planting, growing and harvesting of sugar cane.

Left behind by the more able-bodied, who have moved on into newly found freedom, Sugar, alone, without parents, has stayed on in a former slave enclave with the old and the infirm. Her mother is dead; her father was sold away from her years before. Cared for by an older couple, Sugar joins them in the arduous work of the fields, but she yearns for more.

The plantation owner, worried about his dwindling labor force brings in a group of Chinese workers from Guyana. And, in many ways, the arrival of these strangers from another part of the world opens up dreams and possibilities of a better future for Sugar. Through her friendship with Bo, the youngest of the newcomers, a tenuous bridge is built between the two oppressed communities. Sugar’s one other friend and playmate is Billy, the white plantation owner’s son. Although it is a friendship fraught with ups and downs and met with general disapproval, the friendship nevertheless points to a better future when such friendships might bring understanding and healing.

By weaving together allegorical images as well as folk tales from both the African American and Chinese traditions, Jewell has added texture and depth to the painful stories of hard times in this novel. The novel is filled with life, with facts of history seamlessly told in Sugar’s voice with sadness, realism and humor.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes is the Piper Endowed Chair and founding artistic director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. She is an award-winning author of numerous books for adults and for children. These include a book entitled Ninth Ward, an earlier JACBA honor book for older children. Somehow Jewell also makes time in her productive life to travel throughout the world, teaching creative writing to middle, high school and college students.

Thank you, Jewell, for your fine book, Sugar, published by Little, Brown and Company. It is my honor and pleasure to introduce you as the winning author of this year’s Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for older children.

Remarks by Lani Gerson
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony

Acceptance Remarks by Jewell Parker Rhodes, the author of Sugar

I am so honored by the Jane Addams Award. Thank you committee members. I am also honored to be sharing the company of so many esteemed authors. Today is an absolute thrill.

I’ve chosen to forget most of my childhood, but I haven’t forgotten all the wonderful teachers and librarians who fed me books. I was often a sad young girl—abandoned by my mother, raised in poverty. I preferred books where animals or people were rescued and overcame challenges. The story of the horse that didn’t become dog stew or the abused dog that found a loving home or the Little Princess who went from rags to riches, all appealed to me. I also remember vividly reading a children’s book about Hull House and wishing Ms. Addams would come to my neighborhood, too. (Little did I know I’d be accepting a book award in her honor!)

As a child, books saved me, kept me alive emotionally and spiritually.

jewell parker rhodes

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes talks with Ceremony attendees

My family called me the” little professor” because all I ever wanted was books—for my birthday, for Christmas, for every day, books and more books. Never once did I dream that I would actually become a professor.

It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I discovered black people wrote books. Within a day I switched my major to English/Creative Writing. Curriculums with non-diverse books had limited my dreaming. But at Carnegie-Mellon University, it felt as though the librarian had placed a book right near the entrance just so I could see it and affirm my right to become a writer, to tell culturally inspired stories.

As a young woman, I discovered my true love, my husband, Brad, who for thirteen years put up with my whining—“I’ll never be a published writer” –until my first novel for adults was published.

Now here is the truest secret—I ALWAYS wanted to write for children. That was my highest aspiration. I needed every book I read as a child to keep me kind, loving, and more humane. While the children’s authors I read didn’t provide a mirror of me, they did provide a window into a wider, better world.

So, I wrote nine books for adults practicing, getting ready to give my best effort to youth—for they deserve it. Now I am living my truest writing life—it took me six decades to achieve it. What I like best about Sugar is her resilience and spunk. (I used to hide in the closet. I’d wait for my Grandmother to call—and once feeling affirmed that I had been missed me, I’d exit from beneath the piles of winter coats.)

Sugar, literally, appeared to me. One day I was doing dishes and I turned around and there she was!—this beautiful black girl—hands on her hips, demanding, “How come I have to work, how come I can’t play? How come I’m not free?”

jewell parker rhodes

Sugar author Jewell Parker Rhodes

Special thanks go to my editors—Allison Moore and Liza Baker. And special thanks goes to Victoria Stapleton, Director of Little Brown School and Library Marketing. Victoria puts Sugar into the hands of teachers and librarians who will feed Sugar’s courageousness and love of adventure to kids. The Jane Addams Award closes the circle. The award makes it more likely that the child who needs to read Sugar will receive it and be reminded to be resilient, that the world is a good place, prejudice is wrong, and that friendships can thrive across cultures.

Thank you for the splendid honor of the Jane Addams Book Award for Older Children.

— Posted with permission of Jewell Parker Rhodes

Winner of Books for Younger Children

brave girl bookImagine: You are 14 years old. You arrive in the U.S. with almost no English. You deeply want to go to school to read, to learn – but your father does not find work, so you pick up your sewing machine and you go to work, making blouses (called shirtwaists) – in an unsafe factory where the doors are padlocked so you cannot leave.

Imagine: In this factory (as in all the factories across the U.S.) you must work ten – twelve hours a day. If you prick your finger on a pin and get blood on the cloth, or if you have to leave your machine to go to the bathroom – you are fined. And for all your hard work you earn just a few dollars a month – while the factory owners grow rich on your labor.

Imagine: You understand how wrong this is. You realize that it’s not just you who is being treated so unfairly, but workers all across the city. Imagine struggling with English, but speaking up, louder and louder – calling for the right to organize. Calling for safe working conditions. Calling for a living wage.

Brave Girl is the true story of that 14 year old immigrant, Clara Lemlich, who became the voice of the 1909 General Strike in which 40,000 women from across New York closed down the shirtwaist factories and led the way for workers across the U.S. to strike for their rights too.

julie olson edwardsIn the book, Brave Girl, author Michelle Markel writes with crisp, compelling power about Clara’s courage and about the importance of what she accomplished. Melissa Sweet’s illustrations vividly show the details (Clara’s hand in handcuffs – she was arrested 19 times! – the padlocks on the factory doors) – and in full page paintings, show the depth and power of Clara’s efforts.

Together Michelle and Melissa have crafted a book that speaks to concerns still alive today: a living wage – worker’s rights to organize – the importance of our immigrant populations – and leave us with the promise that in the U.S. “wrongs can be righted, warriors can wear skirts and blouses, and the bravest hearts may beat in girls only five feet tall.”

Remarks by Julie Olsen Edward

Acceptance Remarks by Michelle Markel, the author of Brave Girl

I can’t think of a more meaningful honor for Brave Girl. I’m crazy happy thrilled about this award, and thrilled that you’re celebrating a book about the struggle of working people – of immigrants, and of women – in America. This has been an overlooked subject for picture books, but its time has come.

Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet

Brave Girl author Michelle Markel & illustrator Melissa Sweet


On a personal note, I was thinking about my father on the plane coming out here. He was the son of Russian immigrants, an airline mechanic and president of his machinist’s union. He had a good job, and dignity, and was able to provide well for his family and give us as much culture as he could- bread and roses- and that union is greatly responsible for my being here today.

But there are many other people who made this possible.

I’m indebted to Melissa Sweet, for her exuberant and textured illustrations, to my publisher, Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins for their impeccable taste and vision, to my editor Kristin Rens and the whole team that got the word out about this book.

Brave Girl is only one chapter in the long remarkable life of Clara Lemlich. She
unionized garment workers, she led rent and consumer strikes, she fought for suffrage and worked for peace and in her 90’s at an old age home she organized the orderlies.

For my book, I focused on Clara’s pivotal role in the strike of the 20,000 because it was a dramatic story that could engage young people.

The story takes children to a dark period in our country’s past, when immigrant girls, teens and women were locked in factories, and treated little better than slaves, with long hours, low wages, and other inhumane conditions.

But in these trying times, there were brave souls who believed that in America, people could and should do better. Clara and the other girls refused to be cowed by their bosses or limited by the low expectations of the male garment workers. They battled hunger, violence, and a cold winter but ultimately prevailed. Their fight for the right to unionize helped bring us the five day work week, pay for over time, and other human decencies.

My wish is that this story will spark discussions in classrooms about issues that are as relevant today as ever- our social responsibility to workers, the power of collective action, and misperceptions about the strength of women.

I would love to be able to tell Clara about this award, but failing that, I was able to tell her grandchildren about it. A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting Julie Velson, Joel Schaffer, and David Margules. They’re delighted with the recognition their grandmother is receiving, and were happy to give me a message I could bring back to you.

Julie said that her family’s legacy was that change was possible. She stressed the importance of teaching children about massive social movements. It was those collective movements that brought us 8 hour work days, the war on poverty, and other great pieces of legislation.

Joel said, and I quote, “Clara was just a regular person who did unusual things. But it’s something that everyone can do… What she did was she got up and said ‘Enough! Enough of this! I think its time to fight.’ Everyone is faced with that at some point…”

David wanted children to know that “you too can be a Clara Lemlich.”

The overall message from Clara’s family was, that compassion, and action, should not be extraordinary, they should be ordinary.

I hope Brave Girl is just the beginning. There are so many untold stories about labor history and immigrant workers, and women leaders- that can enlighten and inspire children. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

As Clara’s daughter told her son, about his labor activism,
“it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Now we’re on our way! Thank you for being so supportive of such an important subject, and thank you for this incredible award.

— Posted with permission of Michelle Markel

All Honor Books

Honors for Books for Younger Children

Razia's book

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education is based on students’ experiences at the Zabuli Education Center for Girls in Afghanistan founded by humanitarian Razia Jan whose work has been recognized worldwide.

Young Razia’s dream is to become educated and eventually teach others. Little does her family know that she actually learned how to read by sounding out words. When the news arrived that a girl’s school was being built in her village, Razia’s grandfather and mother supported her desire to attend. However, she had to convince her father and oldest brother of the many benefits that an education would provide her, her family and their community.

Thank you, Elizabeth Suneby, for writing this powerful and deeply moving story for children that not only paints an honest picture of life in present day Afghanistan, but also sheds light on the plight of women and the inequalities in regards to gender and education.

Elizabeth Suneby

Elizabeth Suneby (left,) and Susan Griffith (right), Past JACBA Chair and Author of “The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Honoring Children’s Literature for Peace and Social Justice since 1953”.


A highlight of the ceremony was having Razia Jan with us!

Your words coupled with Suana Verelst’s beautiful mixed media collage illustrations instill hope while broadening global understanding about the right to receive an education. Thank you for raising awareness of the Zabuli Education Center and the many challenges that young girls must face in order to learn how to read and write. Thank you for sharing the mission behind Razia’s Ray of Hope foundation which has provided girls with self-respect and the knowledge for a brighter future.

For your quest to raise awareness and empower others to take action to foster peaceful change within their own lives and community, the Jane Addams Book award committee is honored to present Razia’s Ray of Hope as an Honor Book for Young Children.

— Susan Griffith

we shall overcome

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, is written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. It is published by Jump at the Sun Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group.

Many of us are familiar with the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which has come to represent the civil rights movement, but how many of us know its long history, the details about how and why it has evolved, or the extent of its global impact? This slim album interweaves the history of this song with the history of the struggle for justice in the United States, and demonstrates the power of individuals coming together to make change. The reasons this title rose to the top for our committee are numerous, but we particularly admired the attention Ms. Levy and Ms. Brantley-Newton lent to the age and emotional maturity of the young readers for whom the book was created. This attention begins with the the visual styling of the cover, continues with the brilliant pagination, and extends through the timeline that brings the book to a close. This care strengthens the book’s connections to the themes and ideals that are championed by the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award: solving problems courageously and nonviolently, overcoming prejudice, and approaching life with self confidence and strength.

Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton shares a smile

Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton shares a smile

Ms. Brantley-Newton has illustrated children’s books for a growing number of authors. In an interview, she mentioned that the most difficult part of illustrating We Shall Overcome was the fact that it made her remember and relive her experiences growing up in the 60’s. How fortunate we are that she participated in this project; her mixed media illustrations and use of collage bring life to this story. Of particular note is the way in which she has aligned her colorful and era specific illustrations with various verses of the song and with the text, thus enriching the storyline and aiding young readers’ comprehension. Ms. Brantley-Newton has expressed her hope that her artwork would leave people feeling “happy,” and her illustrations in this work have done just that. Our committee’s response to her images include descriptors such as “vibrant, joyful, exuberant, and upbeat.” Their vibrancy and flow expertly capture the song’s spirit and message of hope in a way that is appealing to children.

On behalf of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award committee, I am more than “happy” I am indeed most pleased, delighted, and overjoyed, to introduce Ms. Vanessa Brantley-Newton as the illustrator of a 2014 honor book for her illustrations in We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song.

Debbie Levy has not always been a children’s author, but she has always been dedicated to storytelling. Her first career was that of a lawyer, her second a journalist, and today, she is the author of 20 published books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry written for children of all ages. How are each of these careers related? Each requires the use of careful research and selective word choice to tell a truthful, expressive, and compelling story. The committee was impressed with the way in which Ms. Levy combined her love of research and language to create this book. She has selected a tragic and painful aspect of our history to share with children, and has found a way to introduce it in a truthful and accessible way. The word choice, sentence structures, use of repetition and opposites create a text that is accessible to young readers. Simple and lyrical, the text allows readers to gain a very good sense of the struggles that different groups of people have faced.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Debbie Levy and Selection Committee Member Heather Palmer

Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Debbie Levy and Selection Committee Member Heather Palmer


On behalf of the Jane Addams book committee, it is my great honor to present Debbie Levy with the 2014 Jane Addams Children’s Book Honor. Thank you for reminding young readers of where we have been, celebrating how far we have come, and emphasizing the fact that there are people around the globe who need our voices to join with theirs as they continue to fight for a better world.

— Heather Palmer

Honors for Books for Older Children



Brotherhood by Anne Westrick and published by Viking is a 2014 Honor Book for Older Children. Uneasy in Reconstruction-era Virginia, Shad feels torn between conflicting loyalties when teachers at a controversial school for freed slaves, including an African American girl his own age, are able to help with his dyslexia at the same time that he is reveling in the sense of community and comradeship he feels with his recent induction into the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. Choosing between his new understanding of the African American community and his family and community results in hard choices and no easy answers in this look at a complex period of our history.



Anne Westrick signs her book for a student

Anne Westrick signs her book for a student

anne westrick

Marianne Baker, Charlottesville, VA, co-chair of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards Committee (on left) introduced Westrick (on right) at the Awards Ceremony.

seeing red

Seeing Red, by Katheryn Erskine and published by Scholastic Press is named an Honor Book for Older Children. In the early 1970’s, twelve year old Red struggles with the damage his actions have caused to his friendship with an older African American boy, while at the same time trying to right a centuries-old racial injustice connected to his beloved family. Realistically complicated characters and situations breathe life into this story of a young man creating change in both his community and himself.

“The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” This quote from William Faulkner seems to go straight to the heart of Seeing Red. White sixth grader Red is distraught when he learns that his mother wants to sell their Virginian house and garage after his father passes away in the early 1970s. As he struggles to find a way to stay in the house that his family has lived in for generations, he is forced to make a series of hard choices. Succumbing to peer pressure in an attempt to gain allies for his protest, he reluctantly participates in a cross burning with other boys – and damages an important friendship in the process.

Again and again it is brought home to Red that a single choice can have profound consequences, for good or ill. His strong relationship with an elderly black woman, and a contentious relationship with the family next door lead him down paths that force him to reconsider beloved family legends. Red has always considered family history to be an important aspect of his identity. With the events of the past constantly influencing and impacting the present, what can Red do to create a future he can be proud of?

Ann Carpenter and Kathryn ErskineJACBA Co-Chair Ann Carpenter and Seeing Red author Kathryn Erskine

Complex relationships and the interactions between intentions, actions, and public perception create a sophisticated work that remains accessible to young people. Red must continually update his understanding of himself and his community, even when the conclusions he comes to are personally painful, providing a positive role model for ways to accept and forgive the mistakes of the past without blinding oneself to the repercussions or pretending it simply never happened.

For providing us with a story that tackles racism, identity, and gender equality, a book that does not shy away from the lasting impact prejudice and hate can have on a community, we name Seeing Red a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Older Readers Honor Book.

— Ann Carpenter


Jewell Parker Rhodes with Alla Umanskaya and students

Thirty Students from PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington, Brooklyn, NY, attended the Ceremony accompanied by their Librarian Alla Umanskaya and History and Advisory teacher Joshua Houston. Umanskaya prepared her students in advance of the ceremony, asking them to complete assignments related to the Jane Addams Peace Association and the award books. This is the third year that PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington students have studied the struggles to create a peaceful & just world through JACBA’s award winning books. The students had the opportunity to speak with the authors and illustrators one on one and to receive autographed books which JAPA had donated to their school.

Additionally this year was the first time that we welcomed students from the United Nations School. The Librarian and a teacher attended with the fourth graders. They were also pleased to receive a set of the winning books.



Beautiful day with beautiful music

Beautiful day with beautiful music

Jane Addams Peace Association Board, staff, and PEP committee


All photos used with permission