Children’s Peace and Justice Book Award Since 1953

The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award began in 1953 as a project of the U.S. branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). That year, WILPF member, Martha Teele of Ithaca, New York sent out an invitation to U.S. book publishers and authors of children’s books to submit titles for consideration for the newly envisioned Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

The Jane Addams Peace Association perpetuates the spirit of activist and pacifist Jane Addams, her love for children and humanity, her commitment to freedom and democracy, and her devotion to the cause of world peace. The organization was founded in 1948 with the express purpose “to foster a better understanding between the people of the world toward the end that wars may be avoided and a more lasting peace enjoyed.” From 1948 until 2013, the Peace Association worked in close partnership with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an organization “addressing the root causes of violence through a feminist lens” of which Jane Addams was a founding member. The Peace Association supported Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as their fiscal sponsor as well as ongoing peace education. Beginning in 2015, the Peace Association’s focus shifted solely to peace education and, in particular, supporting and extending its signature program the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award as well as doing ongoing peace education work.

In the 1950s, a single title each year received the award. The award began honoring multiple titles in the 1970s. The Jane Addams Peace Association, with its historic roots in WILPF, now stewards and administers the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

Original Criteria – 1953 

The original criteria were described as follows: 

“The book must be attractive in illustration and in format as well as in story. Books written with humor and imagination are preferred over those which carry a message in a serious, staid fashion. Books may embrace the following themes in their plot.

  1. Reconciling opposite viewpoints.
  2. Solving emotional problems nonviolently, so that a child may learn from his experience what is involved in the problem, what his responsibility is toward it, and how it can be handled with increasingly satisfactory results for all concerned.
  3. Breaking down of suspicion and fear.
  4. Overcoming of prejudice against things and people and ideas that are different.
  5. Understanding of destructive impulses: fear, greed, jealousy, treachery, deceit, and insecurity which breeds them.
  6. Approaching life constructively through sympathy, understanding, and security.

The books eligible for this award must not sacrifice any elements that go into a distinguished literary work. The above-mentioned themes need not necessarily constitute the plot but must be subtly and ably interwoven. The approach should be that of a strong statement of faith in people.”

The selection criteria have evolved, grown, and been refined over time. The biggest difference between the early criteria and today’s is a change in perspective. The focus no longer rests solely on a book’s just, enlightening, instructive content, coupled with literary merit, but on how the reader interacts with a book. In 1953, the call went out for books with “humor and imagination” and a strong statement of “faith in people” that encouraged the development of a peaceable person. Now, coupled with literary and artistic quality and the criteria focus on how books effectively engage children thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equality for all people. It is the nature of the dialogue, response, reflection, and questioning which a book engenders in young readers that is key.

Jane Addams Children's Book Award

The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award: Honoring Children’s Literature for Peace and Social Justice since 1953 is the first book to examine the award as well as its winners and honor books. In this volume, Susan C. Griffith reviews and synthesizes Addams’s ideas and legacy, so that her life and accomplishments can be used as a focal point for exploring issues of social justice through children’s literature. (Scarecrow Press, 2013)