No one seems to ever talk about the Coretta Scott King Awards. Well today I not only want to talk about them but I want to criticize (out of love), highlight and make predictions for 2011.
I admire the goal of the Coretta Scott King Awards. The CSK awards are given to African American authors and illustrators who make "outstanding inspirational and educational contributions." I do think the John Steptoe Award is run slightly better because no author can win more than once and the list of winners is far more diverse, but, there should be separate categories for this award. I have a problem with the way the books are chosen and how all children's books about African Americans are thrown together. I have a problem with the same group of authors winning the awards and receiving the honors (Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, Angela Johnson, Nikki Grimes). I have a problem with most of the books being historical fiction (I'm focused solely on the author awards because I'm not familiar enough with picture books to state my opinion on how they are judged).
Walter Dean Myers (for example) has won or been honored ten times. I'm not saying Walter Dean Myers doesn't deserve it, but that's just not fair. Yes I know life isn't fair but the way I see it is like this: there are so few books being written by African Americans for children and teens, that we need to spotlight as many of those authors as we can. Obviously they aren't all going to be good, but I refuse to believe that in 2010 the only good African American authors are Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, Angela Johnson, Mildred Taylor, Sharon Draper, Christopher Paul Curtis and Nikki Grimes. In fact, I know that's not true. I've reviewed enough books by African Americans to know that we have some absolutely brilliant authors who are not getting spotlighted. There's Zetta Elliott, Derrick Barnes, Dia Reeves, Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich, Rita Williams Garcia (I admit I was very surprised that only one of her books has won a CSK honor), Varian Johnson, Sherri Smith, Coe Booth, Ebony Joy Wilkins, Debbie Riguad, Charles R. Smith and many more. Each of those writers offers a different perspective on the Black experience, as in, the main character happens to be Black but it's not always about the racism. Those books also detail everyday life, first crush, first love, social justice, questions of faith, family issues, friendship, etc. These issues are not solely ones that Black people face but that doesn't make these authors any less talented, in my opinion, they are still contributing educational and inspirational stories simply by portraying us as teenagers first, Black people second. In the 21st century, I don't think I'm alone in saying that I want more of that. True most of the authors I mentioned above haven't published 20 something books like a Walter Dean Myers or even 5-7 like Sharon Draper, but like Christopher Paul Curtis some of them have published two or three books.
What I want to know is, can you only be treated as a serious contender if you write historical fiction? Does the CSK awards committee do more than glance at your book if it's not historical? Not since 2004 (The First Part Last which I LOVE) has a non-historical fiction book won. And if you don't write historical fiction, do you only stand a chance of winning after publishing 5 or more books? I'm thrilled Tanita Davis won a CSK 2010 honor (for Mare's War) and that Kekla Magoon won the John Steptoe New Talent Award (for The Rock & The River). They both deserved it and it's nice to have some new faces receiving recognition, both won for historical fiction titles.
I have a problem with a picture book for competing against a young adult book (note: If it's a picture book written for an older audience like Bad News for Outlaws, that's different and I don't mind). That's just not right. No other major award does that. Not the Newberry, Caledcott, Morris, or Schneider. Those awards are all dedicated to one group. The Pura Belpre throws all books written by Latino authors as well, which begs the question, why do the ethnic awards not distinguish between age groups? There should be a Coretta Scott King Picture Book Award, Middle Grade Award and Young Adult award. After all, how can you compare a picture book to a book written for teenagers? Or even a picture book to one written for junior high students? The writing and storylines are usually quite different. I hope I don't sound too harsh but maybe that's why no one pays as much attention to the CSK awards. They aren't run the way other awards are, something is missing, almost like a competitive quality.
I don't expect the CSK awards commitee to read this post. Regardless I think the CSK awards would be much better if they did the following;
1. Separated into three categories; picture book, middle grade and young adult. Same thing for the Steptoe Award.
2. Promote more books that go beyond historical fiction. Or historical fiction books that portray a lesser-known historical event (examples: Black soldiers/nurses in world wars, 1863 Draft Riots, 1919 race riots, Black Panthers, Black WESTERN pioneers). If another slavery or civil rights book wins, I might throw something.
Those are two basic suggestions that would be fairly easy to implement. I'd even settle just for the first one being done. Bottom line: YA, MG and picture books deserve their own categories. If there are 4-5 books in each category that gives widespread recognition to many more authors and isn't that the whole point of the awards? We want to promote our amazing African American authors. We can't do that with the current way the awards are run.
A post that was hands down the most valuable resource was Kyra's post about who wins the CSK awards. She has charts! I got most of my statistical data from her post or the ALA website.
2011 Coretta Scott King Award
Who Will Win: It's a tie for me between Out of My Mind or One Crazy Summer. I haven't read Out of My Mind but Sharon Draper seems to always win or recieve an honors and people rave about this book. But One Crazy Summer (which I have read and adored) is historical fiction. Actually Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers has a really good chance too.
Who I Want to Win: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
2011 Coretta Scott King Honor: Whichever of the book that should win but doesn't (i.e. if One Crazy Summer wins, Out of My Mind will get an honor or vice versa). Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon (haven't read it yet but it's historical fiction about Zora Neale Hurston, what more could they want?). What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson, Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Who I Want Honored: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves. Because it's so DIFFERENT and that's what makes it stunning. I
2011 John Steptoe Award
Who Will Win: Good Fortune by Noni Carter because she's a young writer who goes to Harvard and she wrote historical fiction about slavery. eh
Who I Want to Win: 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich (I want this SO, SO, badly)
*Since I don't read picture books I can't say if they would win. I focused on YA/MG.
Below is how the awards would look if they were in seperate categories, again I left out picture books.
(Imaginary) 2011 YA Coretta Scott King Award
Who Would Win: Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers
Who I Want to Win: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott. I'm not actually sure if it's eligible since it was self-published first in 2009, but since Amazon re-published it in 2010, it could be? Plus it's lesser-known historical fiction. If not, I would root for Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson. Sadly based on how the awards and their history, I don't think this book would stand a chance unless it was in the YA category. Which is unfortunate
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson
Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones (not my favorite but again, it's historical fiction)
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
You Don't Even Know Me by Sharon Flake (haven't read yet but I know she's won or been honored before)
A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes (because she always wins or is honored)
2011 MG Coretta Scott King Awards
Who Would Win: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia
Who I Want to Win: I would be happy with One Crazy Summer but I'm rooting for Ninth Ward.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee Frazier (haven't read it yet but she's won the Steptoe so I could see her winning the CSK or at least being honored)
Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers (haven't read it yet but I'm convinced Walter Dean Myers is a CSK necessity)
What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson (very very good. I would be happy if this book won)
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond & T. R. Simon
2011 YA John Steptoe Award
Who Would Win: Good Fortune by Noni Carter
Who Should Win: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves. No contest, this was my favorite YA debut of the year.
2011 MG John Steptoe Award
Who Would Win: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Who Should Win: I LOVE Ninth Ward but I don't want it to win the Steptoe. This award belongs to Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich and 8th Grade Superzero, hands down.
So who do you think will win the 2011 CSK awards? Do you agree with my post? Disagree? And let me know what picture books would be strong contenders too.
To see a list of all YA/MG books that are technically eligible go here