It’s been my treat for “several” years to get to write the column about children’s literature awards. It gives me a great excuse to buy more books and feed my biblioholism. But it also keeps me engaged with some of the newest books. I can’t possibly keep up, but it’s a bit of a peek. This year I’m also including a book that’s most appropriate for late middle school and high school. It’s also appropriate for adults, in my opinion and that of several who commented on Good Reads about March, Book 3 by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with graphic novel illustrations by Nate Powell. March, Book 3 didn’t win just one award; it won at least four that are announced on the American Library Association’s web page. It won the Michael Printz Award, the Robert Sibert Medal for Informational books, the YALSA National book award for young people’s literature, and the Coretta Scott King author award! That’s amazing. And I have a feeling I’m missing some other awards. I think it’s history textbook worthy. And it’s in graphic-novel format. Congressman John Lewis grew up in the segregated south of the US, and he worked with, led, and collaborated with movements that challenged the Alabama policy that kept Black Americans from voting! Law enforcement kept them out violently – with blessings from their governor. Lewis was imprisoned often and beaten by law officers several times. The hatred and resolve of those white officers are demonstrated with the pictures as well as with the words. It can make one cringe to be confronted with the reality of our history. With a couple of flash forwards to current day when Lewis is a congressman and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2011, the book follows Lewis from the time of the Birmingham church bombing in 1963 when four young children were killed to the time when Lyndon Johnson sent troops to the area to make sure all voters could register. The number of times the people were physically, mentally, and emotionally abused is devastating, and the resolve and sureness with which the marchers remained nonviolent is inspiring. The graphic novel approach works very well to communicate the brutal and agonizing work of Lewis when he was still in his early twenties. It’s complex and powerful, and it is a part of our history we must not forget. I believe the book is appropriate for late middle school and high school readers, and I believe the graphic novel format will make it more appealing and engaging for that age group than typical text-only history writings. The tweet from Lewis, “We are one people, one family, one house – the American house. We must learn to live together as brother and sister or we will perish as fools” seems very appropriate for all to learn, and this book can help us.
More than just the one YA choice is nonfiction in 2017 youth literature awards. Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat won both the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King illustrator award. Steptoe was encouraged by Basquiat’s artwork when he was starting his own work as an artist, and he works to use Basquiat’s style in the illustrations in his book that briefly tells the history of Basquiat’s short life. Artist Basquiat’s father was an immigrant from Haiti, and his mother was from Puerto Rico. His mother was his inspiration and support in learning to see the art in all scenes in New York, not just in art galleries. He painted on materials that were available – wood pieces, scrap paper, used fabric, etc. As Steptoe writes: “His art is not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL.” That also describes the art in Steptoe’s book. The art in Steptoe’s book is amazing and hard for a non-artist like me to describe. Because of my inadequacy, I am choosing to quote directly from the review in School Library Journal. “Pieces of discarded wood from Basquiat's stomping grounds fit together to form the painted surfaces for Steptoe's scenes of the Afro Puerto Rican artist, each unfolding within a colored frame. Occasional collage elements of newsprint, photographs, and art materials add dimension and immediacy, highlighting both artists' immersion in their work and surroundings.” Yeah, that! It is a book I’ve read once and studied the art several times. Plan to spend time just immersing in the art when you read this book.
Sticking with the non-fiction focus, another picture book biography that is receiving attention this year is Six Dots: A story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. The book is the winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, the award for a book that “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” There are three categories in the award, and Six Dots was chosen for the young child award. I find this a book for all children (and some of us old folks) to learn more about Louis Braille than just that he was blind. He lost his sight at age five and was totally focused on being able to read, and even in the special school for the blind in France, there were no books for him to read. This frustrated him a great deal. At home, his family helped him learn to find his way around the town and yard by counting steps and listening to sounds echoing back to him when he whistled. A most useful skill for him was learning to play dominos by counting the dots with his fingertips. When Louis (pronounced Loo-WEE) decided he absolutely wanted to find a way to write in a way that could be read by him and others who were blind, he used the arrangements of dots on the dominos to develop the alphabet. He was fifteen when he had the headmaster read him a chapter from a book while he “wrote” it down by using an awl to press dots into paper with his own developed system for the alphabet. After the headmaster was done reading, Louis turned over the papers and read the chapter back word for word! It worked and the system has endured because of its flexibility to be applied to any text and many languages. Because he was in France, we get to see some French words, too. Pronunciations are included at the front of the book. I think it’s an important book to be in libraries and many classrooms.
Last, but not least, is the Newbery Award winner (definitely fiction) The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. And the Newbery is only one of nine awards listed on Amazon as well as it being a New York Times bestseller! Yeah, it’s a winner all right, especially for girls around 10 to 14. It’s a bit fantasy, a bit fairyland, and a bit nightmare in places. Fast paced and a bit confusing at times, it’s a whole different world of mystery and subterfuge. The Protectorate community is kept subservient and afraid by leaders (both male and female) who convince all that they must sacrifice a newborn infant each year by putting him/her in the woods to be eaten or destroyed by an evil witch who lives there.
But, in fact, the witch is kind and loving who takes the infants and lovingly feeds them starlight before taking them to far cities to be adopted and raised by families who care for them. Somehow she doesn’t question why the babies are left there. When one of the baby girls is left, the good witch Xan accidentally feeds her on moonlight rather than starlight, which enmagicks that baby. Xan keeps, truly loves, and raises the child she names Luna. There are several other important characters including a very small dragon that Luna carries in her pocket, a bog monster, a young man and his wife and baby, Luna’s tragically grieving mother in prison, the leading elders, and the REAL evil witch. The plot can be rather complex at times, and I suggest that many young readers won’t be able to stick with it without conversation. That’s why it might make a good read-aloud. One review I read indicates that the real magic that comes through it all is love. I can see that, but it’s not conspicuous. For fantasy lovers, it’s a superb book. With Harry Potter lovers everywhere, I can see this being a favorite among fifth and sixth graders. I predict that only self-assured boys will choose to try it, but I can see it becoming a club starter for some girls. Read it yourself and be prepared to experience lots of twists and turns and magic in the text.