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August 10, 2016

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Every month, TAB editor Kristin will be sharing her thoughts on five titles from our… Read More

June 1, 2016

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The Coretta Scott King Awards and What They Mean

Of all the happenings at the ALA’s annual Midwinter Meeting, I most look forward to the announcement of the Coretta Scott King Book Award winners and honorees. The CSKBAs celebrate African American authors and illustrators who, according to the award’s official website, “demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” Those broad criteria result in an exceptionally diverse and interesting selection of books, from alphabet books to biographies to novels-in-verse.

In addition to the Author Award, Illustrator Award, and Author/Illustrator Honors, the CSKBA Committee can grant two other prizes: the John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. It’s the namesake of this last award that I’ve been thinking about as this year’s Midwinter Meeting approaches.

Over the course of her long career, Virginia Hamilton wrote more than 35 books, ranging from science fiction to folktales. She won numerous awards, including seven Coretta Scott King Awards or Honors, and was even the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship. And she didn’t accomplish any of that by writing books that are easy. In fact, her books are some of most challenging I’ve ever read. The plots and settings can seem alien. The characters are complex and strange. And it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what you’re supposed to have “learned.”

But without The Planet of Junior Brown or Zeely or Bluish, I would not be who I am today. Virginia Hamilton’s stories opened up my world, introducing me to people and places I’d never dreamed existed. The lessons her books teach are vitally important, but difficult to put into words. They deepened my understanding of things like fairness, compassion, acceptance, and identity—all universal human values, for sure.

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and all the prizes that will be given out later this month, offer us a chance to honor the books that push us outside of our comfort zones, challenge us emotionally and intellectually, and make us more thoughtful readers. In honor of Virginia Hamilton, those are the books I’ll be looking out for this year.

 

 

Author Bio: Morgan Walker does online title presentation for Scholastic Book Clubs.

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