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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

That time of year again: honoring books

February 3, 2017

The 2017 Youth Media Awards were announced recently during the midwinter conference of the American Library Association.

The books chosen for the Caldecott Medal (awarded to the most distinguished American picture book) and others (including the Newbery, Printz, and Coretta Scott King Awards) are selected from books published during the preceding year.

It was a good publishing year for children’s and young adult materials, too. The books published were diverse in theme, subject, style, and approach. It must have made the selection of just one winner and a few honor books very difficult for committee members.

One of my favorite picture book biographies, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Little Brown) written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, was given the Caldecott Medal. Steptoe focuses on the artist’s early life — born in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican and Haitian parents — whose art was first noticed because of his graffiti. The illustrations echo Basquiat’s unique style while remaining wholly original — no small feat. It’s sophisticated but accessible, informative but not overwhelmingly so. It presents a subject most of us know very little about.

One of the honor books also introduces a little-known piece of history. Freedom in Congo Square (Little Bee), illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and written by Carol Boston Weatherford, is a countdown by enslaved Africans to Sunday, the one day where they could gather together joyfully in a New Orleans square and get away from their daily struggles and hard work.

There were two other honor books. Leave Me Alone (Roaring Brook), written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, is the charming story of an old lady who desperately wants to find peace and quiet, but can't quite escape her family.

And Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle) is a fascinating look at how others literally see a passing feline.

Each of these books presents readers with a memorable range of visual experiences. Each presents a character — real or imagined — who is different, or at least viewed differently by others. Each of the books has great respect for the reader.

Even though each selection committee functions independently of the others, there are certain books that were given multiple honors — for example, March: Book Three (Top Shelf), by Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis. This year’s winners and honor books are as broad as our society and deserve the distinctions received

In fact, all of the honorees this year achieve much the same thing. Take a look at the entire list of award winners, choose a few titles that may stretch what you normally read, and see if you don’t agree with me. Do what Gene Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature suggests: Read Without Walls. It just might help break down walls between us.

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"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." — Mark Twain