Five children’s books and authors were honored during the Children’s Book Committee Awards ceremony held at Bank Street College of Education on April 4. Three awards are given annually by the CBC and the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature to exceptional children’s books published during the previous year. The books are selected from among 6,000 titles submitted by publishers each year. In addition to choosing the award winners—and with the help of student readers who take part in the CBC’s Young Reviewers’ Program—the CBC publishes a list of 600 “Best Children’s Books of the Year,” for ages from birth to 14 and up. This year, the CBC also unveiled its golden medallion seal, to be placed on the covers of the award-winning books. The artwork for the medallion was created by graphic designer Joan Auclair, while Laurent Linn, CBC member-at-large and artistic director at Simon & Schuster, used Auclair’s image to fashion the medal.
The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award
The Flora Stieglitz Award is presented to an inspiring work of children’s nonfiction and is named for the former head of the Children’s Book Committee. This year, the CBC presented the award to two books: for younger readers, Yuyi Morales’s picture book, Dreamers (Holiday House/Porter), and for older readers, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice (Delacorte).
Speaking remotely from her home in Xalapa, Mexico, Morales expressed her gratitude for being recognized, saying, “It’s a great honor to have a light shined on my book.” She spoke about the value of books that reach and nurture “the growth of children in a world that is not exactly welcoming” to all children, and concluded by saying, “Thank you for looking at Dreamers, so children can have the chance to recognize themselves.”
Also speaking remotely, Stevenson accepted his award for Just Mercy, which explores the deeply flawed American justice system and is adapted for teens from his adult book of the same name. Stevenson communicated his belief that young readers deserve to learn critical truths about difficult topics, saying that “young people are aware of mass incarceration.” His aim in adapting the book for younger readers was to place in better context the system perpetuated by “poverty, racial bias, exclusion, and judgement.” Stevenson sees hope arising through children who are empowered by knowledge and awareness, saying “that young people in this country can change the world.”
The Claudia Lewis Award
Created in 1998, the Claudia Lewis Award is given to an exceptional book of children’s poetry. Claudia Lewis was a children’s book expert and longtime member of the CBC, who also served on the faculty at Bank Street College.
David Bowles accepted the award for his book of narrative poems, They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems (Cinco Puntos). Bowles spoke about his own experience growing up in a Mexican-American household and developing an early love for “creepy folktales” told to him by his grandmother. After he had heard all of those stories, he discovered reading. “I found a different destiny for myself through books,” he said.
As a former middle school teacher, Bowles looked for stories that celebrate “a shared Mexican-American culture.” Following the 2016 election, when Bowles encountered young people who were deeply affected by the rise of prejudicial rhetoric, he set out to “craft a voice that breaks all stereotypes about the border,” that would also serve as “a universally human voice,” he said.
The Josette Frank Award
The Josette Frank award is given to a work of fiction that centers on young characters grappling with and growing from their real-world challenges. Presented annually since 1943, the award is named for children’s book editor Frank, who served as the executive director of the Child Study Association of America. This year’s honoree was Deb Caletti, for her Printz Honor book, A Heart in a Body in the World (Simon & Schuster), about a character named Annabelle, who, in the aftermath of traumatic violence, embarks on a 2,700-mile run across the country. While Caletti admits that the longest she has ever run was a 5K race that “maybe wasn’t really 5K,” she deeply relates to her character “through her struggles with the confusion of living in the world as a woman.”
As Caletti was growing up and experiencing “a sometimes scary childhood, with a sometimes scary parent,” she said she found refuge through books and harbored a “quiet, private desire to write.” As an adult, books helped her to leave an abusive marriage. In A Heart in a Body of the World, Caletti addresses the complex emotional turmoil that female victims often carry with them. While her novel has been called timely, she said, “It has been timely for a long, long time.” Caletti finished by underscoring the “critical importance of books for children. Thank you for this full circle moment.”