Like so many other events and gatherings this year, the 2020 ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition, originally scheduled for June 25–30 in Chicago, was canceled due to Covid-19. The conference moved online, presenting a slate of panels and speakers via video. And on Sunday, June 28, when the recipients of the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and a variety of other major awards would have been feted in person, ALA hosted the ALA Book Awards Celebration, a day-long virtual event on its YouTube channel, featuring panel discussions and acceptance speeches. We’ve gathered a selection of highlights from the speeches of some of the big winners.

Jerry Craft

2020 Coretta Scott King Author Award

New Kid (HarperCollins)

On what drives him: “Since the day I self-published my very first book—way back in 1997—my goal has always been to create a story that, like New Kid, is funny but also offers hope. Something that African American kids can look at and embrace. Characters who expose them to a life that they can aspire to, as opposed to always showing them ways to live without the things—material and immaterial—that other kids are allowed to enjoy. We can’t change the way the world sees us if we don’t first change the way we see ourselves. We have to take control of our own narrative.

As an author, I am very conscious of the fact that there will always be a kid who knows nothing about African American culture. Someone who may never have had a Black friend or Black classmates, or Black neighbors, or has never had a Black teacher or been to a Black doctor. All they know are the Black rappers and athletes they see on TV or people they see on the news.

I would like to thank my family for their love and support throughout the 30-year rollercoaster to becoming an overnight success.”

Kadir Nelson

2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

The Undefeated (HMH/Versify) by Kwame Alexander, illus. by Kadir Nelson

On accepting an award during these turbulent times: “While I’m very grateful to be bestowed with praise for The Undefeated, it somehow seems a bit frivolous to read an acceptance speech or celebrate a literary milestone that seems to pale in comparison to the huge challenges we are currently facing.

As we consider the present moment, I feel more than ever that no time is better suited for using our creativity to make something beautiful and share it with the world, a practice I learned from my mother at an early age.

We as a people have faced the unspeakable, survived the unmentionable, and triumphed over the unfathomable.

Nothing is promised to us. But while we’re here, let us continue to celebrate one another, shine a light on all that is good in us, and work together to brighten the dimmer places in our hearts and minds so that we may find peace in ourselves and with one another.”

Kadir Nelson

2020 Caldecott Medal

The Undefeated (HMH/Versify) by Kwame Alexander, illus. by Kadir Nelson

On the visual devices used in The Undefeated: “The second visual device I used to move the story along and diversify the visuals was that of flying creatures, birds and butterflies, ancient symbols of spirit. The spirit of African American people, the spirit of excellence, resistance, beauty, pride, love, and the universe. As each subject emerges through the arts, literature, athletics, and music, flying creatures carry the eye through each vignette and onto the subsequent spread, reminding the reader that we are not alone in our life experience.”

On Alexander’s text for The Undefeated: “It was at the L.A. Times Book Festival that I heard Kwame speak about how the poem came to be: as a teachable moment for his daughter, as a love letter to America, as a celebration of the election of President Barack Obama, and a reaction to the events that triggered the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Jerry Craft

2020 Newbery Medal

New Kid (HarperCollins)

On early reading experiences: “Because most of my teachers confiscated our comic books whenever they caught us reading in class, I was conditioned early on to think that fun reading was illegal and real reading had to be painful. And so it was.”

Craft says the first “big boy” book he ever finished and enjoyed was in high school: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. “What made that book so special? In retrospect, the protagonist was as close to a mirror as I had ever experienced. Which is weird because I was a Black kid born in Harlem while he was an orphaned white boy named Pip who lived in 19th-century London. But at least he was a kid. A kid who not only had dreams, but great expectations. And just as important, those characters in the book had great expectations for him, as well. I never saw that in any book about a kid who actually looked like me. The kids who looked like me expected nothing. They just tried to survive.

Maybe I just saw the wrong books, but I was never exposed to mirrors in literature, only runaway slaves, tormented kids of the civil rights era, and victims of gang violence or police brutality. Not that those aren’t important stories, they are. But so are stories that show us being happy. I felt like the mirrors were often broken to the point that they became dangerous shards of glass that sliced into the comfort and naivete of my childhood. For me it was never enough for the story to have a joyful ending if the rest of the book dealt with the protagonist’s seemingly endless suffering. So, there was only Pip. Now imagine the memories I would have of that book if Pip had been African American.”

In his comic strip Mama’s Boyz and his subsequent self-published books, as well as New Kid, Craft says: “I wanted to show people that kids of color do regular stuff, too, like eating pizza or going to the mall or watching TV with their families. I wanted to show the all-too-often missing slice of humanity of African American life and to call out that lack of humanity whenever some people hear that a Black or brown teen is killed and they immediately think there will be one less kid to grow up and be in a gang rather than think that humanity has just lost a future Kwame Alexander or Jason Reynolds or Renée Watson or Jacqueline Woodson or Eric Velasquez or Elizabeth Acevedo or Kadir Nelson. Kids who grow up to make huge contributions to the world.”

A.S. King

2020 Printz Award

Dig by A.S. King (Dutton)

On writing: “People are puzzles. That’s why I write books. It’s why I write challenging, weird books, because people are challenging, weird puzzles.”

On racism, a central theme in Dig:

“Of course, we know the white supremacy of America is a machine. It will continue to run the way it’s always run because it serves, well, white people, the very people who invented it. And when we look now, outraged, at our country’s divisive fuckery, then we need to remember that it was us who started it by buying humans and killing humans. As white people in modern America, this is our sin now, passed through generations who have yet to repent in real time. Everything we have, even if it’s barely anything, we got through the anihilation and enslavement of other people. Our control and power in our world were not earned. We were lucky.

As Americans, the trauma of stolen people and stolen lands seeps into our feet as we walk. It’s in the air we breathe. We can’t get away from it. If I’ve learned anything from piecing together the puzzle of trauma my whole life it’s that you can’t run from it, even if it’s not yours. A country founded on trauma will produce more trauma. My theory is it’s finally catching up with us. My feelings on that: it’s about time.

You didn’t make the white supremacy we live in. You are only its willing caretaker. You may resign at any time.”

On Dig:

“That’s what Dig is really about—a slow decline of love in our world and who that hurts the most. That would be the children.”

On her role as an author, and winning the Printz: “My job is to tell the truth. It’s what young people deserve. My job is to help them understand what’s wrong, where it came from, what to do with it, and who to talk to about it. My job is to shine a light on hope and help young people feel less alone. This award will help me continue to do that. For that, I am forever grateful.”