Hot on the heels of the American Library Association’s award announcements, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Impact and Legacy Fund announced the recipients of two awards this week. The Tomie dePaola Award for Professional Development, which supports an early-career illustrator, went to Janelle Washington and honoree Melika Saeeda. The new Stephen Fraser Encouragement Award, established to provide stipends to three published authors, illustrators, or translators of books for young readers, went to Tamika Burgess, Costantia Manoli, and Susan Muaddi Darraj.
2023 has provided ample thrills for Washington, illustrator of Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, written by Angela Joy and edited by Connie Hsu at Roaring Brook Press. Choosing Brave garnered its team multiple awards and honors: a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for Washington’s artistry, plus the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award in the young readers category, and a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor. The Tomie dePaola Award further boosts this nonfiction account of Civil Rights-era tragedies and hard-fought victories, which Washington illustrated in her signature cut-paper style.
The recognitions bring “a huge boost of confidence for me—I’m still floating,” said Washington, who heard about the dePaola Award ahead of the ALA announcements, which arrived in a suspenseful series over the course of a day. She was notified of the Sibert Honor in the morning, the King/Steptoe award in the afternoon, and at 9:30 p.m.—when she’d given up on getting a Caldecott call—she received a text from Caldecott committee chair Rob Bittner, asking if she was available for a phone call. “I was over the moon,” she recalled. “All the things they said warmed my heart.”
Washington remembers her first encounter with Joy’s manuscript for Choosing Brave: “If I can envision the pictures from what I’m reading, I know it’s something I can go forward with, and I could see the pictures in my mind.” She seeks “that feeling of connection, that sense of urgency” in a story, and she hopes this attention to her work “will open some doors that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” the chance to “be part of something bigger that I didn’t know was there.” Her next project is a solo show at Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, Md., called Quiet Terrors, Quiet Joys, while she and her agent, Adriana Dominguez at Aevitas Creative Management, ponder the next book project.
Melika Saeeda, the dePaola Honoree, is an Iranian Canadian muralist who moved from Tehran to Toronto in 2017. She has illustrated picture books in Iran and Turkey, and her portfolio received a 2019 SCBWI Glass Slipper Award for illustration. “Publishing is where I feel I belong,” Saeeda said, and “receiving this award will help me to take more steps towards my goals.”
The dePaola Professional Development Award committee includes art director Cecilia Yung, along with illustrators Jessixa Bagley and Pat Cummings. Originally, dePaola himself judged entries of the Tomie dePaola Award for Illustrators, which temporarily was known as the Narrative Art Award. After dePaola’s death in 2020, SCBWI adapted the award “to honor Tomie’s legacy in SCBWI,” said SCBWI co-founder and ILF managing director Lin Oliver. “He was the one who insisted we include illustrators in the organization’s title, [and this is a way] to honor his timeless work and artistic spirit.”
An Encouraging Word, and Maybe a New Laptop
Literary agent Stephen Fraser, of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, has been involved with SCBWI going on four decades. He said he “always wanted to do something for our writers and illustrators,” particularly after learning that his kind words had given long-term confidence to an aspiring SCBWI author. He began brainstorming a project to buoy nascent careers.
Fraser reached out to Oliver to discuss making a meaningful difference. “I said to Lin, getting $500 is nice, but it doesn’t do something substantial,” he said. They decided on $2,000 stipends: “an amount someone could use for paying the rent or buying a computer, that would be worth it to me.”
Authors, illustrators, and translators thought so too, because nearly 200 individuals applied to the inaugural Stephen Fraser Encouragement Award. Submissions involve a brief artist’s statement and explanation of need, and will reopen this fall. The selection committee of Fraser, Oliver, Cummings, and author Carrie Pearson narrowed the list to a final trio with diverse and global interests.
Funding recipients include Tamika Burgess, a Southern California author whose middle-grade novel, Sincerely Sicily (HarperCollins), introduces an Afro-Latina protagonist with pride in her Black and Panamanian identity. “It was great to know that the committee believed in my passion and goals as an author so much that they wanted to financially support me,” said Burgess, who is working with HarperCollins editor Carolina Ortiz on a second middle grade novel about a Panamanian boy.
Baltimore-based author and educator Susan Muaddi Darraj is known for her Farah Rocks series with Capstone Books, which features a Palestinian American fifth-grader. She hopes to use the Encouragement Fund to attend a residency or retreat: “As a full-time working mother of three, I’ve never been able to get away to attend a retreat before,” Muaddi Darraj said. She’s currently working on two projects: “a YA novel about a Palestinian American girl who uncovers a family secret, and a chapter book series about a boy named Jamal who loves second grade, baseball, and his friends.”
Costantia Manoli, the third awardee, lives and works in Cyprus; she made her picture book debut with Tomatoes in My Lunchbox (Roaring Brook), illustrated by Magdalena Mora. “I’d love to use the funds for a trip to the States for a conference,” Manoli said, especially because “what with being so far away, I haven’t had the experience of seeing [my book] ‘in the wild,’ as they say.” Manoli is now working on a second picture book with Roaring Brook. “It’s a story that is very special to me as it is very close to the heart and history of my island. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say much more than that at this stage, but definitely watch this space.”
Fraser feels affirmed by this first round of his Encouragement Award. “For creative people it’s a tough world out there, and that’s why being encouraging is important,” he said. “You could have published 10 books and still need to have a second job. This fund can give a lift to someone.”