Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Countdown to ALA: Favorite Coretta Scott King Awards

Next Monday, the American Library Division will announce this year's Youth Media Awards! The two main children's awards, the Caledcott and Newbery, are probably the most famous, but there are many teen books awarded as well. In the next week, we'll have a few days where I look at my favorites that have won various awards as we gear up for the announcements.

The Coretta Scott King awards is actually a few awards, but they all go to books created by African Americans that best "demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values." There's one for author, one for illustrator, the John Steptoe award for new talent, and the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton award for lifetime achievement.

Here are my top 10 favorites that have won over the years and are for teens.


One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams. This one's on the young side, but it's just such a great book. In 1968, Delphine and her sisters are off to Oakland to spend their summer with their mother, who left them behind in New York many years ago. When they get there, they find a poet who doesn't want to be a mother, and a Blank Panther day camp that shows them a different side of the Civil Rights struggle. It won the 2011 author award.

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy Duburke. In Chicago in 1994, 11-year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer was the one holding the gun when 14-year-old Shavon Dean was killed by a stray bullet during a gang shooting. Fictional Roger tries to make sense of Yummy-- on one hand he was a kid who liked candy and his Teddy Bear and came from hard circumstances, on the other hand he was a gang-banger. Roger doesn't find any answers, but does offer a heart-wrenching look at a real event. This graphic novel was a 2011 author honor.

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis. Octavia and Tali are not happy about having to go on a road-trip with Mare, their grandmother who refuses to act her age. But they learn to see a different side to Mare as she tells them of how ran away from home and lied about her age to join an African American regiment in the WAC during WWII. This was an author honor winner during 2010.

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon. Sam's father is an important Civil Rights activist and Sam and his brother have spent years standing at rallys and marching peacefully. But then the violence of the time starts to become real-- Sam witnesses a police beating, Dr. King is assassinated, and Sam's brother joins the Black Panthers. Sam's father has no respect for Panthers and Sam has to decide which movement to follow. This one the 2010 John Steptoe award.


Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper. Starting in Africa, Draper follows Amari's journey as she is kidnapped by slavers, transported across the Atlantic, and sold to an American plantation. There she meets Polly, an indentured servant on the plantation. Eventually they decide to try to escape. Instead of going North, they decide to head South, towards Spanish Florida. This was the author winner in 2007.

Day of Tears by Julius Lester. In 1859, Pierce Butler sold off over 400 slaves to pay off gambling debts. It was the largest slave auction in the US. Sheets of torrential rain started with the auction, only ending when the selling did. Lester imagines the people involved-- the slaves, Butler, his family, the auctioneer, and others. Told in monologues and dialogues, Lester's novel packs a punch that won't soon be forgotten, and won the author award in 2006.

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. A heroic crown of sonnets is 15 linked poems, when the last line of a sonnet becomes the first line of the next one, with the 15th sonnet using the first lines of the previous 14. Through this highly rigid form, Nelson tells the story of Emmett Till's murder and funeral. It was an author honor book in 2006.


The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Alternating between then and now, Bobby tells us of his girlfriend's teen pregnancy and how he is raising the infant as a single teen father. Bobby's family is supportive, but it's up to Bobby to raise Feather, to balance sleepless nights and diaper changes with school, and his fading hopes for college. The second in a trilogy of companion novels, readers don't have to start with Heaven, but will want to pick it up after reading Bobby's story. It won the author award in 2004.

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. Every Friday Mr. Ward's English class turns into an open mic, allowing each student to express their thoughts and feelings. Told in the verse that these kids share each Friday, we meet 18 voices as they find a safe place each week. While Grimes's poetic skill is above that of most teens, readers will still enjoy getting to know these students. Winner of the 2003 author award.

The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake. Maleeka Madison is sick of being teased for her homemade clothes, her dark skin, and her good grades. She has a deal with the bad girls that they'll look out for her if she does their homework, but it doesn't solve everything. Then a new teacher comes and tries to turn everything upside down, and Meleeka's friends aren't having any of it. This won the 1999 John Steptoe award, which worked well, as her later works have gone on to be honored by the Coretta Scott King awards.

What are your favorite Coretta Scott King books? Who do you hope will win this year? Leave a comment to let me know!

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