A couple of days ago, I posted about a couple of recent awards given by the ALA. We’re at that time of the year where movie awards, book awards, acting awards and other accolades are being made. (I’m sure the educator and librarian awards will receive just as much notoriety and compensation.) These awards provide us with a vehicle for finding noteworthy literature for children of color in the US. Of course there are those of us who are sad to see so few books for or about children of color, but looking at the few honored this year I see one theme that deserves our attention. Let’s take a look at national book awards given by the ALSC.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic) is a 2008 Newbery Honor Book. It is the story of Elijah, the first child born free into a community of escaped slaves in Canada.
The 2008 Pura Belpré Award for narrative was awarded to The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano written by Margarita Engle. This is the story of Manzano, a young man of African descent who was enslaved in Cuba. The story written in prose tells of the hard life of Manzano, particularly how he was punished for reading and writing.
Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson’s Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color was honored as a Notable Book for Children. This true story is about how Miss Crandall fought the odds to maintain a school for young ladies of color in 19th century America.
All are stories of courage and transcendence which can particularly provide Latinos and African Americans models of what it takes to overcome the odds. All are stories of people of color in the Americas. Too often, we forget about the shared stories of African Americans and Latinos. Too often, we don’t know how our cultures have blended both through necessity and in celebration. And the links are there with Asians as well! These books can help us educate our children.
I hope the folks at Essence who have this year begun to note literary contributions, will give some consideration to the awards they have created and add a honor for young adult books as well. Books are so important to this age group!