1. You are not new to committee life (Newbery, Boston Globe–Horn Book, LA Times Book Prize, Wilder). What is unique about the CSK?
MVP: My CSK jury service has so far been very much like the other committees I’ve served on: we set out to identify and recognize the very best in books for children and young adults. Our CSK discussions were extremely high-level and rigorous. Unlike the other awards, however, where underlying ideology is often an unspoken issue or has to be negotiated, for CSK the criteria are totally overt — we’re there to find books that promote an understanding and appreciation of the black experience — and having that as a given actually makes it easier to focus on the literary and artistic qualities of the books on the table.
2. What was the best reaction you heard to The Call?
MVP: Unfortunately, several of our authors and artists were out on the West Coast, where it was then 3:30 AM. So some of our calls were a little…blurry. But Nicola Yoon, who won a CSK Steptoe New Talent Award for The Sun Is Also a Star, was adorably (if sleepily) excited about the news. Another highlight was finally getting through to Ashley Bryan — his phone was busy for a while, and afterwards we realized it was probably because he was talking to the Newbery committee! — and hearing his voice, as strong and sure as ever despite suffering a stroke late last year. He assured us that he was feeling much better and that he’d see us in Chicago to celebrate.
3. How ’bout that John Lewis?
MVP: He deserves every award on the planet, and more. The book is phenomenal — the whole March trilogy is, but this third volume is somehow even more powerful, immediate, and inspiring than the first two. The fact that we were honoring the book in Atlanta, in Rep. Lewis’s prosperous, flourishing home district, made it even more special. (And of course he was there, in town, making “good trouble” at Saturday’s march.)
4. If you could give the CSK award to any book in the past, what would it be?
MVP: John Steptoe’s groundbreaking picture book, Stevie. For certain sure. It was published in 1969, so it would have been just eligible for the very first CSK award. But that first year (1970), only an author award was given, and to only one book [to Lillie Patterson, for Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace]. Even after the illustrator award was established (in 1974) it seemed as if it took a few years for illustration to be recognized as much as text: for several years there was an illustrator winner but no illustrator honor books. So I’d also give awards to Eloise Greenfield’s She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl and Lucille Clifton’s All Us Come Cross the Water, two of my favorite picture books from that era.
5. What advice do you have for aspiring CSK jury members?
MVP: Become a member of the CSK Committee (that just means the organization as a whole). Show up for the membership meetings at ALA Midwinter and Annual. Volunteer for a subcommittee. Then, get your name on the ballot for the book awards jury. Serving on the jury is a huge privilege and a life-changing experience. But first you have to join! [Read Martha’s you-are-there recap of the 2017 YMA Announcement.]
From the February 2017 special ALA Awards issue of The Horn Book Herald.