ALA 2018: The CSK Breakfast

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast is always a memorable, moving, and transformative experience, the best event at ALA Annual — and this year more than ever (or do I say that every year?). The sold-out event (more on that later) began with a slight glitch — there were no microphones on the podia — but that didn't stop redoubtable CSK Chair Dr. Claudette McLinn from beginning the program anyway. Yes, to the surprise of no one, she rose to the occasion. As did everyone who followed, from the children's choir who sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to all the winners and honorees.

Eloise Greenfield, winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement

A few moments stood out for me. Author Honor recipient (for Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut) Derrick Barnes had to remove his glasses in order to blur the faces in the audience so he could compose himself enough to give his remarks — and it still took a good while to get his emotions under control. (Other eyes besides his were...not dry.) Author Honor recipient Jason Reynolds (Long Way Down) delivered an amazing and powerful acceptance speech: not a word written down; beautifully crafted around a rich and meaningful metaphor; and complete with a shout-out to Eloise Greenfield, the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement recipient, up there on the podium with him. And speaking of whom, Deborah Taylor ended her introduction to that national treasure with “…and she’s STILLLLLLL got it,” which brought the house down; Ms. Greenfield herself delivered her speech with grace and aplomb despite her failing eyesight and former fear of public speaking. For the complete text of her remarks, plus those by Ekua Holmes (Illustration Award winner for Out of Wonder) and Renée Watson (Author Award winner for Piecing Me Together), please see the July/August Horn Book Magazine or visit

Gordon C. James, Erica Marks, Derrick Barnes

An encounter on the floor of the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy banquet later in the day made me reflect on the length of the CSK Breakfast. Yes, it’s three-and-a-half hours long. Yes, the honor acceptances are often as long as the winners' speeches. But here's the thing: I love how nobody times them. I love how everybody welcomes them. I love how much respect the honor books get at the Breakfast. Given the excellence of the books chosen and how carefully the jury deliberates to make their choices (and I've had the privilege of serving on the CSK jury for the past two years), it’s warranted. Contrast that to the N/C/L banquet, where the Newbery and Caldecott honor book authors and illustrators don't get to say a word. And third: three-and-a-half hours out of the entire year to devote to the celebration of African American children’s books and their creators does not seem excessive. Love, support, and affirmation are what the CSK Breakfast is all about.

Remind me, where are we in publishing statistics right now? Seven percent of all children's books written and/or illustrated by people of color? I don't think we're at a point where we need to be truncating or limiting any of those voices. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Last point. Next year the CSK Book Awards community will be celebrating its 50th year. Wooohoooo! A momentous milestone (and we at The Horn Book Magazine will be devoting a special issue to the CSK Awards in May/June 2019). As noted, this year’s breakfast sold out. My advice for 2019 ALA Annual in DC: get your CSK Book Awards Breakfast tickets early. Don’t forget. You won’t want to miss it.

For more ALA award speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ALA 2018.

2018 CSK Jury: LaKeshia Darden, Sujin Huggins, Erica Marks, Sam Bloom, Kacie Armstrong, Martha Parravano (not pictured: Jessica Bratt)
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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