Editorial: Clearly Undefeated (July/August 2020)

Welcome to our annual ALA Awards issue. When it became clear that we would not be reopening the country anytime soon and that there would be no ­celebration of the ALSC and CSK awards at the American Library Association Annual ­Conference in Chicago in June, I worried that there would be no July issue of The Horn Book Magazine either, as for decades the raison d’ȇtre of that issue has been the publication of the award acceptance speeches. But, hallelujah — the winners wrote their speeches, ALA found a way to celebrate them virtually (see ala.org), and we are happy (and, no lie, relieved) to present you with those speeches and ancillary material in this issue.

And just look at the cover! The classical portraiture, the fine detail, the dignity of posture, those glorious birds — thank you, Kadir Nelson, we are grateful to mark our celebration of your 2020 CSK Illustrator Award and your Caldecott Medal for The Undefeated with this beautiful image.

But now look at the picture again. Despite its classical portraiture, fine detail, etc., what you are looking at is perhaps the most radical — not to mention the most meta — image ever to grace the cover of the Magazine. Don’t kick yourself if you missed it (Martha had to point it out to me), but what Nelson has done here is to bring the very Caldecott Medal to life. Man on a horse? Check. Three children, three birds, two dogs? Check, check, and check. It is John Gilpin as we’ve never seen him before, as Kadir Nelson makes the Caldecott Medal his own.

It is ever thus. Since the medal was first given in 1938, each Caldecott-winning book takes over the definition of “most distinguished” in its own particular way, for its own particular moment. But what I love most about the cover picture is the literalness of the taking, the ideal become real. In an email to me, Kadir said that he “wanted to show a proud and prosperous family that is clearly ‘­undefeated’ and a wonderful example of African American excellence.” Yes, and to do so via the very emblem of picture book excellence is genius.

Kadir Nelson couldn’t know, and the Caldecott committee couldn’t know, what world The Undefeated would be inhabiting just a year after its publication. But how welcome, and how necessary, his and Kwame Alexander’s book is right now. Just look at the opening lines: “This is for the unforgettable. / The swift and sweet ones / who hurdled history / and opened a world / of possible. / The ones who survived / America / by any means necessary. / And the ones who didn’t.” As we protest the recent deaths, at the hands of police, of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others “who didn’t,” let us be grateful for what The Undefeated, in its words, pictures, and very existence, tells us, again, that Black lives do indeed matter.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Kristy South
Administrative Coordinator, The Horn Book
Phone 888-282-5852 | Fax 614-733-7269

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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Melanie Kroupa

So affecting and inspiring - both the image and opening lines. Powerful!

Posted : Jul 06, 2020 07:55



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