From the Chair: Continuing the Legacy (2020 CSK Book Awards Jury, ALA)

Since nervously accepting the appointment of jury chair from previous Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee chair Dr. Claudette McLinn, my goal has been to continue the legacy that the Coretta Scott King Book Awards have created of identifying quality children’s literature that features various narratives of the Black experience. It’s a very important and heavy charge — for when the winners and honors are announced each year, the titles, authors, and illustrators are catapulted into the limelight, and their work flies out of bookstores and is added to the shelves of libraries across the nation.

There were many well-written narratives that the jurors were inundated with throughout the nomination process. “Is this book the book of the year?” was one of the questions we would ask ourselves about each title as we deliberated to determine which narratives of the Black experience were worthy of the CSK Author and Illustrator awards. I am excited and humbled that the Horn Book has afforded me — along with my fellow jury members — this opportunity to share a few words about the books that were chosen and their importance to the landscape of children’s literature and to the furtherance of telling the stories of Black youth.


New Kid
written and illustrated by Jerry Craft (Quill Tree/HarperCollins)

“Craft’s graphic novel offers a fresh, youthful voice to the discussions of race, class, and privilege by exploring how they affect Black youth and how those youth deal with navigating spaces filled predominantly by white faces. New Kid follows aspiring cartoon artist Jordan Banks as he begins the school year at a prestigious private school. Jordan and his few fellow classmates of color encounter various challenges, from code-switching to experiencing microaggressions from their white classmates and teachers. Jordan has to figure out how to navigate fitting into his various worlds without losing sight of who he is. This story will resonate with many young people who have found themselves in similar situations.” —LaKeshia Darden

Read Jerry Craft's CSK Author speech here.


Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
by Kwame Mbalia (Riordan/Disney-Hyperion)

“Mbalia’s action-packed, humorous fantasy adventure provides an emotional and uplifting narrative that highlights the power of Black stories old and new. High praise to Mbalia’s debut title, for this generation of Black youth needs this story that features not just the suffering of African Americans but also showcases the humanity and strength of our people while exploring Black history in a fresh, new way. Trust me; you won’t be able to put this page-turner down.” —Jewel Davis and LaKeshia Darden



Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
by Jason Reynolds (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

“What a treat — in ten stories told over the course of the walk home from school, Reynolds weaves the triumphs and challenges of a community of young people who trek ten city blocks over the course of one afternoon. As these students embark on their respective ways home, readers journey with them through encounters with strong friendships, scary routes, terminally ill parents, bullying, homophobia…and the philosophical highlights of ‘water booger bears.’ Reynolds expertly delves beyond the surface of the mundane and reveals a deeper humanity and strength of the human spirit through the eyes of ordinary kids just trying to get home from a day at school.” —Christina Vortia


The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
by Junauda Petrus (Dutton)

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is a love letter to profound friendship, love, desire, queerness, and loss. It is a must-read coming-of-age story for everyone. Audre and Mabel are two sixteen-year-olds from different worlds. Audre, from Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Mabel, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, are exploring and coming to terms with feelings and questions about their sexuality. When Audre and Mabel meet, they have an instant connection. As their friendship blossoms, Mabel’s health takes a turn for the worse. It is Audre who then helps Mabel navigate her new reality. Together, they come into their own and fall in love.” —Maegen Rose


The Undefeated
illustrated by Kadir Nelson; written by Kwame Alexander (Versify/Houghton)

“Nelson is no stranger to the CSK Award. He has won several CSK Illustrator awards, and most notably was awarded both the CSK Author Award and an Illustrator Honor for his tribute to the Negro Leagues in We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. This year, he got our attention by unapologetically showcasing the emotional journey of the Black experience, capturing the excellence of iconic figures in Black history, as well as the known and unknown ­victims of brutality due to systemic ­racism. Nelson is a master visual storyteller through imagery, and his ­illustration choices — from ‘the unspeakable’ pages to those for which it was appropriate to have little to no images — speak to his expertise.” —LaKeshia Darden

Read Kadir Nelson's CSK Illustrator Award speech here.


Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace
illustrated and written by Ashley Bryan (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

“Bryan’s work has been adorned with several CSK medals in the past. However, Infinite Hope felt like a lifetime achievement masterpiece. Through an abundance of primary sources about his life as a student — one who has had to defer his dream — he brings to light the plight of the African American soldier in rich detail. Photographs, journal entries, letters, sketches, and gorgeous paintings of his experiences fill this book with little-known information about the African American soldier during World War II.” —Irene Briggs


The Bell Rang
illustrated and written by James E. Ransome (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

“This simple tale just stayed with us. Every day the bell rings on the slave plantation to the same mundane scenery and chores: Daddy gathers the wood, Mama cooks, they eat, then out to the fields. The seemingly predictable life on the plantation changes one day for a little girl and her family when her brother runs away. This simply told and brilliantly illustrated book poignantly captures the emotions of the child and her family as they hope for her brother’s safety — and a brighter future for them all.” —Jason Driver


illustrated by Vashti Harrison; written by Lupita Nyong’o (Simon)

“This sweet tale makes the topic of colorism accessible for young readers. Harrison beautifully illustrates this story about a little Black girl who struggles to see the beauty in herself. Little Sulwe, whose name means star, is ‘the color of midnight.’ She is the darkest person in her family and in her school. Sulwe’s schoolmates call her names, she has no friends, and she tries everything she can think of to lighten her complexion. One night, a shooting star carries her out from her bedroom into the world of the mythical origin story of night and day, where Sulwe learns that all skin tones have meaning and purpose. Sulwe wakes up from her slumber with a new purpose and a new attitude.” —Jason Driver


Genesis Begins Again
by Alicia D. Williams (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

“This is another narrative that explores the effects of colorism through the experience of a dark-skinned girl, Genesis Anderson. Thirteen-year-old Genesis is struggling with her identity. Her father drinks too much and lets her know that he wishes she’d been born light-skinned like her mother instead of dark like him. When school ‘friends’ hand her their list of ‘100 Things We Hate about Genesis,’ Genesis, filled with self-loathing, continues to add to the list. After she moves to a new school, however, Genesis finds real friends and is helped by a teacher who recognizes her talent. This coming-of-age story will motivate readers to examine their own beliefs and behaviors and explore the social implications of colorism.” —Susan Polos


What Is Given from the Heart illustrated by April Harrison; written by Patricia C. McKissack (Schwartz & Wade/Random)

“Harrison’s soft illustrations — a mix of collage and acrylic painting — tell the story of James Otis, who knows what it’s like to have very little. When his close friend Sarah’s family loses all they own in a fire, he struggles to come up with a suitable gift to give her. The carefully-pieced-together illustrations in earthy tones are suitably paired with this tale that reminds the reader that a gift that comes from the heart is always priceless.” —LaKeshia Darden

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All of these titles are valuable contributions to the Coretta Scott King Book Awards canon of award-winning children’s literature. I look forward to what will be added to this legacy next year. 

Members of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury

Left to right: Irene L. Briggs, Jewel Davis, Jason Miles Driver Sr., LaKeshia Darden (chair), Christina Vortia, Susan H. Polos, and Maegen J. Rose.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2020.

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

LaKeshia Darden

2020 CSK Book Awards Jury chair LaKeshia Darden is the curriculum ­materials/media librarian for Wiggins Memorial Library at Campbell University, where she also serves as an adjunct professor for the School of Education. She received her MLS from North Carolina Central University and is pursuing her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Fayetteville State University.

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