Reviews of the 2024 CSK Illustrator Award Winners


An American Story
by Kwame Alexander; illus. by Dare Coulter
Primary, Intermediate    Little, Brown    56 pp.
1/23    9780316473125    $18.99

Alexander and Coulter have created a powerful counternarrative in their efforts to answer the question, “How do you tell a story about slavery?” Starting before Africans were forcibly brought to the Americas, both text and art reinforce the family structures, cultural traditions, and ways of life Africans enjoyed. When chattel slavery enters the story and white colonizers work “to steal them away / from their lives / and sell them / in America,” the pain of separation and removal is poignant and brutal. The poetic text insists enslavement be explained from the perspective of humanizing the Africans and African Americans at the heart of this American story, while reinforcing motifs of agency, resistance, and flights to freedom. Coulter’s mixed-media illustrations bring the text to life with a powerful combination of two-dimensional paintings and photographs of her three-dimensional ceramic and polymer clay sculptures. She juxtaposes her depictions of African Americans with drawings (in a yellow and black palette) of modern-day children grappling to understand the past and channeling their need for truth with their own desires to create change. The narrative ends on a hopeful note, encouraging the telling of an accurate story in an attempt to offer healing for a broad audience. Notes from the creators are appended. KIM PARKER

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

by Vashti Harrison; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    64 pp.
5/23    9780316353229    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780316566223    $12.99

As Harrison writes in her author’s note, “In childhood, big is good. Big is impressive, aspirational. But somewhere along the way, the world begins to tell us something different: That big is bad. That being big is undesirable.” Words matter, as a beautiful little Black girl learns. The girl, a dancer who wears a leotard and tutu throughout the book, “grew and learned and laughed…and grew and grew and grew. And it was good…until it wasn’t.” When she accidentally gets stuck in the baby swing on the school playground, her classmates and even her teacher hurl hurtful words and laughter, which begin to affect the youngster’s self-esteem and self-perception. The text is spare but pointed; Harrison’s emotionally powerful, pink-hued illustrations focus on her protagonist’s inner experience. The girl looks like a giant in school and at dance class, “exposed, judged, yet invisible.” The openness of the illustrations gives way to more cramped and overwhelming compositions as the girl, now in blue-gray, feels increasingly hemmed in by others’ judgments — a visible statement about the impact of fatphobia and the adultification of Black children. This girl’s story ends triumphantly; she takes her teacher’s and classmates’ hateful words and hands them back, saying, “These are yours. They hurt me.” This book offers readers an opportunity to remember that we all deserve love and respect — no matter what size we are. MONIQUE HARRIS

From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


There Was a Party for LangstonThere Was a Party for Langston
by Jason Reynolds; illus. by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey
Primary    Dlouhy/Atheneum    56 pp.
10/23    9781534439443    $18.99
e-book ed  9781534439450    $10.99

An intriguing photograph of writers Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka dancing at a party at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is the springboard for Reynolds’s first (traditional) picture book. In 1991, people in Harlem gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium and the literary brilliance of its namesake. At the “fancy-foot, get-down, all-out bash,” guests boogie to the beats and bops of music as renowned word-makers are pictured leaning in from the spines of books on the shelves, captivated by the dazzling whirlwind of excitement. The master poet, Langston Hughes, was called “the ‘word-making king.’” He “could make the word America look like two friends making pinky promises to be cool, to be true” and turn words into laughter, “bringing joy to the little and the big.” In his own evocative and kinetic style of word-making, Reynolds exudes reverence for Langston and the festive tempo of the occasion. The Pumphreys’ vibrant illustrations, created with digitized handmade stamps, extend the theme of wordsmithing in creative interpretations of text, as in the double-page spread of Angelou and Baraka dancing with the letters of their first names forming the shape of their bodies. A jubilant tribute to the enduring legacy of one of the most prominent voices of the Harlem Renaissance and others whom he has inspired. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Holding Her Own: The Exceptional Life of Jackie Ormes
by Traci N. Todd; illus. by Shannon Wright
Primary    Orchard/Scholastic    48 pp.
3/23    9781338305906     $21.99





Read reviews of the 2024 CSK Author Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2024.

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