Kadir Nelson, Floyd Cooper win 2009 Coretta Scott King Awards

By | January 26, 2009

Kadir Nelson, author of “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,” and Floyd Cooper, illustrator of “The Blacker the Berry,” are the winners of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Book Awards honoring African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. Shadra Strickland, illustrator of “Bird,” is the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner. The awards were announced today at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, being held Jan. 23-28 in Denver, and will be presented in Chicago at the ALA Annual Conference in July.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. The awards are presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Committee of the ALA’s Ethnic Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) to encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts.

“We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, offers a narrated nonfiction account of the rise and decline of the Negro Leagues. Divided into innings, the narrator’s conversational tone informs the reader of the hardships, camaraderie and joy of playing baseball. Nelson pays tribute to the unsung heroes of Negro League Baseball and highlights an important aspect of American history.

Kadir Nelson is the illustrator of many outstanding books for children. His works have been honored with the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, the Caldecott Honor Award and the NAACP Image Award. “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” is the first book he has written and illustrated.

“Kadir Nelson’s remarkable text debut, full of memory and detail, recalls the life and times of the players, managers and owners of the Negro Leagues. Nelson’s evocative third-person narrative informs today’s readers of the issues which African American baseball players faced prior to the 1950s,” said Award Jury Chair Carole McCollough.

In “The Blacker the Berry,” written by Joyce Carol Thomas and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Cooper uses an oil wash subtraction technique to portray the diversity of African American children in this uplifting poetry collection. The illustrations are a result of oil wash on board which come to life by subtracting the wash with an eraser. From cover to cover, Cooper’s effective use of sunlight and moonlight illuminates the faces of children as they exalt in the natural world.

“Cooper’s soft realistic style complements Joyce Carol Thomas’ celebration of the range of skin color in the African American community. Each child’s individuality is beautifully and respectfully shown in rich skin tones ranging from deep brown to raspberry black to cranberry red. Cooper’s self-assured depictions are a gift to all children,” said McCollough.

Floyd Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and has published more than 60 books for children. His works have been honored with the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, ALA Notable Books and the NAACP Image Award.

Occasionally awarded, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award affirms new talent and offers visibility to excellence in writing or illustration at the beginning of a career as a published children’s book creator. This year’s winner for illustration is Shadra Strickland for “Bird,” written by Zetta Elliott and published by Lee & Low Books. Using a range of media, from pencil and charcoal to watercolor and gouache, Strickland’s debut artwork depicts a difficult time in the life of a young boy nicknamed Bird. Using his burgeoning gift as an artist, Bird finds solace in his family’s love. Two styles of art, the illustrator’s nuanced mixed media and the main character’s pencil sketches, soar together as one.

Three King Author Honor Books were selected: “The Blacker the Berry” by Joyce Carol Thomas, published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; “Keeping the Night Watch” by Hope Anita Smith, published by Henry Holt and Company; and “Becoming Billie Holiday” by Carole Boston Weatherford, published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc.

Three Illustrator Honor Books were selected: “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” written and  ilustrated by Kadir Nelson, published by Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group; “Before John Was a Jazz Giant” by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls, published by Henry Holt and Company; and “The Moon Over Star” by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Members of the 2009 Coretta Scott King Book Award Jury are: Jury Chair Carole J. McCollough, retired, Southfield, Mich.; Eunice Anderson, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Md.; Alan R. Bailey, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.; Brenda M. Hunter, Atlanta, Ga.; Jonda C. McNair, Clemson University, Clemson, SC; Martha Ruff, Prince George’s County Public Library, Oxon Hill, Md.; and Robin L. Smith, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tenn..

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world with over 65,000 members. Its mission is to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

For information on the Coretta Scott King Book Award and other ALA literary awards, please visit www.ala.org/yma.