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Coretta Scott King Awards

Just last month, the American Library Association presented their annual Youth Media Awards, which include many notable awards for children’s and young adult literature.  Among many awards presented were the Newbery Award for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” (ALA, 2017), the Caldecott Award for “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book,” (ALA, 2017), and the Coretta Scott King Award for the “African American author and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions” (ALA, 2017).
The Coretta Scott King Award (CSK) was founded in 1969 at the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference, with the first recipient, Lillie Patterson, being the next year for her biography, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace.  In 1995, a subset of the Coretta Scott King Award was created to recognize new African-American voices in the field of children’s and young adult literature.  This award was named for children’s book illustrator, John Steptoe, who sought to represent the Black experience and African history and culture through his picture books. 
The purpose of the CSK Award is “to encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts, including biographical, historical and social history treatments by African American authors and illustrators” (ALA, 2017). 
The CSK Award, like all ALA awards, undergoes extreme vetting and must meet many criteria.  To be considered for the award, the African American author and illustrator must make an “outstanding inspirational and educational” contribution through his or her literature.  In addition, CSK Award titles must “promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society” (ALA, 2017).  Finally, the CSK Award title represents both Coretta Scott King and her courage and determination, but also her late husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “work for peace and world brotherhood” (ALA, 2017). 

The Criteria List
The Criteria of the award is as follows:

  1. Must portray some aspect of the black experience, past, present, or future.
  2. Must be written/illustrated by an African American
  3. Must be published in the U.S. in the year preceding presentation of the Award.
  4. Must be an original work
  5. Must meet established standards of quality writing for youth which include:
  • Clear plot
  • Well drawn characters, which portray growth and development during the course of the story.
  • Writing style which is consistent with and suitable to the age intended
  • Accuracy
  • Must be written for a youth audience in one of three categories:
    • Preschool-grade 4
    • Grades 5-8
    • Grades 9-12
  • Particular attention will be paid to titles which seek to motivate readers to develop their own attitudes and behaviors as well as comprehend their personal duty and responsibility as citizens in a pluralistic society.
  • Illustrations should reflect established qualitative standards identified in the statement below:

    Illustrations should... “heighten and extend the readers' awareness of the world around him. They should lead him to an appreciation of beauty. The style and content of the illustrations should be...neither coy nor condescending...Storytelling qualities should enlarge upon the story elements that were hinted in the text and should include details that will awaken and strengthen the imagination of the reader and permit him to interpret the words and pictures in a manner unique to him”
    --Cianciolo, Illustrations in Children's Books (p. 24-25)


    American Library Association (2017). Coretta Scott King Awards. Retrieved from

    Cianciolo, P. (1997). Picture Books for Children. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. 

    Coretta Scott King Award Winners

    Year CSK Award CSK Illustrator Award CSK Honor Award John Steptoe New Talent
    March Book 3 by Rep. John Lewis

    Radiant Child by Javanka Steptoe As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
    Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan
    The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
    2016 Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews
    Illustrated by Brian Collier
    All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
    Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
    X: A Novel by Illyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
    HooDoo by Ronald L. Smith
    Voices of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford
    2015 Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson Firebird by Misty Copeland
    Illustrated by Christopher Myers

    The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
    How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
    How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

    When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds