Thursday, January 29, 2009


This comment from my post CORETTA SCOTT KING AWARD: THE DREAM AWAITS deserves its own post:

Dear Esme,

I have been much moved by your posting, and after reading your thoughts about the awards as well as Mitali’s, I wanted to add my own to the discussions. Since it would not be possible to actually link to both here, I hope you don’t mind my posting this answer here as well as in
Mitali’s blog. I might also post it in my own blog in case anybody wants to refer to it. I could not evermore claim innocence after reading Mitali’s and your thoughts and reflections about Ethnic awards. Thank you for being such a mind provocateurs!

Ethnic book awards: Discriminatory or Necessary?I have received them, I have enjoyed them, I have them shine light to my work, and I have loved them. I can only talk from my experience.
I can’t claim to represent anybody else but me. When I think about the questions that Mitali and you, as well as other people have expressed about this awards, I don’t find myself with any answers but only more questions of my own. I confess I am partial to both sides of the equation. While I vote for inclusiveness rather than discrimination—no matter from what side--there is something I have experience about the nature of this awards that eludes my reasoning and instead runs with my heart. Let me see if I can explain myself.

What I know from receiving these awards is that they are a celebration. People cheer, committees champion your work, put the word out, make you a party with music and all, invite everybody, give your book a medal to paste on the cover, and tell everybody to look, look, look! at your book. And so, if the function of an ethnic award like the Pura Belpre is to celebrate a writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth, why not then make the celebration broader and invite everybody to love the Latino culture and be eligible to win the award?
After all , anyone who dedicates his or her time, talent, and efforts to create a great book about the Latino cultural experience, could only do it out of admiration and love for that culture, whether she or he is Latino or not. Or, is there any other reason to spend one’s precious time cranking a book about Latinos?I understand that awards like the Pura Belpre and the Coretta Scott King award were born out of the need to encourage the work and shine light upon the otherwise obscured books of people from minorities, at a time where authors and illustrators of color were everything but missing from awards like the Caldecott and the Newberry. Is it perhaps that the time has come to change things around? Have we reached the equilibrium we dream of? If not, I hope we will soon. My friend Rose tells me it is just a matter of time before love and lust erase the race lines completely. For now I find it interesting that the Coretta as wells as the Pura Belpre are being announced as part of the ALA crop of awards, because it is from this announcement that they receive their moment in the spotlight as well as their prestige. Were those awards to be announced in a different day or without the support of ALA, we might not be discussing them right now. Their impact upon readers would be different. And perhaps the audience looking for the result of such announcements would be different, even smaller in number. You know?

To me the USA is a country of surprises. Anything unexpected can happen here. For instance, it was a surprise to me that here in the USA existed a book award that celebrated the efforts of people like me--multicolored skin, even Indian looking, heavy accent. I was surprised to know that all what I had believed to be against me in the past, was exactly what made me eligible. You must understand that I come from a country that from colonial times and all the way to my parent’s generations, and more, had lived under the social unwritten code that claims that beauty comes in white skin, light hair and blue eyes, that intelligence and reason does evade indigenous people, peasants, or anyone with dark skin. For generations we have been taught to give preference to others whiter than us. Breaking that mold has been the life work of many, many of my country people, and yet, there is still much more to accomplish. And yet, in my new learning, do I want people to lower the bar for me because of my history? Certainly not. I might have had a self-dubious start, but I am not without the capacity to amaze myself and others with what I do.

If the ethnic awards were to disappear, or integrate, would I miss the celebration? Yes I would. Would there be other challenges to obtain? Certainly yes, because what I am is not Latina but a force. I have expressed in the past that I see the Pura Belpre Award as a regalo, a gift that is given to someone when you might least expected it. At first the regalo goes to a book creator; and artist or a writer, and we receive the gift joyfully and gratefully. But after that, the gift is given to everybody. Once the award brings out the voice that there is a book worth of looking at, it is the readers who receive the gift next. In a way, the decision of the Pura Belpre committee to give an award to a person (an "ethnic' person, for that matter)and not exactly to his or her book, has interesting consequences. You need to go to the schools to see it. You will understand it when you are propped in front of children—those of all possible colors, including brown, like me; who speak all kinds of languages, including Spanish like me; who perhaps struggle with their English, like I did; who feel like“tontos”, fools, unable to fit in the foreign culture, like once I did too. And then, in that moment when the teacher introduces you, and tells the audience that you have been the winner of this prestigious shiny golden medal stuck on the cover of your book, given here in the United States to a person like YOU in recognition for the quality of your work, you can see it with your own eyes and your heart, that very moment when a child begins to dream that if you did it, he can do it too.
--Yuyi Morales

Well. I was very reticent to initially post my query about the Coretta Scott King Awards, and I am so glad that I did, because these words are another regalo, a gift to the world in the form of a bridge built by a truly remarkable artist.

As I mentioned elsewhere on the internet, the intent of my original blog post was not to suggest that we should end the Coretta Scott King Award. I was saying that the literary criteria for the award was awesome and that I aspire to all of the the criteria that I can, within reason. I was confused by the use of the King name in an award that seemed segregated to me in comparison with other awards, thus making the hope of contribution out of reach for some (myself included), and named titles that I personally thought were excellent representations of other books that met the literary criteria. I asked for clarification of the goal of the award, and I received it, and Yuyi's words also illuminated for me why the awards are supported by the American Library Association. If the power of their support is really as described, I hope, then, that they will consider taking others under their umbrella. I think it is the dream of every author and artist that the book finds its true audience, the reader who, to paraphrase Jacqueline Woodson, will "sit up a little straighter" by turning the pages. I thank everyone who participated in the conversation that sparked and sparkled all over the internet.

I am glad if this conversation has brought out some important information (including Zetta Elliott's point that according to the CCBC, less than 3% of children's books in 2007 were authored by African American people). Thanks also to Finding Wonderland for the great conversation, including some very unique perspective from one of my favorite authors of young adult literature, Sherri L. Smith. Hopefully as the dialogue continues it can remain constructive.

As someone who has also been graced with an "ethnic" award, I know the joy that Yuyi describes. I did not personally feel the honor or celebration was diminished by the eligibility and past winners of people who do not match my profile, and believed many other book creators might share my view, and that is why I brought it up for consideration by other committees. I can certainly appreciate if now is not the time for every group or even every individual (a point eloquently made in Richard Michelson's comments), and trust the committees to make those judgements. But I still most closely embrace the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and the bravery of those children directly involved as emblematic of Civil Rights and a manifestation of the King dream, and as such, I will always hope and work for desegregation and opportunity in all directions. I will wait for that day to dawn eagerly with Yuyi's friend Rose.

As much as I've enjoyed the increased traffic that controversy inspires, folks, I will be back to regular book reviews ASAP, and hope you'll visit anyway! Read-aloud is still our country's best hope for equalizing education in America. Hope you'll come back again, wherever you stand on the issues, to find recommendations, links and community to support you in this most important work of sharing literature and getting great books in the hands of great children of every color, religion, creed and income.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at


teacherninja said...

Wow, great thought-provoking stuff. Thanks so much!

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mbdillane said...

"Read-aloud is still our country's best hope for equalizing education in America." Thank you for reminding all your blog followers that despite considering the limitations of some literary awards that the true prize comes from sharing these wonderful, diverse books with out students. It is in the classroom, public library, and home that our children are exposed to great books about diverse people and diverse experiences, which is the true reward for great authors and illustrators.

Karen Evans said...


Thanks so much for your comment on my blog that you wrote in December regarding Power Teaching! I haven't been on since then and only just saw it today! Have you tried Power Teaching at all? It has gone over very well here in Kalamazoo. I started trying it in the school I'm interning at, within a few days about 6 other teachers had tried it, I was asked to give a presentation to 100 professionals at Western Michigan University, now one of my professors is using it to teach the models of co-teaching at professional development meetings. It's so popular I only wish it was my own idea!

Are you still planning on writing a book for beginning teachers? You wrote about it once on your blog and I wasn't sure if it was something you were thinking about or if you were in the process of writing it. I'd love to buy/read it when it comes out so please let me know :)

Michelle said...

This blog is great - it has such a wide variety of books for different ages and interest areas. I love the book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus that you discuss in your picture book section - I read this to a practicum class and the kids were attentive and very into the book, laughing and responding the all of the pigeon's questions.

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