During this past month, we honored Dr. King and celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So, what better time to discuss the Coretta Scott King Award than now! The award, named after the wife of Dr. King, is given annually to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. The award has three categories: the Author Award Winner, the Illustrator Award Winner, and the John Steptoe Award for New Talent.
INTRODUCING THE 2014 AUTHOR AWARD WINNER: Rita Williams-Garcia! Author of the new book “P.S. Be Eleven” the sequel to her 2011 Newbery Honor winning novel “One Crazy Summer,” her stories tell of the adventures of three sisters– Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern– as they take on the world in the late 1960s.
It’s 1968 and things are heating up around the country: following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, the country is in disarray. In comes Williams-Garcia’s story of three sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, suffering through their own kind of heat– summer in Brooklyn. Looking for something more than cooler weather, the three girls leave behind their Papa and Big Ma (grandma) for the summer and hop on a plane to Oakland, California, in search of their mother who abandoned them seven years ago. Set in one of the most tumultuous years in American history, this story tells the comical adventure of three girls traveling across the country to find part of themselves. Each sister, unique in who she is, tells a story from a child’s point of view of what it is was like to be a African-American girl in the world of the 1960s and chronicles the historical events that unfolded before their eyes. The story addresses important issues of race, identity, growing up without a mother, and learning to face the harsh realities of the world.
Eleven year old Delphine plays the mother role of the trio, trying from the first page of the novel to keep her sisters united as a family, despite their real mother leaving them. The reader watches as Delphine continues to support her sisters through disappointment– meeting their mother Cecile and realizing she doesn’t want her girls there, missing on on exciting things like trips to Disneyland and movie star watching, and having to spend their summer instead at a community center camp run by the Black Panthers. Over the four weeks that the girls spend with their mother, much of their time is spent at the community center. In these interactions, the reader comes to understand each sister as a unique character as each girl learns more about their family, the country, and their culture than any of them could have ever bargained for.
Williams-Garcia’s book raises important questions for the reader about the role race and identity in the development of young children’s personal voice. This emotional story addresses issues of cultural and historical relevance and begs the reader to consider hard topics, like what it means to find one’s personal identity in an era of hate and hurtfulness. The beautifully written work not only tells a great story, but also offers important educational insight in a manner that is accessible and enjoyable for young readers. The book, written for ages 9-12, pushes the reader to consider topics outside his or her comfort zone by examining the experiences of characters otherwise very similar to the readers themselves. I think that this book is the perfect combination, pairing an engaging story of three young girls with the important story of the civil rights movement in the United States.
Williams-Garcia’s chapter book One Crazy Summer was recognized as one of the best in it’s year of publishing, earning the distinctions of a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and a Scott Odell Award for Historical Fiction in addition to being one of the books the lead to Williams-Garcia being named the 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner.
By Lauren Christopher