Book Awards for Children’s Literature

Throughout history, African Americans have been marginalized for their successes and talent, including children’s literature. Multiple awards and medals have been established to honor children’s book authors and illustrators, including the John Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, and Coretta Scott King Awards. The John Newbery Medal was founded in 1922 and is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. Following the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal was founded in 1938 and is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American children’s picture book. Both medals are awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association) and until recently overlooked the remarkable works of African-American authors and illustrators. It was not until 1975 that the first African-American author was awarded the Newbery Medal: Virginia Hamilton for her book M.C. Higgins the Great. Hamilton is a native of Yellow Springs, OH. Leo Dillon became the first African-American illustrator to receive the Caldecott Medal and the only illustrator to receive the award on two consecutive years: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears (1976) and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1977).

The Coretta Scott King Author award was first presented in 1970 in efforts to combat this marginalization and to recognize the contributions of African-American children’s book authors. In 1974, the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award was presented for the first time. The John Steptoe Award for New Talent was created in 1995 to recognize exceptional work by new African-American authors and illustrators. The Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement has presented every even year since 2010 to an African-American author, illustrator, or author/illustrator for a body of their published books for children and young adults that have made a significant and lasting literary contribution. In odd years, the award is presented to a practitioner (educator, librarian, scholar, mentor, etc.) for substantial contributions through active engagement with youth using award-winning African-American literature for children and young adults.

The Coretta Scott King Awards were not officially recognized by the American Library Association until 1982, twelve years after their first award was given. These awards were named after Dr. Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and brotherhood. By giving these awards annually to African-American authors and illustrators, CSK strives to recognize African Americans in their tremendous efforts in breaking the mold of what constitutes a children’s book. Without CSK, African-American authors and illustrators would still be overlooked for their incredible talent and strides for social justice through children’s illustrated literature.

The following books are the most recent winners of these awards.

2018 Winners:

Newbery Medal: Hello Universe written by Erin Entrada Kelly

Caldecott Medal: Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Coretta Scott King Author Award: Piecing Me Together written by Renée Watson

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets illustrated by Ekua Holmes [CONFERENCE SPEAKER]

John Steptoe Award for New Talent Author: The Stars Beneath Out Feet written by David Barclay Moore

John Steptoe Award for New Talent Illustrator: Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song illustrated by Charly Palmer

Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement: Eloise Greenfield


The following books have received a medal or award from the designated organization. All books listed are found in Telling A People’s Story.

Caldecott Medal:

Javaka Steptoe: Radiant Child (2017)

Leo and Diane Dillon: Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1977)

Leo and Diane Dillon: Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears (1976)

Coretta Scott King Author Award:

Kadir Nelson: Heart and Soul: The Story of American and African Americans (2012)

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal (2010)

Kadir Nelson: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (2009)

Virginia Hamilton: The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1986)

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award:

Javaka Steptoe: Radiant Child (2017)

Floyd Cooper: The Blacker the Berry (2009)

Kadir Nelson: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (2007)

Ashley Bryan: Beautiful Blackbird (2004)

E.B. Lewis: Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman (2003)

Tom Feelings: The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo (1996)

John Steptoe Award for New Talent: 

Ekua Holmes: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (2016)

Shadra Strickland: Bird (2009)

Eric Velasquez: The Piano Man (1999)

Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement: 

Eloise Greenfield (2018)

Jerry Pinkney (2016)

Patricia and Frederick McKissack (2014)

Ashley Bryan (2012)


Written by Caroline Bastian