Tomorrow morning, along with the winners of the illustrious Caldecott and Newbery Medals for children's literature, the American Library Association will announce the recipients of the Coretta Scott King Awards -- started 35 years ago to recognize African-American authors of literature for children and young adults who had been shut out of the longer-standing honors.
The awards have launched the careers of writers and artists who went on to greater fame. Walter Dean Myers, first recognized in 1980 for The Young Landlords, has won five King awards along with numerous other accolades, and has been a National Book Award finalist. The late Virginia Hamilton, the first African-American winner of the Newbery Medal, for M.C. Higgins, the Great, later captured a King award for her collection of African-American folktales. Last year, city leaders chose the 2001 winner, Miracle's Boys, by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam, 2000, $15.99), as "Baltimore's Book" for a citywide summer reading program.
"It's no longer a competition with other awards," said Henrietta M. Smith, a member of the original Coretta Scott King task force who has edited a history of the awards. "Publishers have taken an interest. They look at it as another prestigious award that people need to know about."
In honor of the holiday that marks Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, which also is tomorrow, we take a look back at some of the works and authors of note that have won the awards named for his wife through the years:
2004 - The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2003, $15.95). YOUNG ADULT. The story of a 16-year-old boy raising his baby daughter alone captured Johnson her third King award; she won in 1999 for Heaven and in 1994 for Toning the Sweep.
2000 - Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte, 1999, $16.95). AGES 8 TO 12. This book about a boy searching for his father in Depression-era Flint, Mich., also won the Newbery Medal in the same year.
1998 - In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Lee & Low Books, 1997, $16.95). 6 TO 11. Steptoe, son of the famed children's book author and illustrator John Steptoe, won the illustrator's award for collages that brought 12 poems about fathers to life.
1995 - Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. & Frederick L. McKissack, illustrated by John Thompson (Scholastic Inc., 1994, $6.99). 9 TO 12. Set on a plantation in 1859, this is the story of two holiday seasons: The sumptuous meals and meticulous decorations of the "big house," and the hope, songs and meager possessions in the "quarters" where the slaves live. In the quarters, New Year's Day -- "separation day" -- was no holiday; it was the time when slave children old enough to be sold were parted from their parents.
1986 - The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, by Virginia
Hamilton; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf, 1985, $24.95). ALL AGES. The much-decorated Hamilton, who died in 2002, tells 24 classic folktales. From the tales of "He Lion, Bruh Bear and Bruh Rabbit" to "Carrying the Running-Aways," the stories emphasize the magic triumphs of heart and spirit over adversity. Knopf published a picture book of the title story, also illustrated by the Dillons, last year.
1992 - Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold (Crown, 1991, $18). 4 TO 8. Ringgold won the illustrator's award for this story -- originally a quilt painting -- of a child's flight of fancy as she daydreams on the roof of her family's Harlem apartment building.
1980 - The Young Landlords, by Walter Dean Myers (Viking, 1979, $21). YOUNG ADULT. This novel, about a group of friends who buy a dilapidated building with the aim of improving their neighborhood, became a 1983 film and won the first of five King awards for Myers.
1970 - Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace, by Lillie Patterson (Garrard,
1969). 7 TO 10. The first winner of the King award, now out of print, was a biography of the civil rights leader, two years after his assassination. Its opening chapter describes King as a 4-year-old boy already captivated by his pastor father's Bible stories. "You just wait and see," the young Martin tells his mother. "I'm going to get some big words one day."
1974 - Ray Charles, by Sharon Bell Mathis; illustrated by George Ford (Lee & Low Books, 2001, $16.95). 4 TO 8. This children's biography of the late musician won the first illustrator's award given by the King task force, along with the top author's honor. Originally published by Crowell in 1973, it was redesigned and republished by Lee & Low in 2001.