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Caldecott Medals and Honors Books Bestowed to Black Artists


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Caldecott MedalThe Caldecott Medal, established in 1938. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.


The award was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Perhaps this explains why, in 83 years of handing out the award, only 4 Black illustrators have won the medal. OK, that last sentence was a bit snarkier than necessary, but let's be clear, the reason so few Black illustrators have been honored with this award is racism. 


Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that the white world of publishing did not see fit to publish many books featuring Black characters. When they did the illustrators were often white. In the rare instance when a book illustrated by a Black person was published, it was obviously not considered worthy of the award.


One of the white artists included on my list is the prominent illustrator, of books featuring Black children, Ezra Jack Keats. Keats's is included on my list, because books by white writers of the Black experience are important too -- I still remember the first time I saw the book a Snowy Day (which won the medal in 1963) and how excited I was.  Keats would go on to be honored again, in 1970, years before a Black illustrator was recognized.


Indeed the first Black person did not win a Caldecott medal until 1977 when the husband and wife duo of Leo & Diane Dillon shared the Medal for Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions -- a full 40 years after the award first bestowed! There have only been four Black Caldecott Meal winners in the history of the award:


Nelson and Pinkeny have been honored by Association for Library Service to Children more than an other Black artist, perhaps more than any artist (I did not research this). They have each either won the Medal or Honor (the honor is sort of like being a runner up) three times. 


A Black woman has never won the Medal, though a few, three to be precise, have received a Caldecott Honor:



Historically, the Caldecott awards have largely over looked Black artists. But things have absolutely changed in recent years.  As they have changed with so many book awards in recent years. More than half of the Caldecott Honors and Medals, that were given to Black children book artiists, were given in the last 10 years.


In 2020, the Medal was given to Kadir Nelson and two of the three Honors went to Daniel Minter and Rudy Gutierrez!  Things have changed. Publishers are now publishing more books featuring Black characters, that are also written and illustrated by Black people.  Black illustrators are finally being published and recognized for their talent!


We are living in a historic period right now, at least as far as children's literature is concerned. Will it last?


Caldecott Award Winning and Honored Books


The publishing industry is notoriously fickle when it comes to Black books.  Urban Fiction was selling like hot cakes a few years ago.  Before that, chick-lit was popping.  We've seen the the popularity of detective novels rise and wane. I'm sure many of you remember the erotica we could not buy enough.  There is still demand for all of these genres as there always was for children's literature it, but big publishers are simply publishing less of it.


Antiracist BabyAt this instance,  books dealing with racism is the rage, at least until the media move on to the next shiny object... One clever publisher even created a board book book on racism book for toddlers. They are working it! 


In fact, the author, Ibram X. Kendi has every age group covered when it comes to dealing with racism, or "antiracsim" as he curiously calls it:



At the end day, the question remains: what will we do when the major publishers move on from children's books written and illustrated by Black people? Will we wring our hands and lament the dearth of books featuring Black children and stories again, or will we do something about it ourselves?



I did the research to come up with these names of Black illustrators for this article, by reviewing the 83 year history of the Caldecott Medal.  There is a possibility that I missed a name or two.  The information provided on the award's website does not include photos of the illustrators or identify them by their race.  As far as I know, AALBC is the only web which has attempted to do this, as we (i.e. me) has with many other awards.  If you find any omissions please let me know.


My list of Caldecott Medal winners and honorees includes some non-black winners, including Ezra Jack Keats and Gerald McDermott.




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