In January, many youth librarians look forward to the announcements of ALA’s Youth Media Awards, which happens on the Monday morning of the Midwinter conference; this year, on Monday January 23rd at 8am Eastern. (Details including a link for the live webcast can be found here.)
Over the years, this press conference has grown to include all of the youth media awards selected by ALA Divisions or Round Tables, including the Schneider Family Book Awards, the Stonewall Awards, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and the Pura Belpré Awards.
This last award is co-sponsored by The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC, a division of ALA) and The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA) together, which ensures its announcement (via ALSC) at the YMA press conference. REFORMA is an affiliate of ALA. There are other youth book awards selected by ALA affiliates which are not included in the YMA press conference, as they are not co-sponsored by an ALA body. They include:
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit. Sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA).
American Indian Youth Literature Award to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts. Sponsored by the American Indian Library Association (AILA). This award is presented every two years and will be announced next in 2018.
Sydney Taylor Book Award presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL).
Of all of these awards, the Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, Asian/Pacific American and American Indian Youth Literature Awards are notably all for books created by people of those communities, about their own experience. Over the years, I've heard the following questions repeatedly, largely from White people: “Shouldn’t any book about [a marginalized race] be eligible if it is the best portrayal of that experience?” or “Shouldn’t any book by an author of [a marginalized race] be eligible because it promotes an author of color?” In fact, I have asked these questions myself during my career, and, gratefully, been reminded by White colleagues that either question misses the point. Organizations of librarians from marginalized communities take the lead on these awards, and the last thing they need is to explain how sorely these awards are still needed to well-intentioned White people. Yet they do. Marc Aronson’s Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes back in 2001 and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s response echoes today’s post-election railing against identity politics.
While I applaud all the youth media award winning authors and illustrators, you will always hear me clap the strongest for #OwnVoices book awards. Please buy these books, and share the news, especially for those without a presence at the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference. These are meaningful awards deserving of everyone’s attention, and White people can do a better job of holding them up.