CSK Illlustrator Roundup: Standing in the Need of Prayer, Me and the Boss, and The Talk

The Coretta Scott King award, an prominent part of the annual ALA Youth Media Awards, honors African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children.

This year’s top CSK illustrator award went to

Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 4-8

Recommended for: ages 8-12

“It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” The author applies this simple sentiment, with its repetitive lines and rollicking melody, to the history of experience of black people in the US. From chains and slave ships to separated families and emancipation, through years of Jim Crow when African Americans stubbornly exhibited courage, brilliance, and determination in the face of a society accustomed to putting them down—all the way up to today, while we all “stand in the need to prayer.” The author recalls on her own family of preachers and activists, and her own hard times “when I, as a mother, had nowhere to turn but to God. ‘Standing in the Need of Prayer’ echoes my spirit.”

Spirit is evident in the striking illustrations, particularly in the first endpapers, where a chained  black man ascends the steps to the deck of a ship, under the gaze of two white men. These are the only whites to appear in the book until the closing pages, where a children’s choir of all races sings of justice and unity. Two points of dispute, however: one page spread features Nat Turner, who led “the most successful slave uprising in American history” (according to the historical note.  The effectiveness was due to 50 white people slaughtered, including women and children—which led in turn to a terrible, four-fold reprisal. Another page prominently features Colin Kaeperick and his famous kneeling at NFL games. There’s enough controversy surrounding Kaepernick that someone else might have been a better example or quiet protest.

Overall rating: 4

The three King Honor Books are

Me and the Boss: A Story about Mending and Love by Michelle Edwards and April Harrison. Anne Schwartz Books (Random House), 2023, 33 pages.

Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 4-8

Recommended for: ages 3-8

“I know big sisters. Zora, the boss, she’s mine.” Six-year-old Lee is used to following Zora around wherever she goes, and Zora is used to taking care of Lee. Today they’re going to the library where the Mrs. C the librarian will show them how to make a picture with needle and thread. It’s very basic embroidery but Lee can’t get the hang of it, especially after pricking his finger with the sharp needle. (In order for him to participate, Zora tells Mrs. C her little brother is eight, just small for his age.) The boss, of course, makes a fine flower and shows it off to their parents when they get home. Lee remains the hanger-on little brother, standing in her shadow. Until, “in the deepest night, a screechy loud wakes me.” Unable to go back to sleep, he gives his embroidery another try, and “when a little wheel turns inside my head,” he takes a small step of independent action. This simple story, with expressive, textured illustrations of African American family life, warmly dramatizes a universal sibling experience. Zora’s “little” fib is a consideration worth pointing out (otherwise the overall rating would be higher).

Overall Rating: 4

The Talk by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu. Caitlyn Dhoughy Books (Atheneum), 2022, 32 pages.

Reading Level: Picture Book, ages 4-8

Recommended for: pages 6-10

Jay is just a normal kid, growing up with normal friends like Jamal, Eboni, and Bryant. When we meet him he’s sporting a big gap where his front baby teeth used to me and racing his friends up and down the street while his grandpa watches. He loves superheroes, hoodies, and driving with his daddy. But as he grows taller his parents and grandparents start warning him: don’t hang out in groups. Don’t loiter in stores. Don’t talk loud in public. “But what did I do wrong?” The day finally comes when Nana, Grandpa, Mom and Dad all sit down together and say, “Jay, it’s time we had a talk.” Bad things are out there: suspicion, false accusations, injustice. Whatever comes, Jay will be somebody to the family that holds him close. Still, he and his friend want to “just be . . . us.”

It’s hard to know how relatable The Talk will be to white kids, but as a way of understanding how black kids may feel out of place and prejudged in a majority-white society, it can be a useful introduction.

Overall Rating: 4

The other two CSK Illustrator Honor Books are graphic novels we’ve reviewed before (click the links). They are

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas. HarperCollins, 2022.

Victory, Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes, artwork by Dawud Anyabwile. Norton, 2022, 202 pages.

Read more about our ratings here.                 

Also at Redeemed Reader

Reviews: Carole Boston Weatherford has written several quality picture books for all readers, including Box, By and By, *How Sweet the Sound: The Story of Amazing Grace, and *Freedom in Congo Square (asterisk indicates a starred review).

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