Do We STILL Need Ethnic Book Awards?

Today the ALA announced the winners of their awards for children's and teen books published in 2008. Superb African-American authors and illustrators were recognized in many categories outside of the Coretta Scott King award, which restricts the winners to those who are African-Americans.

We discussed the problem of ethnic book awards on the Fire Escape last January, but perhaps with our biracial President in office, it's worth revisiting the discussion. Start with author Esme Raj Codell's grievance over never being able to win the King award. Here's an excerpt:
I have a very hard time with an award that claims to “commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood,” and yet uses the author’s race as a criteria. I find this contradictory.
In a culture that's blending and melding at a fast rate, are we ready to move beyond an award based on the storyteller's race? Or is Andrea David Pinckey's argument in the Horn Book in 2001 still valid eight years later?

Thank goodness there are awards such as the CSK and Pura Belpré, awards that shine a deserving spotlight on not only some of the best books of the year but the authors and illustrators of color who create them. For some of these young people just coming into the field, this will be as far as they seek to find the works of ethnic authors and illustrators. Fortunately, these awards give them a place to begin. Solid ground on which to stand.

Speaking as a black parent, I, of course, look for books that feature the works of black authors and illustrators. I want to expose my children to the achievements of women and men like themselves.
Even as I hear the cry for justice in Esme's words and respond with hope to double-King-honoree Carole Boston Weatherford's video-poem, "American Baptism" (see below; hat tip: cynsations), I can't forget teen filmmaker Kiri Davis' poignant depiction of how black kindergartners viewed themselves in Los Angeles in 2005. No easy answers, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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