November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Books on Civil Rights and Social Justice Honored at Annual Jane Addams Peace Awards Celebration

On Friday, October 16, the Jane Addams Peace Association celebrated the recipients of this year’s Jane Addams Children’s Book Award winners. Established in 1953, the awards honor children’s booksTar Paper School from the preceding year that “effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.”

Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement (Abrams, 2014), a book that chronicles the early life of a school librarian, was the winning title in the older children’s category. Author Teri Kanefield discovered the role that Johns played in the civil rights movement 15 years ago while studying for her law degree. At the age of 15, Barbara Rose Separate Is Never EqualJohns led a student strike for equal education at the R.R. Morton High School in Farmville, VA. The action was followed by a lawsuit that was later incorporated into the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. Later, as an adult, Johns became a school librarian serving several schools—the last being the General George A. McCall School in Philadelphia. Both Barbara Rose Johns’s daughter, Terry Harrison, and her sister, Joan Cobbs, were in attendance at the ceremony.

Abrams Books for Young Readers was the big winner at the 62nd annual ceremony, which took place at the United Nations Plaza, in the shadow of the famous building on the edge of New York’s East River. In addition to publishing Girl from the Tar Paper School, they were also responsible for Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, which won in the young reader Shooting Stascategory. Tonatiuh was unable to attend the event but sent a video message, his young daughter perched on his lap. Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (2014) by John Hendrix was an honor book for young children and was also published by Abrams. It tells the true story of the World War I truce between a group of Allied and German soldiers who ceased firing and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday.

The other honor book in the young reader category was The thewhisperingtownWhispering Town (Kar-Ben, 2014) by Jennifer Elvgren and Fabio Santomauro, a Holocaust story. The honor books for older readers were Revolution (Scholastic, 2014), the second book in Deborah Wiles’s civil rights trilogy, and Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal (HMH, 2014) by Margarita Engle. In her acceptance speech, Engle explained that she wrote the book as a “love letter to the people of the Caribbean and a love letter to the tropical rain forest.”  Wiles explained that she “writes about social issues as a pathway to peace.”

Jane Addams Award

From top left: Susan Freiss, awards committee member, with Teri Kanefield, author of Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement, and Johns’s daughter and sister, Terry Harrison and Joan Cobb. Photo credit: Rocco Staino.

Each award was presented by a member of the Jane Addams Peace Association award committee, a group made up of 13 women. According to chair Ann Carpenter, the committee has always been female—no male members have ever served on the committee in the award’s 62-year history. When asked if men might one day be invited to participate, Linda B. Belle, executive director of the Jane Addams Peace Association, said it was something they would consider. She added that no men had expressed interest in the award committee before, nor has the organization tried to specifically recruit men for inclusion.

Additional information about the award guidelines and the association may be found at http://www.janeaddamspeace.org/jacba/.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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