November 20, 2017

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“March: Book Three” Takes 2016 National Book Award

From left: Andrew Aydin, Congressman John Lewis, and Nate Powell sporting their gold medals.

From left: Andrew Aydin, Congressman John Lewis, and Nate Powell sporting their gold medals.

“This is unreal!” shouted Congressman John Lewis as he and his co-creators Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell accepted the 2016 National Book Award (NBA) for Young People’s Literature for March: Book Three (Top Shelf, 2016). The title is the third in a graphic memoir series that chronicles the civil rights movement from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL on September 15, 1963, to the passing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. “There were very few books in our home,” Lewis recalled in accepting the award. He also told of going to his public library to get a library card, only to be told that libraries were “for whites.” Despite this, Lewis was still encouraged by his elders to “Read my child, read,” he said.

Kate DiCamillo on the red carpet

Kate DiCamillo on the red carpet

Andrew Aydin, digital director and policy adviser for the Congressman, as well the “March” trilogy’s co-author, reminded the audience that the “story of the movement must be told.” Lewis, who as a young man was directly involved with the Freedom Vote in 1963 in Mississippi, was convinced to tell his story in a graphic format by Aydin. A big fan of comic books, Aydin proclaimed at the close of his acceptance, “Prejudice against comic books must be buried once and for all.”

“It was a good year for young people’s books,” said Katherine Paterson, author of children’s books including Bridge to Terabithia and chair of the NBA Young People’s Literature judging committee. That also made it unusually difficult to narrow the field of worthy contenders to just one, she noted. Announcing the winner, Paterson explained that the committee looked for a title that would “contribute to the vast conversation” and “stand the test of time.” When March: Book Three was selected as a finalist in October, the judges noted, “The work is powerful, not only for its extraordinary storytelling and visuals, but for its chilling timeliness,” Paterson said.

Jason Reynolds speaks at the press conference.

Jason Reynolds speaks at the press conference.

A Teen Press Conference, held the day before the awards at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, was an opportunity for young people to learn more about the nominated books and their authors. While neither Lewis nor Aydin was able to attend, Nate Powell, the artist of the “March” series, represented the trio.

Powell told the students, all from area schools, that comic books were used in the civil rights era to tell stories, such as that of the Montgomery bus boycott. Other finalists in the Young People’s category, including Kate DiCamillo, Grace Lin, Jason Reynolds, and Nicola Yoon, read from their nominated books and answered questions from the students.

Nicola Yoon, in Anthropologie, with her husband, David

Nicola Yoon, in Anthropologie, with her husband, David

Brianna Maldonardo, a student at Esperanza Preparatory School, enjoyed how Yoon’s finalist title The Sun is Also a Star (Delacorte) “shows different perspectives of two different immigrants.” In the question-and-answer segment, Yoon explained that her own family is a blending of two cultures. She is Jamaican and her husband is Korean.

The press conference was moderated by YA author Brendan Kiely. “Books matter,” he told the kids. Many of them had already read several of the nominated titles and had opinions. “It inspires you to help change the world,” said 12-year old Kathryn Le of March: Book Three. The seventh grader at Tompkins Square Middle School added, “Maybe I can change the world in the same way.”

 

 

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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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