Kadir Nelson on His 2020 Caldecott Win for 'The Undefeated'

It was a big day for Kadir Nelson and The Undefeated. The illustrator won the Caldecott Medal for the book, written by Kwame Alexander, as well as the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and a Newbery Honor.

Photo by David Walter Banks

Kadir Nelson had heard the talk, but he was trying not to think about today's Youth Media Awards announcements. 

"I can’t say I had my hopes up, because it’s a really great way to be heartbroken, because you never know," he said of the award-winning prospects for The Undefeated, which took the Caldecott Medal. "I had heard some chatter that it was a possibility, but I didn't want to set myself up."

As a matter of fact, Nelson had forgotten the announcements were today. He is on the West Coast and turned his phone off and went to bed. He not only missed the call from the Caldecott committee, he missed the ceremony completely. He woke up to congratulatory texts, emails, and voicemail messages.

Read: 'New Kid' Makes History as First Graphic Novel To Win Newbery; Caldecott Goes To 'The Undefeated'

"I was very delighted to wake up to such glorious news," he said. "I'm still shocked, really shocked. But I'm very grateful. It's not something that happens very often, especially in my experience."

Nelson also won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for The Undefeated, which was written by Kwame Alexander and named a Newbery Honor title.

"It’s really amazing that it’s being recognized in three different ways on the same day," said Nelson. "We put a lot into the book, and we had really great chemistry with the words on the page and the artwork bringing those words to life. We’re thrilled.

"I think Kwame wrote a really powerful, concise text that was poignant, reverent, and had a really great pacing and rhythm," he added. "I really loved the text immediately, so I wanted to create artwork that was just as reverent and powerful."

The YMA recognition will likely put that powerful story into the hands of more young readers.

"It’s a story [and] a book that is for everyone," he said. "It’s an African American story, but it’s [also] an American story, a story that we all share. It's very important that readers from all backgrounds have access to this book. I think the awards and these recognitions will help spread the word."

It is a big week of good news, said Nelson, who is working on multiple future books. Some of the original artwork for The Undefeated is going on tour starting this week, which is a nice coincidence, he said, but he is perhaps most excited that he did the cover artwork for February's issue of National Geographic.

"I'm really proud of that," he said. "It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid."


Read: Jerry Craft Breaks Barriers With Historic 2020 Newbery Win

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Becky Koesel

Congratulations Mr. Nelson! Your work has always moved me beginning starting with Henry’s Freedom Box. When I read Undefeated, I reread it 4 times straight. The images are so moving. It’s incredible and you deserve this!

Posted : Feb 04, 2020 08:41



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