Bank Street Announces 2020 Cook Prize and Irma Black Award Winner

Bank Street's Center for Children's Literature announced the winners of the annual Irma Black Award and Cook Prize, which are judged by children. 

The Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature today announced the winners of the annual Irma Black Award and Cook Prize.

image of the Irma Black sealThe 2020 Irma Simonton and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature went to The Crayon Man: The Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno book cover of Crayon Man(HMH). The annual award, which has been given since 1973, recognizes “an outstanding book for young children—a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole.”

"The story of how Crayola crayons came to be and Edwin Binney's plight to bring color to children all around the world is an engaging and informational story, one that will encourage children to invent with crayons after reading,” said Kharissa Kenner, Bank Street children’s librarian.

In addition to the winner, three Irma Black honorees were named: Rocket Says Look Up by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Random); Hair Love by Mathew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila); and The Most Terrible of All by Muon Thi Van and Matt Myers (S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks.).

image of Cook Prize sealThe winner of the Cook Prize, which began in 2012 and annually honors the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) picture book for ages eight to 10, went to Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Teresa Martínez (Charlesbridge).

“It is wonderful in a time of so many negative stereotypes to recognize a book in which a Mexican American is the protagonist. Happily, book cover of MarioCharlesbridge had the foresight to publish the book in Spanish as well. I have a feeling Mario is going to become a classroom staple in both languages,” commented Cynthia Weill, director of Bank Street’s Center for Children’s Literature.

Three Cook honorees were also named: Hedy Lamarr's Double Life by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling); Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty (Roaring Brook); and Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate by Sara Levine, illustrated by Masha D’Yans (Millbrook).

Unlike most children’s literature honors, both the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize are judged by children. “A child-centered approach is the essence of the Bank Street philosophy,” says Weill. “Teachers around the world did a masterful job developing creative, online critical thinking activities to help guide their students in making a final choice.”

Despite the challenges administering the award during the current pandemic in which most schools are closed, the child judges took their charge seriously. “I noticed that the pictures were very detailed. I like the picture of Mario doing experiments in the bathroom,” commented third grader Alex, describing a stand-out feature of the Cook Prize winner. Commenting on the Irma Black Award winner, second grader Ben said, “The Crayon Man is a good nonfiction book that inspires kids to make their own inventions that could change the world.”

The months-long process of evaluating and discussing the books offers young learners numerous ways to develop their skills. Barbara Shostal, librarian at Hunter College Elementary School, says the process offers "the practice of essential information fluency skills of compare and contrast, understanding the differences between fiction and nonfiction, formulating opinions from evidence gotten from the text, practicing visual literacy, and appreciation of art. It's the perfect package.”

The planned May 14th award ceremony with keynoter Sophie Blackall has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Bank Street organizers plan to post acceptance videos, written speeches, and commentary from children judges on the Cook and Irma Black webpages. 

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