Annual children’s literature awards highlight political, social issues

It seems as though the entertainment industry has taken note from last year’s widely criticized Oscar’s ceremony. The prestigious awards were boycotted due to their failure to include minority creators in many of their categories. This year, they have corrected their past plight, and the list of nominees is no longer whitewashed. 

But filmmakers are not the only entertainment leaders to celebrate minorities and important issues. When the American Library Association announced their 2017 young adult and children’s book award winners, book lovers everywhere were pleased to note that many of the nominees and winners were those that tackled racial, political and social issues. 

Nearly all categories of awards produced such progressive winners, with topics ranging from immigration, mental and physical disabilities, politics and race. The Alex Awards are given to “the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences.” Winners in this field include In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by actress Diane Guerrero and Buffering: Unshared Stories of a Life Fully Loaded by YouTube trailblazer Hannah Hart. 

Guerrero’s memoir tells the story of her family’s deportation from America, separating the young actress-to-be from her parents—who still haven’t found a way to leave Columbia again to reunite with their daughter. Guerrero quite obviously points out issues in America’s immigration policy, which remain prominent even today. 

Hart’s Buffering is just as prolific, which details her life dealing with the mental health issues of both her family and herself. Hart, who spends much of her time online teaching her viewers the importance of mental health, shares personal stories about sexuality, self-worth, friendship and family—stories that she has never told her two million subscribers. Hart’s overt emphasis on mental health is rare in young adult and in children’s books, however—and certainly welcome. 

Meanwhile, the Newbery Medal, which is “the highest U.S. award in children’s literature” was given to The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. The fantastical children’s novel is centered on a country that believes that they must sacrifice one child every year to appease an evil witch. In the middle is Luna, a young girl who accidently received magical powers at birth, and her rag-tag family of “a good witch, a swamp monster and a pocket-size dragon.” 

Barnhill’s editor Elise Howard said that the youth novel teaches its young and impressionable readers “about asking questions and making choices and daring to question an authoritarian version of the truth”—certainly relating to the current political atmosphere.

The standout winner, however, was March: Book Three, the third in a graphic novel series written by Representative John Lewis of Georgia, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. The series focuses on Representative Lewis’ early civil rights work, and this third and final installment won not one, but four awards this year. 

This included the Coretta Scott King Book Award—which recognizes an outstanding African American author or illustrator—the Michael L. Printz Award for “excellence in literature written for young adults,” the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for “most distinguished informational book for children” and the Young Adult Library Services Association Award, which recognizes “excellence in nonfiction for young adults.” March’s win was widely supported by librarians across the country who celebrate the book’s potential impact on race relations in the U.S. 

The messages and lessons of these books—that are more radical than their predecessors—will no doubt help to turn their young readers into brave and passionate individuals who are not afraid to participate in both local and worldwide political and social movements.