I got an email last Friday telling me that I was named as a recipient of the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award for A Crow of His Own! I had to keep this amazing news a secret for the past few days (which was not easy) but now I can shout (err…crow?) it from the rooftops!
I will be at The Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the Thad Cochran Center on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, MS April 6-8, 2016 to accept the award on Thursday April 7 as a part of this amazing festival. New Writer Medalist Don Tate, New Illustrator Medalist Phoebe Wahl, fellow New Writer Honor winner Julia Sarcone-Roach, and New Illustrator Honor winners Ryan T. Higgins and Rowboat Watkins will also be recognized. Look here for more information about the festival, which is celebrating and honoring an incredible group of writers, artists, and scholars.
I’m so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection for this wonderful honor. It’s humbling to see my first picture book included in this group, and I love that this recognition will shine a light on illustrator David Hyde Costello’s work. He’s such a dear friend, a hugely talented artist, and he took my story and made it his own, too. (Note to self: plan on a long blog post all about David’s picture books and his outstanding school programs. Note to all teachers and librarians reading this post: invite him to present at your site!). And my incredible editor, Yolanda Scott, and the whole team at Charlesbridge Publishing have been amazing at every step of this book’s life.
I’m also very proud that Crow is being recognized by an award that specifically highlights books “that portray the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family, and the multicultural nature of our world.” When I was growing up, Keats’s books provided me, a white girl in rural Vermont, with images of racially and ethnically diverse children and urban beauty. Now, as the mother of children of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, I’m appreciative of the ways that Keats’ work provides mirrors to my children of color, and I am aware of how he helped pave the way for other writers and artists, including people of color, to make their marks in children’s books, too.
There’s so much more to be done. First as a student, and now in my teaching at Simmons College I’ve engaged in critical analysis of children’s books, and I’ve tried to raise issues about representation, inclusion, and diversity in my writing for the Horn Book. In my recent shift to creative writing I am committed to the truth that We Need Diverse Books. With Crow I attempted to heed this call for diversity, not with a story about people of color, but with one that included a white gay couple, Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin, whom David based on two of his friends. They cheer Clyde on as he tries to find a crow of his own–another way of saying that he tries to be his true self and figures out how he can fit into his new community at Sunrise Farm. I came out as bisexual when I was 18, and I co-parent with my ex-wife, so I have a personal stake in writing LGBTQ characters; but this isn’t just about my identity, or about my hope that children’s literature will continue to expand to include diverse family constellations that reflect the realities of children like mine. It’s about making space for a range of diverse voices that have been silenced or shamed, marginalized or drowned out, in children’s literature and beyond. I hope that Clyde, with a crow of his own, and Farmer Kevin and Farmer Jay, too, can follow in Peter’s snowy footsteps to play a small part in claiming that space.