The 1999 Carter G. Woodson Book Awards

For more than twenty-five years, National Council for the Social Studies has honored selected children’s books for their emphasis on ethnic minorities and race relations in the United States. The idea emerged from the 1973 Committee on Racism and Social Justice chaired by Dr. James Banks. The focus of this committee is to monitor, support, and encourage the efforts of NCSS with regard to equity issues. When the award was first presented in 1974, there were few books available to review, much less to honor. That is no longer the case.

This year, the Carter G. Woodson Committee received many books to review that had already won a major literary award—including Caldecott and Newberry winners. This made the selection process more challenging, but we were encouraged to know that the dreams of Dr. Banks and many others were coming to fruition, as the choices among the books children are encouraged to read now represent a cornucopia of American diversity.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, for whom this award is named, is often acclaimed as the “Father of Negro History.” One of nine children, he was born in Virginia at a time when public education was for whites only. He moved to West Virginia to go to high school, received a bachelor’s degree from Berea College, a master’s from the University of Chicago, and was the second African American (W.E.B. DuBois was the first) to earn a doctorate at Harvard.

Dr. Woodson founded and edited the Journal of Negro History, and followed DuBois as the editor of Crisis. For many years, while Dubois was occupied with his work with the NAACP, Woodson was the only active research historian looking at the stories of African Americans in our history. In 1915, he and his colleagues founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, a group that hoped to confront racism in books, periodicals, and newspapers. In 1926, that association introduced the idea of Negro History Week, which they believed should coincide with the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In later years, that evolved into the present day Black History Month.

The Carter G. Woodson Award Committee is not limited to a focus on African Americans, although a large number of the books it reviews are accounts of the black experience in the United States. Today, we also look for challenges to, and stories of, other ethnic minorities in America, as one can learn by reading the books honored this year.

These reviews are provided as introductions to this year’s winners in hope that educators, librarians, parents, and others will choose these books for children with the confidence of knowing that they are both good literature and good history. They are unforgettable stories that challenge our stereotypes and enrich our understanding of who we are—Americans all.

—Dr. Judy D. Butler, Chair, 1999 Carter G. Woodson Committee

 

1999 Carter G. Woodson Secondary Award Winner

EDMONIA LEWIS: WILDFIRE IN MARBLE

By Rinna Evelyn Wolfe (Parsippany, NJ: Dillon Press)

Reviewed by Carrie Sorenson, Omaha Public Schools, Omaha, Nebraska

“The mind and heart, not color, make the man and woman, too.” This is the motto that 15-year-old Mary Edmonia Lewis encountered when she entered Oberlin College, near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1859. Oberlin, a stop for slaves on the Underground Railroad, was one of the first schools of higher education to admit blacks and women as students. Her formal education in art and design, combined with her inner strength and determination, led Lewis to international fame as a sculptor, a field dominated in her day by white males.

This is a fascinating account of a woman of racially-mixed heritage who learned and loved the ways of both African and Native (Chippewa Tribe) Americans. “Wildfire” was Edmonia’s Native American name, and it fits this tiny, spunky woman, who at school sometimes struggled with the routines and social skills demanded by white society.

Edmonia left Oberlin in 1863 for Boston and beyond, eventually settling in Rome, where she lived for many years. Her piece entitled Madonna Holding the Christ Child was blessed by Pope Pius IX. Her works are being re-discovered today and hang in the Harvard Art Museum and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.

Rinna Evelyn Wolfe has produced a well-written account of an outstanding woman. Her presentation of Edmonia’s life provides us with a glimpse at a hard-won success. The book is suitable for middle and secondary students studying the pre-Civil War and Civil War era. The mind and heart of Edmonia made her a woman of excellence.

 

1999 Secondary Honor Book

LIFE IN A JAPANESE AMERICAN INTERNMENT CAMP

By Diane Yancy (San Diego, CA: Lucent Books)

Reviewed by Dr. Judy Butler, State University of West Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia

This is the latest in the series The Way People Live, which aims to strip away stereotypes of groups and periods of time in search of the personal aspects of life. The author presents a historically accurate and detailed story of what happened to some Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II. Although most Americans today view the Japanese internment as a terrible mistake, the atonement and apologies have been long in coming.

Executive Order 9066 set into motion the evacuation and incarceration of thousands (as many as 121,000) of Japanese Americans. At first, volunteers were called for. Eventually, virtually all Americans of Japanese descent who resided on the west coast were relocated in desolate outposts throughout the country. Most went along humbly. Those who resisted were put into high security camps. Japanese (as well as Italians and Germans) who were perceived as dangerous were housed on a campus operated by the Justice Department.

This book chronicles many aspects of the daily life of the internees—including where they lived (some were housed in cow stalls), holiday celebrations, schooling for children, sports competitions, and religious services. For example, the camp in Crystal City, Texas, had three high schools, each with a curriculum not unlike that which students take today.

It is difficult and disturbing for children and young people today to realize that the internment of Japanese Americans is not just a story, but really happened. They want to know why. This book, full of pictures, quotes, and examples, will embellish any study of the World War II era.

 

1999 Secondary Honor Book

WOMEN OF HOPE: AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE

By Joyce Hansen (New York: Scholastic Press)

Reviewed by Lyn Vlaskamp, Friends Seminary, New York City, New York.

Women of Hope is a worthy addition to every library. The book highlights the lives and accomplishments of twelve black women. It honors “courageous, creative women of color whose persistence and vision gave society hopefulness and inspiration–an inspiration we still seek today.” (Moe Foner, Executive Director and Founder, Bread and Roses Cultural Project).

Hansen’s beautiful and vivid writing helps describe the essence of the lives of these twelve women, as their experiences helped them to shape their goals of bringing truth, justice, and positive change to society. Her narrative is supported by large sepia-toned portraits of the women.

Two additional gems found at the end of the book are an annotated bibliography and an annotated listing of other African American women whose lives demonstrate(d) the courage needed to overcome obstacles of race and gender. These black women’s lives represent a living legacy of hope and courage for others who seek to follow them.

Hansen is an accomplished author of many books depicting the lives of African Americans. Her choice of what information to provide about each subject demonstrates a sensitive understanding and accurate knowledge of both the individual and the time period. Her style of writing is appropriate for readers of almost all ages. This is a book that well deserves a place on a shelf—in the library, classroom, or home.

 

 

1999 Carter G. Woodson Elementary Award Winner

STORY PAINTER: THE LIFE OF JACOB LAWRENCE

By John Duggleby. Illustrated with selected artwork by Jacob Lawrence. (San Francisco: Chronicle Books)

Reviewed by Dr. Dee Storey of Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, Michigan.

Born in New Jersey in 1917, Jacob Lawrence learned early that while life could be frustrating and sometimes depressing, it was also rewarding and well worth the living. His parents were part of the mass migration of African Americans to the North in search of safety and jobs. Jake, as he was nicknamed, moved around a lot as a child, and was raised primarily by his mother after his father left the family. Although times were always tough, Jake loved living in Philadelphia with its wide-open spaces, interesting places, and historical buildings.

Eventually, Jake’s mother moved her family to New York City in search of a job. Life in Harlem was like living on another planet. Jake had always loved to draw, but the world of Harlem was filled with sights and sounds that gave his drawings new energy. His mother enrolled him in the Utopia Children’s Center after school, in the hope that it would keep him from getting involved with gangs. It was there that he became fascinated with black history and how to depict it in his drawings.

At the 1999 NCSS Annual Conference in Orlando, author John Duggleby warmly recalled his conversations with Jacob Lawrence about this book, and Lawrence’s positive reaction to it. The author’s explanations of one artist’s life are thought provoking and informational. The art work is varied and vibrant, and its manner of presentation invites even the reluctant reader to take a peek. Dispersed throughout the book are text boxes containing parts of poems, songs, and speeches that celebrate black pride. In sum, this book’s rich blend of creativity and authenticity makes it a fine resource for all teachers and students..

 

1999 Elementary Honor Book

THE RICHES OF OSEOLA McCARTY

By Evelyn Coleman. Illustrated by Daniel Minter (Morton Grove, Il: Whitman & Company)

Reviewed by Dr. Karen Selby, Kalamazoo College,
Kalamazoo, MI

This story constitutes a retelling of the American Dream. It traces the life of an American who began life in poverty and, through hard work and determination, was ultimately able to share financial success with the community through an act of philanthropy. The subject is a woman of color and the business she founded a laundry. In July 1995, Oseola McCarty donated $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg in order to help parents seeking a good education for their children.

Readers should find it engaging to learn how a young girl born into difficult circumstances could learn a trade, support her family, and save enough money to help its members establish a business. The story of her life is a remarkable testament to the power of one woman’s gentle grace.

The book also provides a good springboard for discussing the role of both individuals and African American churches in the development of communities between the end of slavery and the rise of the civil rights movement. While students are often exposed to the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., they are rarely provided with examples of how unknown individuals—working beyond the glare of the media—have often brought important changes to their communities. Oseola McCarty is one such individual.

Teachers may want to enrich study of this book by visiting the website about Ms. McCarty developed by the University of Southern Mississippi [www.pr.usm.edu/oolamain.htm].

 

1999 Elementary Honor Book

CELEBRATING CHINESE NEW YEAR

By Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith. Photographs by Lawrence Migdale (CITY: Holiday House)

Reviewed by William D. Edgington, Sam Houston State University

The team of Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith and Lawrence Migdale has come up with another gem. (Their Buffalo Days was a 1998 Carter G. Woodson Elementary Honor Book.) This time, their combined talents at narrative and photography have produced a vivid depiction of Chinese culture centered on events surrounding Chinese New Year.

Through the eyes of Ryan, a boy living in San Francisco, the book looks at aspects of the holiday—such as preparations, honoring ancestors, and the New Year’s menu. It offers marvelous insights into the significance of Chinese New Year and its manner of celebration by Chinese people and those of Chinese descent around the world. The challenge of integrating important cultural practices, customs, and beliefs into the modern world is subtly hinted at throughout the book, and teachers and children will enjoy seeing how time-honored traditions of ancient China are still observed today.

This book includes a glossary and information on how to learn more about the Chinese New Year’s Parade. G