In the last few years, the American Library Association Youth Media Awards have increasingly recognized nonfiction. By my count, between 1942 and 1983 no Caldecott medals went to nonfiction books. That’s 0 awards in 41 years. In 2014, 2016, and now 2017, the Caldecott medal went to nonfiction picture books. This week Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe won both the Caldecott and a Coretta Scott King Honor.

Other nonfiction books won big at the ALA Awards, too. Freedom in Congo Square, one of my favorite books from last year, won both a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. The graphic novel memoir by John Lewis, March, won the Coretta Scott King Award and the Printz Award (besides snatching both of the nonfiction awards–the Sibert and the YALSA Nonfiction).

Happily I have already reviewed Freedom in Congo Square way back in March but I didn’t do so well getting the other award winners reviewed.I have a review of Giant Squid, the only picture book to win a Sibert Honor, scheduled for later this month.

Portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat as a childI have had Radiant Child on my stack of to-be-reviewed books for about a month now. When I first read the book, it didn’t grab me. But I kept thinking about the art and found myself digging out the book to show people how he used found wood, pieced together, as his canvas. I love the subtle collage elements and the shifts in perspective.

The story itself is about a troubled but brilliant grafitti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work was cut short by his tragic end (which is discussed only in the back matter). One of my favorite parts of the book was the note in the back matter by the author/artist explaining why Basquiat’s work speaks to him.

This is a beautiful book with celebratory images of a Puerto Rican/Haitian boy. It’s fitting that a book about art would win the award for the best art in a children’s book.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. (Little Brown: 2016).

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.