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The Coretta Scott King Book Awards: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. King

Coretta Scott King Awards bronze seal

As we celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s a great time to recognize the value of authors and illustrators who continue to carry his message into the world. This is the goal of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. According to the American Library Association (ALA), these awards are presented annually to African American authors and illustrators whose books for children and young adults “demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” 

About the Award

The Coretta Scott King Book Award was established in 1969 by Mabel McKissick and Glyndon Greer at the annual conference of the ALA. The first award was presented to Lillie Patterson for her middle-grade biography titled Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace (Garrard, 1969). During the 50+ years since its inception, the award has grown and evolved.  

In 1982, ALA’s  Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table joined with the Coretta Scott King Task Force to form the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. Since that time, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards have been recognized as an official ALA award.

Currently, two separate awards are given, one to an author and one to an illustrator, and three books in each category are named as honor books. Additionally, the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Author Award honors new African American authors and illustrators, and the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes an author in even-numbered years and an illustrator in odd-numbered years.


Past Winners of the Illustrator Award

In 2023, the illustrator award was given to Frank Morrison for Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022).

Standing in the Need of Prayer book cover

Other past winners of the illustrator award include Kadir Nelson in 2020 for The Undefeated (Versify, 2019), which was also awarded the 2020 Caldecott Medal; Christopher Myers in 2015 for Firebird (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019), Misty Copeland’s tribute to young dancers with a dream; and photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. in 2010 for My People (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009), in which sepia-tone photos beautifully enhance the text.  


Past Winners of the Author Award

In 2023, the  author award was given to Amina Luqman-Dawson for Freewater (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022), a middle-grade historical fiction novel about the harrowing journey to freedom of two children who escape from the plantation where they are enslaved. Widely praised for its lyrical writing and gripping storyline, Freewater was also the winner of the 2023 Newbery Award.

Freewater book cover


Past winners of the author award include Jerry Craft in 2020 for his groundbreaking graphic novel New Kid (Quill Tree Books, 2019), which also received the 2020 Newbery Award and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature; Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for March Book: Three (Top Shelf Productions, 2016), which was the winner of several prestigious awards, including the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; and Jacqueline Woodson in 2015 for Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin, 2014), an autobiographical novel-in-verse that received multiple honors, including the National Book Award.


Coretta Scott King Awards bronze seal


The Seal

Books that have received the Coretta Scott King Book Awards can be identified by the award’s iconic seal. Winners receive a bronze seal, and honorees receive a silver seal. Designed in 1974 by artist Lev Mills, the seal reflects both the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideals of the Coretta Scott King Awards. 

The circle represents continuity, the dove is symbolic of peace, rays of sunshine reach for peace and brotherhood, and the pyramid is representative of both strength and the Atlanta University, where the seal was designed. At the center, an African American child reads a book.

Mills also included five non-sectarian symbols as a sign of world unity. The Star of David, the Latin Cross, Om, Tao, and the Star and Crescent appear beneath the child.


Looking Ahead

The 2024 Coretta Scott King Book Awards will be announced soon, at ALA’s winter meeting. To be eligible for the awards, authors and illustrators must live in the United States or maintain dual residency or citizenship, and books must have been published in 2023. All applications had to be submitted by December 31, 2023. Stay tuned and watch for the announcement!

In the words of Coretta Scott King, “It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.” As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us also celebrate the authors and illustrators who carry his legacy forward and provide young readers with books that have the power to bring about positive change.