Never mind what President-elect Donald Trump said about Rep. John Lewis last week. Today, the 76-year-old congressman and civil rights activist won yet another prize for his graphic memoir, “March: Book Three”: the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature.
The book — which, in the wake of Trump’s disparaging tweets about Lewis (D-Ga.), moved up the bestseller list — last fall became the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, it describes Lewis’s work as a young man in the 1960s during the civil rights movement.
The latest award — the Walter, as it’s known — is given annually by We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), a nonprofit organization that promotes diversity in children’s publishing. (Last year’s award went to Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for “All American Boys.”)
Responding to the news that he had won the Walter, Lewis said via email: “I am deeply moved for our book to receive this award. It is my hope that it will inspire more people to read and to use their pen to inspire another generation to speak up and speak out.”
As part of its commitment to promoting literacy, WNDB also announced plans to donate at least 2,000 copies of “March: Book Three” to U.S. schools with limited budgets.
Powell, who won an Eisner Award in 2009 for “Swallow Me Whole,” said he appreciates WNDB’s efforts to bring more voices to children’s literature. “It’s more crucial than ever to illuminate the breadth and depth of human experience,” he said. “As storytellers, readers and viewers, we’re all engaged in a struggle between replications of an accepted, dominant narrative and stories that show us precisely how rich and varied people’s perspectives can be. It’s an honor to help bring some of those experiences to life. We can’t let our neighbors’ voices be swept under the rug.”
Aydin, who works as Lewis’s digital director and policy adviser, was born in Atlanta in 1983, long after the civil rights movement, but the two men have demonstrated an extraordinary partnership over these three graphic memoirs, which have been winning awards since the first volume was published in 2013.
“It is an incredible honor to be recognized by an organization that is doing such important work,” Aydin said via email. “I deeply admire all that We Need Diverse Books is working to accomplish and find particular joy in this award.”
WNDB also announced three “honorees,” or finalists, for the Walter award: “Watched” by Marina Budhos (Wendy Lamb), “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo (Flatiron) and “The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte).
Terry Hong, one of the judges, said, “In this time of profound change within our national leadership, we’re relieved to know that the right books can serve as ideal antidotes against xenophobia, prejudice, intolerance, hate and every negative, hurtful, limiting -ism out there.”
Lewis, Aydin and Powell will formally receive the Walter at a private ceremony at the Library of Congress on March 31.
For this year’s prize, the judges considered 68 fiction and nonfiction young-adult titles published in 2016 by authors whose work featured a diverse main character or addressed diversity. The Walter is named for children’s and young-adult author Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014), who served as the Library of Congress’s national ambassador for young people’s literature.
Ron Charles is the editor of Book World. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles.