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‘Freewater,’ a tale of escaped enslaved people, wins Newbery Medal

Amina Luqman-Dawson’s novel won the highest honor in children’s literature. ‘Hot Dog’ named best picture book.

Amina Luqman-Dawson is the author of “Freewater,” which on Monday won the 2023 John Newbery Medal for Children's Literature. (The Washington Post illustration/Robert Dawson/Little, Brown)
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Amina Luqman-Dawson’s book “Freewater” won the John Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature on Monday. The award is considered the highest honor for a children’s book in the United States.

Set in the early 1800s, the novel follows 12-year-old Homer, his sister and other members of a community of Black people who had escaped slavery to settle in the Great Dismal Swamp. The village they create is called Freewater.

“I’m so extraordinarily surprised and shocked,” Luqman-Dawson told KidsPost after the announcement. “The best feeling is that hopefully ‘Freewater’ will give teachers, parents and especially kids a new way of talking about history, [about] the terrible hardship of slavery — and also the resistance to it, the strength and love of Black people back then.”

The book grew out of the author’s research into how real-life escapees were able to survive in this dangerous Southern swamp, Luqman-Dawson told KidsPost in an interview in February. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

“Freewater” also received the Coretta Scott King Award, which honors books by Black authors that show “appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”

The American Library Association also chose runners-up, or Newbery Honor books: “Iveliz Explains It All,” by Andrea Beatriz Arango; “The Last Mapmaker,” by Christina Soontornvat; and “Maizy Chen’s Last Chance,” by Lisa Yee. Yee’s novel also won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature. Soontornvat’s book was featured in the 2022 KidsPost Summer Book Club.

The group awarded the Caldecott Medal for best pictures in a book to “Hot Dog,” which was written and illustrated by Doug Salati. It’s about a dog and his human companion who trade their sizzling city for a refreshing day at the beach.

Caldecott Honor awards went to “Ain’t Burned All the Bright,” illustrated by Jason Griffin, written by Jason Reynolds; “Berry Song,” illustrated and written by Michaela Goade; “Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement,” illustrated by Janelle Washington, written by Angela Joy; and “Knight Owl,” illustrated and written by Christopher Denise.

Washington, D.C.-based author Reynolds also won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which celebrates an author whose books contribute greatly to teen literature. Reynolds’s “Stuntboy, in the Meantime” received the Odyssey Award for best audiobook.

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal for best nonfiction book was awarded to “Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration,” by Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki.

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice” received Coretta Scott King author and illustrator honors and the award for excellence in nonfiction for teens. The graphic memoir was written by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.

The American Library Association announced these and other awards Monday morning at its midwinter conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Find more about the youth literature winners at