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Fiona Robinson Honored at Irma S. Black Award Ceremony

By Rocco Staino on May 21, 2012

Fiona Robinson, author/illustrator of What Animals Really Like (Abrams, 2011), this year’s winner of the Irma S. Black & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, praised the prize for giving kids the opportunity to voice their “frank” opinions about their favorite books.

Robinson’s (right) hilarious picture book, which delivers a subtle message about the dangers of stereotyping, was honored May 17 at New York’s Bank Street College of Education, which sponsors the award in partnership with School Library Journal. Accepting the accolade before 100 teachers, librarians, and kid lit lovers, Robinson said she didn’t realize her book was the perfect read-aloud until she read it last September to an audience at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival.

Irma Black, an annual children’s choice award, invites first- and second-graders from schools and libraries around the world to vote for one of four picture books that best uses words and illustrations to tell a story. More than 9,000 students from as far away as Italy, the British Virgin Islands, and Kazakhstan participated in this year’s event.

For the first time in the award’s 40-year history, the winning title and three other finalists were all created by author/illustrators. They include Peter Brown’s You Will Be My Friend (Little, Brown), about the difficulty of making new friends; Dan Yaccarino’s All the Way to America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel (Knopf), the true story of four generations of an Italian-American family; and J. Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick)about a bear whose hat goes missing.

The event’s keynote speaker, illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, talked about the creative process behind his latest work, Z is for Moose (Harper, 2012), written by Kelly Bingham, and showed excerpts from an upcoming book trailer that includes star-studded voiceovers by Brian Selznick, Brian Floca, Anita Lobel, and the late Maurice Sendak.
“Maurice recorded his voice for me in February, when we last saw him,” Zelinsky says. “It was the first voice I had, and it came before I really had a script, so it inspired some of the rest of the trailer. I also thought that with this in hand, nobody else could turn me down if I asked them to record a voice.”

Jenny Choy of Candlewick spoke on behalf of Klassen, who was unable to attend.

“I like very much that this is an award for books in which the text and pictures are inseparable because that’s the concept that made this book so fun to make.”

The day also included the official unveiling of the Cook Prize, the only book award that honors excellence in informational picture books on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics for elementary school children aged eight to ten.

Administered by the Bank Street College of Education with support from School Library Journal, the Cook Prize is named after Bank Street educators Don Cook of the Graduate School of Education, and Michael Cook (no relation) of the School for Children. The winner is selected in a manner similar to that of the Irma Black award, with third and fourth grade teachers and librarians reading the books aloud, and discussing and encouraging students to vote for their favorite STEM book out of four finalists.

Following in the footsteps of Sendak, creator of the Irma Black Award seal, Floca, who illustrated Moonshot (Antheneum, 2009), has created the Cook Prize seal. Floca spoke about the process of creating images for the seal, which incorporates the image of a tellurian, a moveable model depicting the relationship among the sun, moon, Earth, and Venus.

The inaugural Cook prize went to Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway: the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (Houghton, 2011). The honor book’s are About Hummingbirds (Peachtree, 2011) by Cathryn Sill and John Sill; The Honeybee Man (Schwartz & Wade, 2011, by Lela Nargi and Kyrsten Brooker; and Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story (Farrar, 2011) by Thomas F. Yezerski.