Planting seeds

Planting People Growing Justice book awards promote literacy and diversity in books

Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute (PPGJLI) is committed to building inclusive communities. This is a daily journey that begins with growing futures – one child at a time and one diverse book at a time. Diversity in books is vitally important since it creates both mirrors and windows. These mirrors provide children of color with a positive representation of themselves on the pages of books while the windows help to build cultural bridges across differences. 
“When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human,” Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wisely stated. 
Despite the benefits of diverse books for all children, there is still a lack of diversity in books. You are more likely to see a black bear or black dog on the cover of a book than a Black girl or Black boy. Only 12% of children’s books feature a Black character, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. 
PPGJLI launched a book awards program to celebrate Black authors who are creating mirrors and windows. It has unveiled the winners of its inaugural children’s picture book awards, recognizing exceptional works by authors and illustrators of African descent. This groundbreaking initiative is a significant milestone in the organization’s commitment to celebrating Black artists, showcasing rich cultural histories of the African diaspora, and providing opportunities and resources for children and families to access often-absent narratives.
The announcement comes after a successful submission period that ended on Feb. 1, 2024, that saw an overwhelming response from talented Black artists across the United States. The winners were officially announced on March 29, 2024, and an award ceremony is scheduled for May 18, 2024 at the Rondo Community Library at 3 p.m.
PPGJLI’s children’s book awards aim to promote literacy and diversity by uplifting the voices of Black authors and honoring the creative genius of Black illustrators. The competition categories encompassed various themes, including Best Illustration, Book of the Year, Social Change, and Black History, ensuring a diverse representation of experiences and perspectives.
Among the Minnesota-based winners, Lanesa Bejnarowicz’s delightful illustrations in “Nap Time” secured the Best Illustration award. Pioneering educator Nasra Noor’s motivational story, “My Mommy is a School Teacher,” was named the Book of the Year. In the Social Change category, Isaiah Allen’s “A Smile” received an honorable mention, and Rose McGee’s “Can’t Nobody Make a Sweet Potato Pie Like Our Mama!” captured the hearts of readers and judges alike. Mizz Mercedez’s poignant work, “Going Back to Rondo,” emerged as the winner in the Black History category. This book honors the historical roots of the vibrant Rondo community. Winning artists will receive cash prizes and promotional support from Planting People Growing Justice.
On the national stage, Portia Bright Pittman’s “A Bright Day at the State Capitol: There Ought to be a Law,” and its accompanying activity book claimed the Book of the Year honor. This book serves as an invaluable learning tool for civic engagement. Lesley Bracero and Natoia Franklin’s “BJ Doesn’t Cry” and Elise M. Washington’s “Tika Speaks” both received honorable mentions.
The PPGJLI children’s book awards not only celebrate the artistic achievements of Black authors and illustrators, but also serve as a powerful platform to amplify diverse narratives and promote cultural understanding. With the recognition of these talented creators, PPGJLI aims to inspire the next generation of readers and writers, fostering a more inclusive and equitable literary landscape.
As the award ceremony approaches, anticipation builds for the opportunity to honor these remarkable artists and their contributions to the literary world. PPGJLI’s commitment to promoting literacy, diversity, and social justice through the power of storytelling shines brightly, paving the way for a future where all children can see themselves represented in the books they read.
PPGJ Book Award Winners
Minnesota Authors
Best Illustration
• Lanesa Bejnarowicz, “Nap Time”
Book of the Year
• Nasra Noor, “My Mommy is a School Teacher”
Social Change
• Rose McGee, “Can’t Nobody Make a Sweet Potato Pie Like Our Mama!”
• Isaiah Allen, “A Smile,” *honorable mention
Black History
• Mizz Mercedez, “Going Back to Rondo”
National Book of the Year
• Portia Bright Pittman, “A Bright Day at the State Capitol: There Ought to be a Law” + activity book
• Lesley Bracero and Natoia Franklin, “BJ Doesn’t Cry”, *honorable mention
• Elise M. Washington, “Tika Speaks,” *honorable mention
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Through her organization, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, Dr. Artika Tyner seeks to plant seeds of social change through education, training, and community outreach.


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