World Tour Blog

August 27, 2013

SJL awardThank you, Karen Lynn Williams, author of many award winning picture books that gently encourage compassion. Karen’s books offer a child’s perspective about what it means to be lose one’s home and as a refugee, live in a strange land and experience rejection and prejudice rather than kindness.

Karen and I share a love of children’s books – writing them and reading them. At different times we spent time living in Malawi, Africa; Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti; and currently, Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. For more about Karen, take a look at her blog site – I guarantee it will be interesting:

My first World Tour post will talk about a new award that recognizes children’s books that show compassion in action. Second I will describe the first picture book winner – The House On Dirty-Third Street by Jo Kittinger.

IRA’s new award: The Social Justice Literature Award

“This brand-new award is presented to honor books that address social responsibility towards individuals, communities, societies, and/or the environment as well as invite reflection and socially responsible action by the reader.”

What is social responsibility – what can it mean to young readers? And how does one create a book that is both meaningful and engaging?
Social responsibility might be saying hello to the new kid in class…picking up trash flying around the playground…refusing to shun or bully another student…or creating a classroom-compost project.

This year’s picture book winner is The House On Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittinger, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez.

The House On Dirty Third StreetThis book presents a realistic look at how hard it is to face being the new kid in a new town moving into the worst house on the block. Jo S. Kittinger has created a believable and powerful story about how individuals within a community can offer the kind of help that makes all the difference between coping and quitting. Thomas Gonzalez’s illustrations softly, gently pull you into the neighborhood, the dirty old house and the beautiful spirit of each person who offers a helping hand.

This book shared by a classroom or a family offers much to think and talk about. How do we help each other? What is community and why do we need one – or several? Why do families sometimes have no place to live, no place to call home? And why is our first reaction to look away, step aside or close a door? A full review of this book can be found at Readerkidz.

As a writer and reviewer of children’s books, I was amazed at the integrity of this book, and its appropriateness for a young reader/ listener.

I asked the author, Jo Kittinger, how she came to write The House on Dirty-Third Street.
jo kittinger

Jo S. Kittinger

Jo replied: My husband, Rick, and I were out of town, searching for an address on 33rd Street. My tongue got twisted and I accidentally said “Dirty-Third Street.” That, or course, caused my writer brain to start imagining what Dirty-Third Street would look like, who would live there, who would call it that. Also, I had helped some friends at church do some repairs in a run-down neighborhood a couple of times, so I had that experience to drawn on. Throw in the fact that I moved a lot as a child and my story began to grow.

I asked Jo: are social-justice “issues” books important and appropriate for young readers? What makes a good one, like yours?

I heard Donna Jo Napoli, an award winning author, talk about this very subject – difficult, serious topics for children. She said that the “unfortunate child”, the one who experiences similar difficult situations, needs to be able to read about other children enduring and rising above those circumstances, to know she is not alone. The other audience–the “sheltered, protected child”–needs to read about those less fortunate so that they can grow to be empathetic, caring people. I try to be as open and honest as I can, while respecting the age-appropriateness of the material. I don’t ever want to talk down to a child, or underestimate what they already know. It’s been wonderful to see this book win awards, to have that confirmation that this is “good.” I think that a good book, focuses on story and emotion. A book that tries to teach or preach a particular viewpoint will always fall flat.

For suggested classroom activities, plus information about Summer on the Moon, click on the link naming these two first winners.

Winners List

2013 Recipients

You can find more information about this new award at IRA’s Literacy and Social Responsibility Special Interest Group website.

  • Coming up later this week: Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachman, a YA contemporary novel that looks at bullying close up and the challenge of being “emotionally different.”

Nancy Bo Flood

As a fish-brain surgeon or a rodeo poem wrangler, I have loved stories. I strongly believe that words – in poetry or prose – help heal our hearts and give us new eyes to see the world. I was first a research psychologist studying brain development at the University of Minnesota and London University before following my passion – writing for children. Learn more...