This year, we finally saluted the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by remembering the day of his birth with a national holiday. How appropriate then that children's literature be enriched by a work of art so inspiring it too has earned notice: the 1986 Coretta Scott King Award. Given annually since 1970, the award is designed to "commemorate and foster the life, works and dreams" of King and to honor his widow for continuing to seek peace and world brotherhood. Author Virginia Hamilton is a deserving recipient.
To cite Hamilton's many awards is beside the point, but it is worth mentioning that her "M. C. Higgins, the Great," published in 1974, won more honors than any other children's book, including the John Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Honor Book and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Now, in "The People Could Fly," she revives our literary heritage with 24 American black folktales, poignant all.
Told in easy-to-understand dialect, the stories echo the voices of fugitives and slaves, some of whom were the authors' ancestors. We are reminded of the deep sorrow and fears of an oppressed people, but also that the human spirit, however enslaved, still feels love and hope. It is this spirit Hamilton celebrates.