Congratulations to my good friend and publishing partner, Janet S. Wong, who is the 2021 recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, for her whole body of work for young readers. I think she is the perfect choice, but I am rather biased since I’ve known Janet for decades and have collaborated closely with her in publishing teaching anthologies of poetry since 2012 when we established Pomelo Books. You’ll find biographical info about Janet in many places: her parents were Chinese and Korean, she grew up in California, went to law school at Yale, and worked as a high-powered lawyer at Universal Studios. But then she left law and began writing for young readers creating beautiful collections of poetry, engaging picture books, and fascinating nonfiction. I first met Janet as a fan at a conference asking for an autograph on her first book. Flash forward and now she’s been on Oprah, a guest at the White House, and has served on numerous committees in several professional organizations. Plus, she’s a frequent speaker in schools, libraries, and at conferences. But in addition to all her accomplishments, she’s also a good friend to many people (including me!), a real advocate for literacy, and an innovator with an entrepreneurial spirit. She is so worthy of this important award for all her work, but also for how she lifts up other poets and writers too. She is a force-- pushing poetry out-out-out to as many readers as she can reach!
Janet will be presented the award at the November convention of the National Council of Teachers of English-- hopefully in-person!
The NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children
The National Council of Teachers of English established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her lifetime achievement in works for children aged three to thirteen years. The award was given annually until 1982, at which time it was decided that the award would be given every three years. In 2008 the Poetry Committee updated the criteria and changed the time frame to every other year. The National Council of Teachers of English strives to recognize and foster excellence in children’s poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays. As one means of accomplishing this goal, NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children to honor a poet for his or her aggregate work. More than twenty leading poets have since been recognized. Each met the following criteria:
NCTE Poetry Award Criteria
Literary Merit (art and craft of aggregate work–as poet or anthologist)
Creating books of poetry that demonstrate imagination, authenticity of voice, evidence of a strong persona, and universality/timelessness are essential. In short, we are looking for a poet who creates poetry books that contain clean, spare lines; use language and form in fresh ways; surprise the reader by using syntax artistically; excite the reader’s imagination with keen perceptions and sharp images; touch the reader’s emotions: a maker of word events.
Poet’s or Anthologist’s Contributions
Aggregate work, evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft, and excellence are considered.
Evolution of the Poet’s or Anthologist’s Work
Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry, evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina, and evidence of different styles and modes of expression are considered.
Appeal to Children
Although the appeal to children of a poet’s or anthologist’s work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criteria for evaluation. Evidence of students’ excitement for the poetry and evidence of childlike quality should be present, yet the work’s potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent.
Recipients of the NCTE Poetry Award
2021 Janet S.Wong
2019 Paul B. Janeczko
2017 Marilyn Nelson
2015 Marilyn Singer
2013 Joyce Sidman
2011 J. Patrick Lewis
2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006 Nikki Grimes
2003 Mary Ann Hoberman
2000 X. J. Kennedy
1997 Eloise Greenfield
1994 Barbara Esbensen
1991 Valerie Worth
1988 Arnold Adoff
1985 Lilian Moore
1982 John Ciardi
1981 Eve Merriam
1980 Myra Cohn Livingston
1979 Karla Kuskin
1978 Aileen Fisher
1977 David McCord
Look for Another Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-winning Poets, edited by Bernice Cullinan and Deborah Wooten, an anthology of poems by NCTE Poetry Award recipients (up to the year of the book’s publication). It is an excellent resource, based on children’s votes for their favorite poems by each award winner. It is a very child-friendly collection of some of the best poetry by some of the best poets who have ever written poetry for children. Plus, it includes biographical information about, sketches of, and quotations from the award-winning poets.
And don’t miss the “NCTE Poets Spotlight Series” by author Renée LaTulippe which features in-depth look at each award-winning poet and their work. For example:
Now head on over to Reflections on the Teche where the lovely Margaret Simon is hosting Poetry Friday. See you there!