On a beautiful Saturday in late August, I headed to the Nashville Public Library with my young daughters to attend an event called the Coretta Scott King Awards Book Fair. At this event, children and teens engaged in writing and art workshops, presented by award-winning authors and illustrators. I’d never heard of it before and quickly learned that neither had many parents I know, not to mention even library and teacher colleagues of mine.

The event celebrates the Coretta Scott King Awards, those authors and illustrators who have received the award, and books that (as the Award states) demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture. I asked the organizer and founder of the event, Collette Hopkins, who is also the Education Coach for Families First, as well as the Projector Director of CASA, both in Atlanta, if she could answer some questions about the festival—particularly, for those who may be interested in bringing it to their own cities.

When did the Coretta Scott King Awards Book Fair begin?

The actual concept began with the birth of my daughter, Amber. I was looking for books in order to build her a library and purchased Africa Dream by Eloise Greenfield. I noted that it was a Coretta Scott King Award–winning book and did my research (including meeting the author) to understand what that meant. Of course, as an educator, I had heard of the Caldecott, Newbery and other awards for children’s literature, but I hadn’t heard of the Coretta Scott King Awards. I started collecting the books, meeting the authors and illustrators, and sharing these amazing books and information about the awards with other parents and educators. When I became a PTA President, I developed the idea for my daughter’s school and invited Eloise Greenfield to come to her school, and all of the children received autographed copies of her book—and Eloise became a lifelong friend. Later, when I became Director of Education for the National Black Arts Festival, I was able to grow the concept and to serve many more children.

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What is the purpose of the Fair?

There are many purposes of the Coretta Scott King Awards Book Fair. The first is, of course, to share with the larger community information about the awards and these amazing books, authors, and illustrators. The second is to put these books into the hands of as many children as possible and to create a love of reading and appreciation of the visual arts through this experience. 

Who sponsors the Coretta Scott King Awards Book Fair and makes it possible for children to receive free books at the events?

The events have been sponsored by public libraries, PTAs, festivals, individuals, businesses, and organizations. The level of sponsorship determines whether or not there will be authors and illustrators available and the number of books that we can give away. We have never had an event when we were unable to give away at least one title.

At CultureFest in Nashville, you presented the author Sharon Draper and the illustrator R. Gregory Christie. Why were they perfect for this event?

It was my first time working with Sharon Draper, and she was absolutely amazing. Her writing workshops for children were so engaging. I loved the fact that she used her lunch break to work individually with a young “author” who had brought her work for Sharon to read. Sharon and I are already talking about our next projects. 

R. Gregory was one of the first Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrators with whom I worked, so I knew how great he is with young people. This year he surprised me by having children bind and illustrate their own books. R. Gregory is also one of the featured visual artists in our Ashley Bryan Traveling Exhibit, which presents the work of three visual artists who have won a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. The exhibit features the work of R. Gregory Christie, Shadra Strickland and Michele Wood. We are looking to expand this exhibit to include the work of other Coretta Scott King Award illustrators.

Who have been some of the past presenters?

All of our Coretta Scott King Award authors and illustrators have been presented in partnership with several amazing institutions, which have included the National Black Arts Festival, the Atlanta Fulton Public Libraries, the High Museum, the Hammonds House Museum, the Spelman College Museum, the ChildrAngelica Washingtonen’s Museum of Atlanta, the Links, the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Penn Center. The authors and illustrators have included Jerry Pinkney and the Pinkney Family, Faith Ringgold, Tom Feelings, Ashley Bryan, Walter Dean Myers, Kadir Nelson, Baba Wague Dakite, Eloise Greenfield, Michele Wood, Shadra Strickland and, of course, Sharon Draper and R. Gregory Christie.

How often does the Coretta Scott King Award Book Fair occur?

There is no set schedule for the events of the Fair. It depends on if and when we are invited and, of course, the availability of resources.

How can an interested librarian or teacher get the Fair to come to his or her school or community?

If someone is interested in hosting any aspect of the Coretta Scott King Awards Book Fair, they can reach out to me at chopkins@DiasporaU.org. I would love to work with them to share this amazing experience with other communities and audiences.

What else would you like people to know about the Coretta Scott King Award Book Fair?

First of all, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share information about this experience with your audience. Secondly, I would like for people to know that the Book Fair includes a menu of eight different components that are presented together or separately. They are: (1) the book give-away; (2) the film festival; (3) the storytelling component; (4) the author workshop; (5) the illustrator workshop; (6) the puppet-making working workshop; (7) the hands-on experience; and (8) a children’s newsletter developed to teach about Coretta Scott King, the award, the books, the authors and the illustrators.

Photo above right: (from left to right) Angelica Washington, Collette Hopkins (interviewee), author Sharon Draper, storyteller Mama Koku, and illustrator R. Gregory Christie

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.