Center for Children’s Literature

Irma Black Award

The Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award) goes to an outstanding book for young children—a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole. The Irma Black Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book.

Irma Black Award Voting Form

A voting link will be sent to registered participants in May 2021.

Irma Black Award Ceremony

Thousands of children in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the voting process in 2020. The award ceremony scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 2020 with keynoter, Sophie Blackall, two time Caldecott winner, was canceled. However, we are delighted to share with you acceptance speeches and videos from the gold medalists and honorees.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Author: Natascha Biebow, The Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Winner). | May 14, 2020
Natascha Biebow, The Irma Black Award 2020

  • Author: Natascha Biebow, Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Winner) Text.

    Natascha Biebow: Acceptance Speech Text

    It means a great deal to know that so many of children around the world loved The Crayon Man, because the book means a lot to me—and not just because I was lucky enough to tell Edwin Binney’s story. Each time I read it, I’m reminded of two important things:

    • nature is a colorful inspiration – we need to remember to go outside and really LOOK!
    • if we persevere, we can imagine and create anything

    The Crayon Man is a story about an entrepreneur. It resonated with me because my dad too had a knack for listening and making what people needed. He showed me that you should never take no for an answer and go out into the world and be the best you can be. He gave me courage to keep being creative, to be a leader and to take a punt.

    I came to write this story by chance – I was looking for a topic for a book I would write as part of an online writing course. My son and I were watching Sesame Street and we saw a video of the crayons in a myriad of bright colors spewing into the sorting machine. I suddenly remembered the joy of drawing with Crayola crayons, scribbling pictures alongside my many stories.  As a child I’d been given a treasured box of 64, the one that had the sharpener in it. What was the story here? Who had created these crayons? I wondered.

    Once there was a man who saw color EVERYWHERE.

    He admired the yellow orange petals

    • of the black-eyed Susans in his garden.

    He noticed the deep

    • blue greens
    • of the waves in the sea.

    He marveled at the rich

    • scarlet red tones of the cardinal’s feathers.

    Color made him really,

    • really HAPPY!

    But ALL DAY LONG at work, all he saw was black.

    • Black dust,
    • black tar,
    • black smoke,
    • black ink,
    • black dye,
    • black shoe polish.

    His name was Edwin Binney and he was an inventor.

    He lived in a beautiful house in New Greenwich, CT, near the sea. He was known for bringing in bouquets of vibrant, colorful flowers to inspire his team.

    In the early 1900s, children drew mainly with slate and chalk. It seems almost unimaginable today . . . What must that have been like?!

    Alice, Edwin’s schoolteacher wife, told him that what people needed were bright, durable and non-toxic crayons to use in schools. So Edwin listened and Edwin invented, until finally in 1904 he created the first 8 Crayola crayons in a small green box, sold for only a nickel.

    As a picture book editor and Montessori teacher, I feel like I have an affinity with Irma Black and her appreciation for innovative early childhood education and the art of the picture book. I love that so many teachers and librarians took the time to encourage the children who voted for this award to look closely and think critically about all the wonderful books on the shortlist and to discover how, together, the words and the pictures can make a whole larger than the sum of their parts.

    It is also so special that this award gives children a voice in the discussion of what makes a standout picture book. I know they will tell it like it is. As an author with an international background, it is doubly wonderful that children in so many different countries voted for The Crayon Man. Thank you!

    I think Edwin Binney would have been happy to know that children everywhere do indeed love draw in color.

    When I first wrote the book, I had a vision for the pictures – I could see the shift from black and white at the beginning of the story to more and more colors by the end of the book. Edwin Binney starts out working with black all day long in his carbon black factory and, as the book progresses, he succeeds in inventing the first colorful 8 Crayola crayons. I spent a lot of time poring over historical photographs of Binney’s house, his family and the time period – the 1904 World’s Fair and Crayola workers and the factory. Since The Crayon Man is a true story, I felt we had a responsibility to accurately depict Binney’s story. But, when Steven Salerno added his pictures to my words, something magical started to happen. The story’s world was no longer 2D words on the page, but now 3D.

    But more than this, to my vision of the pages changing as readers thumbed through the book, cumulatively accruing increasingly vibrant colors, Steven added a sense of time, place and wonder. He managed to capture the spirit of Edwin Binney the man and his personal journey as an inventor.

    When you pick up a printed picture book, it looks so polished and seamless. It’s difficult to imagine the numerous stages that have happened prior to this one, the decisions about every little detail: what word to use here? What perspective and imagery will best convey this moment in the story? Should the page turn go here for maximum drama? What should the design of the fact boxes look like so they don’t interrupt the narrative? What tone of blue pigment did they have in the 1900s? The making of a picture book is truly a team effort.

    I’m so grateful to Steven Salerno for his fabulous, evocative illustrations, and to the team at HMH, my editor Ann Rider and my agent Victoria Wells Arms for helping to make the book a success. Binney was a visionary inventor and generous philanthropist and it’s been an honor to tell his story and to connect with his family through the book. And of course a big thank you to family and friends near and far for the part you’ve played in the colorful reel of my life to this moment.

    The Crayon Man is a story about looking to nature for inspiration. My mum always encouraged me to go spend time adventuring outside. In these times where many children are disconnected from the outdoors, I hope my book will inspire them to go outside and rediscover nature. Children have a natural sense of wonder, creativity and curiosity, just like Binney. They are, after all, the ones who will be the inventors and artists and who knows what professions of the future.  We need them!

    Let us have the courage to allow children to have the freedom to just be, to go outside and to reconnect.

    I’m so thrilled to win this award! Let us all pick up a crayon, doodle and INVENT!

    Thank you!

  • Children's Comments: The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
    • I liked this book because we learned something new about the history of a crayon witch we use almost every day!
    • I liked it because it is a true story about how we were able to get access to beautiful crayon color drawings. The story was nicely written and I also liked the title Crayon Man – it makes him sound like a superhero. .I also liked the colorful and realistic drawings.
    • This was my favorite book because it was very meaningful to me. It is non-fiction, and I love non-fiction. Also, the author and illustrator worked together really great on the pictures and the writing to create a really beautiful book about such a wonderful inventor. I love Crayola Crayons!
    • I loved The Crayon Man because the story is about how a man invented color. I love to draw and it means a lot to me, without crayons I couldn’t draw cats, trees and flowers and really anything in my imagination.
    • It made me feel how much color there is around us, and how The Crayon Man invented the crayons. It also made me think about going to my color bin, taking out Crayola Crayons, and using them
    • I liked The Crayon Man the best because I loved learning how crayons were made and I loved how there were lots of beautiful colors. The book made me feel like I was there watching it all happen!

    Esme B., 1st Grade
    I like that it’s about children and it’s a true story and it’s about inventing.

    Clyde B., 1st Grade
    I really like the colored words in The Crayon Man.

    Charlie H., 1st Grade
    I liked The Crayon Man the best because I thought that the pictures matched the words.

    Beckett H., 2nd Grade
    Look at The Crayon Man book. It’s really good.  I chose The Crayon Man because it taught me something… How to make crayons!

    Drawing representing all the Irma Black books 2020.

Hair Love
(Kokila Press)
Author: Matthew A. Cherry, The Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Honor Book). | May 14, 2020

  • Children's Comments: Hair Love
    • I really liked the book because her hair looked like mine when I get out of the shower. My hair looks like a cotton candy when I get out the shower.
    • I like Hair Love because it has a lot of purple which is one of my favorite colors and it has a lot of detail. And on one of the pages it has an iPad and it actually shows what the apps look like.
    • I love the dad working his hardest.

    Georgia L., 2nd Grade
    In Hair Love l understand why she wants her hair to be perfect 👌 because I have her hair.

    Penelope S., 2nd Grade
    I found Hair Love inspiring and very sweet. I liked how Zuri and her dad bonded over the course of this book.

Rocket Says Look Up
(Random House Publishers)
Author: Nathan Bryon, The Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Honor Book). | May 14, 2020
Nathan Bryon, The Irma Black Award 2020

  • Children's Comments: Rocket Says Look Up
    • I like Rocket Says Look Up because sometimes it’s not about looking down it’s about looking up at the sky. It’s about a brother and sister that are different and understanding that you have to be able to see what others may see that you might not.
    • I like Rocket Says Look Up because I love space and I think meteor showers are gorgeous.
    • I like this book because 1. When the girl’s dad kept looking at his phone when there was a bunch of water spilling on him and if he looked up it wouldn’t have spilled on him 2. when there was a meteor shower the girl’s dad looked up finally and didn’t look at his phone. It made me feel happy and it reminded me not to be on a phone more than something like 2 hours.

    Oliver K., 2nd Grade, St. Anne’s
    I am voting for ROCKET SAYS LOOK UP because FUNNY! & MAKES ME WANNA’ GO TO SPACE!!!!!!!!

The Most Terrible of All
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster)
Author: Muon Thi Van, The Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Honor Book). | May 14, 2020

  • Author: Muon Thi Van, Irma Black Award 2020. Acceptance Speech (Honor Book) Text.

    Muon Thi Van: Acceptance Speech Text

    Thank you for selecting The Most Terrible of All as an Irma Black Honor Book.

    I’d like to thank Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris-Dontzin, my agents who provided early feedback on the story and found a home for it; Matt Myers, the illustrator who brought the story to life with his fabulously witty art; Karen Wojtyla, Nicole Fiorica, Semadar Megged, Clare McGlade, Tatyana Rosalia, and Lili Feinberg, the S&S/McElderry team that turned this story into a wonderful book and got that book into the hands of readers; and most of all, my family, who make my stories worth telling.

    Thank you for continuing to read my stories and I hope this one made you laugh, and wonder, what would I ask my magic mirror?

  • Children's Comments: The Most Terrible of All
    • I loved it because it is funny and tells kids not to brag about themselves until they are sure that they are correct.
    • I feel I am the most terrible at home. The story makes me feel good because I put myself in their shoes.
    • I liked the book because I like monsters. I think the illustrations really match the words.
    • The illustrations really show out and tell you it is day time.
    • It is realistic and the monsters get badder and badder
    • I loved this book because it was very related to my life, and its color was so vivid and the monster contrast was hilarious. There was a baby, who was the most terrible of all, and then there were adult monsters, which were barely even scary. The Most Terrible of All is definitely The Most Awesome of All.

    Susanna M., 1st Grade
    My vote is The Most Terrible of All. It was cool because you never really knew what was gonna happen next and I also liked it because Smug thought he was the most terrible of all the wild beasts and actually the little baby beast was the one that was the most terrible and it feels like the older one will be the most terrible of the beasts.

    Kieran L., 1st Grade
    Thanks for reading The Most Terrible of All, I loved it! I liked when the baby farted as she was hanging onto Smug. It was really funny.

    Taylor S., 2nd Grade
    I like that there is friendship in The Most Terrible of All.

    Asaiah S., 2nd Grade, St. Anne’s
    I like The Most Terrible of All because it has a good story, it’s funny, and I like the pictures. I think the pictures fit in very well and I like the talking mirror. What I like most about the story is that they’re all monsters.

2020 Irma Black Award

Honor Book

Honor Book


Honor Book
  • Rocket Says Look Up by Nathan Bryon; illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Random House Publishers)
  • Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila Press)
  • The Crayon Man: The Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow; illustrated by Steven Salerno (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • The Most Terrible of All by Muon Thi Van and Matt Myers (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster)

2020 Irma Black Award Winner

The Crayon Man: The Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
by Natascha Biebow; illustrated by Steven Salerno (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Honor Books

  • Rocket Says Look Up by Nathan Bryon; illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Random House Publishers)
  • Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison (Kokila Press)
  • The Most Terrible of All by Muon Thi Van and Matt Myers (Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster)