Bank Street Hosts Inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award Ceremony and Educational Program

Give Me a Snickle!; Me and the Family Tree

On March 9, the Children’s Book Committee (CBC) at Bank Street College hosted its inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award Ceremony and Educational Program recognizing excellence in literature for infants and toddlers.

Established to honor late children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, a former Bank Street student and member of the Bank Street Writers Lab best-known for classic titles like The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, the new prize is designed to recognize high-quality board books for children ages 0 to 3. This year, Give Me a Snickle! by Alisha Sevigny was named the winner in the 0-18 months category and Me and the Family Tree, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin, was named the winner in the 19-36 months category.

“Our hope is that this new award will highlight the importance of reading to babies and toddlers and that publishers will be encouraged to create more and higher quality titles in this genre,” said Cynthia Weill, Director, Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature. “We are proud to honor Margaret Wise Brown’s contributions to the canon of children’s literature through this award, and we appreciate all who contributed to this work.”

In addition to the brief awards ceremony, the event included an educational program featuring a keynote address by Dr. Perri Klass, National Medical Director, Reach Out and Read, and a panel discussion titled “The Ones They Come Back to: What Makes a Best Board Book?” The panel was moderated by Rachel Payne, GSE ’95, Coordinator, Early Childhood Services, Brooklyn Public Library, and featured children’s book authors/illustrators Antonette Portis, I’m Up!; LeUyen Pham, Whose Knees Are These?; Anne Wynter, One Big Day; and Steven Light, Black Bird Yellow Sun.

In her informative presentation, Dr. Klass focused on the importance of reading in infant and toddler development and discussed Reach Out and Read’s work to integrate reading aloud into pediatric care. 

In addition, she shared research findings on the impact of the program. For example, among families served by Reach Out and Read, parents are 2.5 times more likely to read to their children and children’s language development is improved by three to six months.

“Young children learn through relationships and interactions,” said Dr. Klass, who explained that board books “yield high-quality, language-rich parent-child interactions…they help families build daily routines, bedtime rituals, which can buffer stress for children in adverse circumstances. They also decrease parental stress and increase parents’ sense of self-efficacy and, all the while, children are being exposed to print, to letters, to story structure, to sequence, developing those positive associations with books and stories, which yield preschool readiness, school readiness.”

After the keynote address, the panel discussion explored considerations for creating words and art for a young audience that is still learning spoken language and the process for translating picture books into board book format.

“The language is simple and there’s repetition. And it has a beautiful beat to it. I think it is so important that you read out loud as you’re writing so that it has this rhythm—it’s just like a catchy song,” said Portis. “That sense that a board book is simple and graspable and ownable [for children is important]…you don’t know how to read yet, but you’ve memorized it so you are the master of the book, and when you turn the pages, you know what it says. Giving kids that gift is just so great.”

Winners of the biennial Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award are identified by the CBC as part of its annual review process for the Best Children’s Books of the Year list and juried by experts in early childhood education and children’s literature. This year’s selection process also included input from Jeannette Corey, Director, Bank Street Family Center, and Family Center teachers, who read the nominated books to infants and toddlers and shared feedback with the jury.

In addition to Dr. Perri Klass and Rachel Payne, the 2023 award jury included Leonard Marcus, children’s literature historian, author, and critic; Dr. Mark Nagasawa, Director, Straus Center for Young Children & Families, Bank Street College; Takiema Bunche Smith, Senior Advisor, Center on Culture, Race & Equity, Bank Street Education Center; and Dr. Ofelia García, Bank Street Trustee and Professor Emerita at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York.

Additionally, the CBC also released its first-ever Best Board Books of the Year, featuring a selection of the best board books published in 2021 and 2022. 

Watch a recording of the event