Bank Street Recognizes Outstanding Books for Children

On May 15, the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature announced the gold and silver medalists of the annual Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature (Irma Black Award) and the Cook Prize

2024 Irma Black Award WinnersThis year, The King Penguin by Vanessa Roeder received the gold medal for the Irma Black Award in recognition of an outstanding book for young children in which the text and illustrations are inseparable, each enriching the other to create a singular whole. Featuring acrylic and pencil artwork, the humorous picture book is about a king penguin want-to-be ruler from Antarctica who realizes through a variety of humbling experiences that a society functions best as a democracy.

“The King Penguin is as timeless as it is hilarious,” said Cynthia Weill, Director of the Center for Children’s Literature. “The book will stimulate many important discussions both at home and in the classroom.”

The award is an international honor as thousands of children from first and second grade classrooms worldwide serve as the final judges for the winning title. Prior to this global voting stage, third and fourth grade students at Bank Street School for Children contribute to the selection process by choosing the finalists.

Silver medalists for the 2024 Irma Black Award include Summer Is for Cousins by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Abhi Alwar; The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music by Roberta Flack with Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Hayden Goodman; and Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang.

The Center for Children’s Literature also announced the winners of the Cook Prize in honor of excellent science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) picture books. This year, the gold medal for the Cook Prize was awarded to author Sy Montgomery and illustrator Matt Patterson for The Book of Turtles, a comprehensive introduction to turtles for young readers that includes suggestions to help save the species and features acrylic paintings, as well as sources.

2024 Cook Prize Award Winners

“I liked The Book of Turtles because it gave me a lot of information, it has magnificent pictures, and the descriptions are like POW!” shared a student from South Dakota.

A librarian added, “All of my library assistants love reading the Cook Prize books with the students. Several say it is their favorite lesson activity of the year. I love the diversity of the books and the fact that students get to pick the winner.”

Similar to the Irma Black Award, the Cook Prize is also an international children’s choice award, voted on by students across the globe from third and fourth grade classrooms. Before the final vote, children review four finalists selected by a panel of judges, which includes faculty from the math and science departments of Bank Street Graduate School of Education and teachers from the School for Children, as well as Graduate School alumni working in math and science education.

Silver medalists for the 2024 Cook Prize include Great Carrier Reef by Jessica Stremer, illustrated by Gordy Wright; Santiago Saw Things Differently: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Artist, Doctor, Father of Neuroscience by Christine Iverson, illustrated by Luciano Lozano; and We Go Way Back: A Book About Life on Earth and How it All Began by Idan Ben-Barak, illustrated by Philip Bunting.

“Every year, we are thrilled to see the enthusiasm of young readers as they engage with exceptional books nominated for the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize,” said Weill. “The Center for Children’s Literature is proud to continue fostering a global community of readers where children are empowered to explore, evaluate, and celebrate the joy of books and reading.”

Earlier this season, the Children’s Book Committee (CBC) at Bank Street College announced the recipients of its annual awards, including the Josette Frank Award for fiction, the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for nonfiction, and the Claudia Lewis Award for poetry.

The Josette Frank Award was presented to The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary D. Schmidt; the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award was presented to The True Story of How Henny Sinding Helped Denmark’s Jews Escape the Nazis by Susan Hood (Older Readers) and The Indestructible Tom Crean: Heroic Explorer of the Antarctic by Jennifer Thermes (Younger Readers); and the Claudia Lewis Award was presented to Kin Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffrey Boston Weatherford (Older Poetry) and At the Poles by David Elliott, illustrated by Ellen Rooney (Younger Poetry).

In an award acceptance video, Susan Hood explained that she came across the true story while visiting Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, where she discovered an old wooden lighthouse supply boat, Gerda lll, used in Denmark’s World War II evacuation of Jewish families. “We all hope that Henny will inspire kids to do the right thing, to stand up to injustice, to know that an individual’s actions can make a difference,” said Hood.

In Carole Boston Weatherford’s acceptance speech, she discussed her inspiration and research process alongside the book’s illustrator, Jeffery Boston Weatherford, who is her son, explaining that only 300 of the 12 million African descendants enslaved in the Americas had their first hand stories told. “That immeasurable loss sent me and Jeffery on a mother-son author-illustrator quest for family lineage and loss narratives.”

She added, “Kin is not only the book of my heart but also of our heritage. Collaborating on Kin with my son was a gift for me. I appreciate the passion that Jeffery poured into the art that he says, and I quote, ‘Literally brings our ancestors out of the darkness and into the light.’”

In addition to recognizing outstanding titles through awards, the Children’s Book Committee also identifies a robust selection of high-quality titles each year through The Best Children’s Books of the Year list. The latest edition includes more than 600 of the best books published in 2023 read and reviewed by committee members.

In January, the committee announced the winners of its Best Spanish Language Picture Book Award/Premio, Mejor Libro Infantil in recognition of outstanding children’s books published or translated in Spanish. All of the contenders for the award were nominated from books that received a star on the CBC’s Los mejores libros infantiles en Español/The Best Children’s Picture Books of the Year in Spanish list of works published or translated in 2022 or 2023.

Visit our website to read more about this year’s awards, watch award acceptance videos, and find additional information about the work of the Center for Children’s Literature and Children’s Book Committee.