The Malka Penn Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes, such as discrimination, equity, poverty, justice, war, peace, slavery or freedom. Within these larger themes, the award committee is particularly eager to recognize stories about individuals – real or fictional, children or adults – who have been affected by social injustices, and who, by confronting them, have made a difference in their lives or the lives of others.
This stunning novel-in-verse is based on the true story of Sophie Scholl, who along with her brother Hans and some of his friends, formed White Rose – a secret anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany during World War II. Sophie distributed leaflets urging fellow students to protest the horrors of Hitler's regime. Unfortunately, she and the other members of White Rose were caught, interrogated, and executed.
The novel moves back and forth in time, starting near the end of Sophie's life after her arrest, and going back through her childhood and adolescence. Despite a loving family and a budding romance, a cloud of oppression hangs over her – the relentless war, her mandatory work in a Hitler youth labor camp and an armaments factory, repeated arrests of her brother and father, increasing discriminations and deportations of Jews – until finally she's impelled to take action.
Sophie was proud of what she and the other members of White Rose did, and hopeful that her life would be an inspiration to others. Indeed, her story remains relevant today when human rights are still endangered and the need to speak out is still necessary. - Michele Palmer
2019 HONOR BOOKS
The Bridge Home
by Padma Venkatraman
published by Penguin Random House
The Bridge Home tells a story of homelessness with extraordinary depth, complexity, and honesty. Fleeing their abusive father, eleven-year-old Viji and her sister Rukku, who has developmental disabilities, make their way to the coastal Indian city of Chennai. The girls befriend brothers Arul and Muthu and adopt a stray dog. With resourcefulness and determination, they learn to navigate the challenges of finding food and shelter and protecting themselves from untrustworthy adults, and they quickly evolve into a loyal and protective family. Inspired by the stories of real children growing up homeless in urban India, the book is unsparing in its depiction of the daily danger and tragedy they face. Refusing to ignore endemic realities of abuse, sickness, and death, it also illustrates the children’s ingenuity and strength, and it leaves us with complex feelings of both mourning and hope. When read with recognition of the many children worldwide who experience homelessness and poverty, the book’s themes become universal. It is an extraordinary book for beginning discussions about the human rights of children, the forces that take them away, and the possibilities for taking them back. - Doug Kaufman
Girl of the Southern Sea
by Michelle Kadarusman
published by Pajama Press
While I have had the good fortune of traveling in Southeast Asia—in large cities as well as small villages, in wealthy areas as well as poverty-stricken ones—middle-grade readers will feel equally plunged into the pungent, frantic, and frustrating world of Nia, author Michelle Kadarusman’s young heroine. Nia battles her alcoholic widowed father while caring for her baby brother in the slums of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Longing to go to high school, Nia has her hopes dashed when her father disappears, leaving his banana fritter-selling cart in the market. Nia, ever resilient, takes over the business, continues studying, and writes imaginative folk stories in the little spare time she has. Despite embarrassing and dangerous setbacks, Nia persists towards her dream. Kadarusman pulls no punches in detailing Nia’s world, yet she infuses Nia (and a few dependable adults) with dignity and self-respect. Young readers, especially those facing situations out of their control, will find hope in this story and inspiration to persist. - Pegi Deitz Shea, author of award-winning books including The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story, Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian RefugeesThe graphic novel, The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees, by Dan Brown, is a haunting depiction of the plight of the Syrian people. He includes stories of hope, such as the reuniting of a family with their mother who had fled a year before, as well as stories of violence and desperation, such as the family who was separated by death when the boat on which they were fleeing collapsed.
By using the actual words and stories of the refugees, Brown humanizes a tragedy so vast it is hard to fathom. A sea of people were forced to leave their homeland, only to encounter hostility from neighboring countries who are overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees. He illustrates the extraordinary spirit of these refugees who continue to endure hardship after hardship. And he spurs the readers with a call to action. It is a powerful novel that mixes words and illustrations to great effect. - Joan Weir
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
published by Crown Books
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, is a collection of poems, letters, and essays by Indigenous, Black, and people of color authors for the young. Contributors include Marilyn Nelson, Joseph Bruchac, Jacqueline Woodson, Margarita Engle, Hena Kahn, Jason Reynolds, and many others. Engaging issues of injustice and discrimination, the book seeks to inspire and fortify young readers, offering them assurances of their competency, brilliance, and beauty, and foregrounding the adult community’s embrace of the value and potential of youth. By engaging the reader directly, the pieces convey the urgency and consequence of our cultural moment. As Denise Lewis Patrick asserts in her essay, “You come from people who have never stopped finding a way . . .We knew you would be coming, and we are your life map in truth and spirit and memory. You are here, and we are here with you.” This profoundly moving collection, which incorporates lively illustrations and photographs, builds a sense of community by grappling honestly with the social and political obstacles to human dignity faced by the child reader. - Katharine Capshaw
JOIN US ON
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
9:00AM Panel Session: How to Teach Difficult Subjects to Young People with Alan Berkowitz, Kimberly Bollero, Crista Penrose and Rachel Torres
10:15AM Writing/Illustration Workshop for Teachers: The Use of Literature and Illustration as a Tool to Teach Difficult Subjects
with Author Kip Wilson and Illustrator Doug Salati
11:30AM Award Ceremony for the Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature
Remarks by Glenn Mitoma, Michele Palmer (aka Malka Penn) and Kip Wilson
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
The winner of
the 2018 Malka Penn Award
for Human Rights in Children's Literature:
The Night Diary
by Veera Hiranandani
published by Dial Books for Young Readers
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is set during one of the most tumultuous events in human history, the 1947 Partition of India, when that newly independent country was split in two: predominantly Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India. Twelve year old Nisha feels split as well. Her deceased mother was Muslim, her father is Hindu. It's become unsafe for her family to remain in their home, which overnight has turned into Pakistan. They must make a dangerous journey across the border into the new India. Nisha relates the terrors and hardships of the journey, as well as the ups and downs of everyday life, through a series of letters she writes to her mother in her diary, the only place she feels safe enough to fully express her feelings. As chaos swirls around Nisha, she ponders fundamental questions: why can't people of different religions get along? Why is there so much hate and suffering? And, most of all, where is home? Nisha documents her fears and hopes in her diary as she searches for her true home within herself and her family. Slowly, she reaches out to others in friendship, perhaps the only way to confront hate – with love.
- Michele Palmer
2018 HONOR BOOKS
by Kheryn Callender
published by Scholastic Press
Author Kheryn Callender artfully unfolds the trials of Caroline Murphy, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the Virgin Islands. Caroline feels like an outsider during this crucial time in her young adolescence because she is hated by her classmates, her mother has abandoned her, and she has visions that wed fantasy with reality. All begins to improve when Kalinda arrives at her school and the two form a bond unlike any Caroline has experienced before. Callender subtly deals with issues of homophobia, peer pressure, abandonment, bullying, and LGBT+ identity through beautifully poetic prose. - Ellen Cavanaugh
Before She Was Harriet
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrated by James E. Ransom
published by Holiday House
The husband and wife team of Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome created the exceptional picture book, Before She Was Harriet, a story that uses elegant, precise poetry to depict Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments. The book rolls backwards across time, beginning with Tubman’s adulthood as a suffragette, moving to her experience as a spy and nurse in the Civil War and her accomplishment as the “Moses” of the Underground Railroad, and arriving at an intimate depiction of her life as a child with her father, studying the stars. Equally moving are the full-page watercolor paintings that illustrate the book, using contrast between darkness and light to evoke dramatically the risks Tubman faced across her life. The Ransomes’ gentle, tender tone in both words and images allows the reader that rare experience of feeling close to a landmark figure in human rights history. - Katharine Capshaw
A Sky Full of Stars
by Linda Williams Jackson
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A Sky Full of Stars exquisitely represents the Malka Penn Book Award’s mission to shine light on human rights issues for younger audiences, while also celebrating beautiful and compelling stories. Set in rural Mississippi in 1955, the story depicts a tempestuous time in United States civil rights history. However, rather than focusing directly on widely covered events like the murder of Emmett Till and the national emergence of a young Martin Luther King, it uses them to contextualize a story of a young girl and her local community, who must deal directly with Jim Crow and racism. Throughout, the characters ponder complex questions: should we respond to violence with violence? Is it better to flee to safety or risk harm to protest and protect home? The protagonist, young Rose Lee (Rosa) Carter, speaks with an honest and authentic voice, realistically articulating her struggle to make extraordinarily difficult choices and find her identity. While not ignoring the violence of its topic, this book treats it sensitively through characters who underscore a humanity that persists amid fear, persecution, and hatred. - Douglas Kaufman
I Am Alfonso Jones
by Tony Medina
Illustrated by Stacey Robinson & John Jennings
published by Tu Books
Medina’s poetic weavings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with contemporary street language and the fragmentation of the graphic novel format are what launched this book on Black Lives Matter to the top of the Malka Penn Human Rights Award list for me. Form is content: the stark black and white contrast, the ragged framing showing violence, the back stories of fatal discrimination coming out of the “gutter” into the light of public protest. While some adults might find the education of Alfonso’s ghost and his classmates a bit expository—the histories of victims including Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Henry Dumas, and Alfonso’s innocent father incarcerated—the intended young audience will feel the crush of wave after wave of oppression. But these names amount to no mere roll call; they propel Alfonso’s classmates and readers to redress wrongs, to answer the call to act against human rights abuse. – Pegi Deitz Shea
2017 Honor Book
by Alan Gratz
2017 Honor Book
Somos como las nubes
We Are Like the Clouds
by Jorge Argueta
2017 Honor Book
Us, in Progress:
Short Stories about Young Latinos
by Lulu Delacre
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Submissions are now invited for the 2019 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature.
The Malka Penn Award winner will be announced at the 2019 Connecticut Children’s Book Fair, and presented at an award ceremony held during the Spring 2020 Semester at the Dodd Center in Storrs, Connecticut. The Award winner will receive a bronze medallion and certificate, and will be invited to deliver an address to the university faculty, students, and wider community.
|Any book for young children (birth through age 12) originally published in North America between Sept. 1, 2018 – Aug. 31, 2019 is eligible for consideration for the 2019 Malka Penn Award. The book may be a work of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, or biography aimed at children below the age of thirteen. Books must be published in a physical, print form—e-books are currently ineligible for consideration.
A committee of UConn faculty, staff, and community members selects one award winner each year. In addition, up to ten additional books may be selected for special recognition.
|The deadline for submission for the 2019 Malka Penn Award is October 1, 2019.
To submit a book for consideration, send FIVE or more copies to:
Malka Penn Award Selection Committee
ABOUT THE PRIZE
The award is named in honor of author Michele Palmer, whose generous gift helped to establish the award. Ms. Palmer has written over a dozen books for children and adults, including three children's books under the pseudonym Malka Penn (The Miracle of the Potato Latkes, The Hanukkah Ghosts, and Ghosts and Golems).
As an oral historian at UConn's Center for Oral History, her most exciting project was co-director of “Witnesses to Nuremberg: An Oral History of the War Crimes Trials,” in conjunction with the opening of the Dodd Center in 1995.
Ms. Palmer has also curated numerous art, book, and history exhibits at UConn and elsewhere. One of her exhibits at the Dodd Center – “After Anne Frank: Children's Books About the Holocaust” – led to her establishing the Malka Penn Collection of Children’s Books on Human Rights in the Archives and Special Collections at the Dodd Center.
MALKA PENN AWARD COMMITTEE
Professor of English
PhD Student, Curriculum & Instruction
Archivist, Northeast Children's Literature Collection
Associate Professor of Curriculum & Instruction
Director, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
President, Raab Associates
Pegi Deitz Shea
PhD Student, Curriculum & Instruction