Malka Penn Award

Malka Penn Award

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.


APRIL 9, 2019







Malka Penn Prize Seal

The winner of
the 2018 Malka Penn Award
for Human Rights in Children's Literature:

The Night Diary

The Night Diary Cover

by Veera Hiranandani

published by Dial Books for Young Readers






Malka Penn Prize Seal

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


Malka Penn Prize Silver Seal
Hurricane Child Cover

Hurricane Child

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

Malka Penn Prize Silver Seal
Before She Was Harriet

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

Malka Penn Prize Silver Seal
A Sky Full of Stars Cover

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

Malka Penn Prize Silver Seal
I Am Alfonso Jones

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 Malka Penn Award Winner

My Beautiful Birds

by Suzanne Del Rizzo


More information

2017 Honor Book


by Alan Gratz

Refugee Cover

2017 Honor Book

Somos como las nubes
We Are Like the Clouds

by Jorge Argueta

Somos como las nubes cover

2017 Honor Book

Us, in Progress:
Short Stories about Young Latinos

by Lulu Delacre

Us in Progress Cover


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.

To Submit

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
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
405 Babbidge Road, U-1205
Storrs, CT  06269-1205


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.

Michele Palmer photo


Katharine Capshaw
Professor of English

Ellen Cavanaugh
PhD Student, Curriculum & Instruction

Kristin Eshelman
Archivist, Northeast Children's Literature Collection

Douglas Kaufman
Associate Professor of Curriculum & Instruction

Glenn Mitoma
Director, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center

Michele Palmer

Susan Raab
President, Raab Associates

Pegi Deitz Shea

Joan Weir
PhD Student, Curriculum & Instruction