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Linda Mah
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Caldecott Winner Inspires Woods Lake

Javaka Steptoe Won the 2017 Caldecott Medal

Anything you can imagine can be turned into a story or a piece of art, a Caldecott Medalist told students at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts in December.

Author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe, the 2017 Caledcott Medal winner for the book “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” was a special guest speaker at Woods Lake and led the school’s fourth graders in an art project. His visit was sponsored and organized by the Kalamazoo Public Library.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. In addition to winning the Caldecott, “Radiant Child” was winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and was an ALA Notable Book for Children. It made the list of 2016 Best Books list of National Public Radio, the Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal, among others.

The School Library Journal review of “Radiant Child” said, “One extraordinary artist illuminates another in this textured, heartfelt picture book biography of the 1980s cultural phenom. Employing signature features of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work — vibrant colors, found objects, repeated motifs — Steptoe allows his own emotionally rich style to shine through the artistic and biographical references dotting the illustrations.”

Steptoe’s other books include “In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall” and “Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix.”

He told the students that all of his books are illustrated using collage, in which he combines everything from wood to pictures to rocks to leaves.

“As long as it doesn’t make my house stink, I’ll use it,” he said.

Steptoe said he attended the High School of Art and Design in New York and earned his bachelor’s degree from Cooper Union College. His life as an artist was inspired by his parents. His father John Steptoe was twice a Caldecott Honors winner for his books “The Story of Jumping Mouse” and “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.”

He said he originally worked in illustration, but was attracted to collage because of the textures and the complexity of the images. Collage transforms found objects.

After talking to the students, he handed out paper figures and allowed them to create collages. He walked around with scissors and glue and offered suggestions for creating characters with stories behind them.

“Objects in a collage bring a story. Sometimes you can see their original use and sometimes that use gets transformed into something else,” Steptoe said. “Through collage, children can see things in their environment in a different way.”

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