All that glittered was gold at the 2019 Golden Kite Awards Gala held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on February 8. The event was part of the SCBWI’s 20th annual winter conference. The gathering welcomed illustrators, writers, publishers, and other industry professionals for a weekend of presentations, break-out sessions, and networking opportunities.

Each year, the Golden Kite Awards are presented to children’s book writers and illustrators and their books, as selected by a jury of their peers. The awards are given in the categories of “Young Reader and Middle Grade Fiction,” “Young Adult Fiction,” “Nonfiction,” “Picture Book Text,” and “Picture Book Illustration.”

Delivering the opening keynote address was Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and author of Turning Pages: My Life Story (Philomel). Sotomayor spoke about the power of literature to motivate and inspire readers, and the role that authors play in helping to make the world more compassionate and just. She told the audience, “[You are doing] the most important work in the world, teaching young people and opening imaginations.” While her work on the Supreme Court enables her to “help people with problems that they can’t solve,” reading and writing books has put her face-to-face with what she calls “a more fundamental question: what’s your value in life?” For Sotomayor, she hopes that her words will “touch people’s lives in a direct way and inspire them to go further than they think they can.”

Illustrator John Parra presented a gift to Sotomayor, an illustration he created for the collection We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders (Chronicle). Parra’s illustration was inspired by Sotomayor’s words: “If the system is broken, my inclination is to fix it.”

Saying “I don’t normally find myself in this sort of situation,” Becca Stadtlander received the award for picture book illustration for Made by Hand: A Crafts Sampler by Carole Lexa Schaefer (Candlewick). She explained that her time is typically spent in solitude. “I paint, I think. I paint. I think some more.” Stadtlander expressed the joy of connecting with other children’s book creators through the SCBWI, and the value of being a part of such a community.

Barb Rosenstock accepted the Golden Kite Award in the nonfiction category for Otis and Will Discover the Deep (Little, Brown). She described how the subjects of her picture book, explorer Will Beebe and engineer Otis Barton, were driven by curiosity about the unknown: “What did the deep ocean look like?,” they wondered. She added that “each creative project is a deep dive into the unknown,” and thanked her illustrator, Katherine Roy, for taking that journey with her. “I asked her to draw the unknown and she did.”

Accepting the award for nonfiction for older readers was Elizabeth Partridge, for her book Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam (Viking). Partridge discussed how researching the book allowed her to understand so much more about the experiences of veterans and how they were changed by the Vietnam War. She suggested that in this “alarming, divisive, polarizing time,” learning about the past is invaluable. “I am so inspired to see young people mobilizing again, against racism, sexism, gun violence, and misguided authority,” she said.

Jessie Oliveros accepted the award for picture book text for The Remember Balloons, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte (Simon Schuster). She reflected on the inspiration behind the book—her grandfather—who suffered from Alzheimer’s. “I am over the moon to share this award with all of you,” she said. She also thanked the Alzheimer’s caregivers of the world. “We recognize you, even if your loved ones no longer do,” she said.

Author Susan Hood was given the middle grade fiction award for her historical novel in verse, Lifeboat 12 (Simon Schuster), which is based on the real-life experiences of a WWII survivor. She described meeting the subject of the story, who shared with her how he escaped from his difficult life circumstances through books and reading. “He read to take himself away,” she said. “Books are life savers,” she added.

Jane Yolen spoke about her novel, Mapping the Bones (Philomel), which received the award for young adult fiction. Yolen called the book—about the human experimentations conducted by Josef Mengele during the Holocaust—“the most difficult I have ever written,” and the research required to write the story of her two young characters “hideous, exhausting, and overwhelming.” But she also counts the story of survival as among her most important.

Angela Dominguez accepted the Sid Fleischman Award for writing for children in the genre of humor for Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Roaring Brook). Dominguez reflected on her own childhood experiences. Like Stella, she was the daughter of a single parent from Mexico, and was very shy. It was only as an adult, Dominguez said, that she began to engage with others. Stella, Dominguez said, is like many introverts who may be quiet on the outside, but have full worlds on the inside.” She added that she hopes readers—“especially those who come from another place”—will read Stella’s story and believe that their names, too, “can be on a book.”