One extraordinary artist honors another in Radiant Child, winner of the 2017 Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. To introduce readers to his picture book about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Javaka Steptoe turned our November issue’s Meet the Illustrator interview into a vibrant collage unlike anything we’ve ever featured in BookPage. The collage-on-wood illustrations in Radiant Child are both a fitting homage to Basquiat’s life and work and a brilliant translation of art that many young readers (particularly those who live in major cities) exist within. We checked in with Steptoe to hear more about his experience of winning the Caldecott.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you won the Caldecott?
Honestly, I’m not sure anything went through my mind. When I picked up the phone, the woman who called said her name and that I had won a Caldecott. There was this pause, and I was waiting for more, because all I could think was that she was going to go on to say that I had won a Caldecott Honor. But suddenly there was all this cheering and I realized what she meant. It was overwhelming.
Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about the award?
My friend Trina. She works at Brooklyn College and she’s been my number one supporter. She’s been saying that the book was going to win a Caldecott for a long time, so I called her as soon as I could after the committee told me that I had won.
Do you have a favorite past Caldecott winner?
I’d have to say Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse, which won the medal in 2010.
What do you wish you could say to Basquiat himself?
I think I would just smile and hope that he was happy with the book. I hope that he would appreciate what I had created.
What’s the best part of writing and illustrating books for a younger audience?
The best part is sharing the things that you love about the world with children. They’re very receptive and interested in hearing what you have to say. They get excited. They want to know more.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
I’ve received really heartfelt responses, people saying, “We knew you could do it” and “You deserve it.” It’s really nice to know that people were rooting for me and that they love the book so much.
Have you read or listened to past Caldecott speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
Yes, I’ve heard past speeches. I’m not worried about my own, but it’s going to take awhile to figure out what I’d like to say. I’m still trying to process that this happened and everything that’s happened since, and I want to think about what it means to me. This is an opportunity that allows me to be the artist I want to be, to spend more time thinking about my art and what I want to share with the world.
Author photo credit Gregg Edwards.