The Beauty and Power of Children’s Book Illustrations: Sonia Lynn Sadler Award 2019

The third annual Sonia Lynn Sadler Award (SLS Award) took place on Saturday, April 27th at Salisbury University’s Children’s Book Festival in Salisbury, Maryland. The award honors the legacy of Sonia Lynn Sadler, an artist and children’s book illustrator who passed away in 2013. Sonia illustrated the picture book Seeds of Change and images from that book will be incorporated into a forthcoming chapter book, The Story of Environmentalist Wangari Maathai. Sonia’s powerful scratchboard art continues to inspire young children to wonder and dream. Her illustrations are a mirror, a window, and a door to encourage working together.

image 1

This year’s winner was Jacqueline Alcantara for her book The Field, written by Baptiste Paul. Jacqueline’s rich, imaginative illustrations provoke wonder and joy in the act of playing and working together. The Field is a bilingual book written in both English and Creole. Reviewer Martha V. Parravano from the Horn Book, noted that The Field  had “vibrant illustrations, full of movement and saturated with color, match the vigor and excitement of the text.” Jen Cullerton Johnson introduced Jacqueline and then with Mrs. Inez Sadler gave her the award, which is a framed certificate and $1000. The award is funded by Jen Cullerton Johnson’s and Sonia Lynn Sadler’s donated royalties from their award-winning picture book Seeds of Change. During her presentation, Jacqueline described her creative process. First, she sketches on paper with pencil, marker, and gouache then she clarifies and adds layers in Photoshop. Her second book Freedom Soup is due out in December 2019.

image 2

Daria Peoples-Riley, the SLS Award Winner 2018 for her book This Is It returned this year beginning a new tradition where the previous winner celebrates the current winner. Daria shared her second illustrated book, Gloria Takes a Stand written by Jess Rinker. Jess was on hand to present with Daria doing the festival and in school visits around the Eastern Shore area. Daria revealed an illustration she is working on for a book-in-process. In it, she had drawn a  dedication to  Sonia Lynn Sadler in gratitude for the award moving her career forward.

image 3

Inez and Wellington Sadler donated several of Sonia’s art from the award-winning book Seeds of Change to be on permeant display at Salisbury University’s library. Mrs. Sadler received a standing ovation for her dedication and donation to her daughter’s legacy.

Jen Cullerton Johnson presented on how Seeds of Change became a catalyst to starting a collaborative community garden for incarcerated youth, inspired her to co-write a teaching handbook on how to engage young people with nature through children’s books, and fueled her to open her environmental education consulting company Green Literacy.

image 4

A hearty thanks to Salisbury University and to Dr. Patricia Dean who is the chairwoman of the Salisbury Children’s Book Festival and on the executive committee for the SLS Award. Her deep dedication to young children’ especially those from diverse backgrounds is unmatched and has given many opportunity to flourish. Many thanks to the professors and educators at Salisbury University who were recognized for their support and dedication to the SLS Award, including  Dr. Chen, Dr. Clark, Dr. Connery, Dr. Meyer, Dr. Stutelberg and Dr. Henry. Finally, a million thanks to Lee & Low Publishers who believes, supports, and is a welcoming harbor for powerful, thought- provoking, multicultural children’s books.

Nominations for 2020 are open.  Anyone can nominate. FAQs and guidelines are on the website or if you have questions, email Jen Cullerton Johnson directly at