Virginia, the Great

by Kelly

February 1 – March 1 marks Black History Month in America, and there’s no better time or place to share the accolades and achievements of America’s most distinguished author of children’s books, Virginia Hamilton.

Who was Virginia Hamilton? Born in 1934, Hamilton was raised in Ohio, where her family had settled in the late 1850s where her own grandfather was brought into the state as in infant on the Underground Railroad. She graduated at the top of her class and majored in literature and creative writing, while pursuing a dream of becoming a fiction writer.

In her lifetime, Virginia Hamilton wrote and published 41 books in multiple genres that spanned from picture books and folktales, mysteries and science fiction, to realistic novels and biographies. Hamilton weaves into her writing a deep concern with memory, tradition, and generational legacy, especially as they helped define the lives of African Americans. Hamilton described her work as “Liberation Literature.”

 Hamilton won every major award in youth literature, including the historic honor she received as the first black writer to receive the Newberry Medal, in 1975.  From the Hans Christian Anderson award to the Edgar Allen Poe award, and the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Award”, Hamilton has won them all. To see a full list of her awards and the years in which she won them, click HERE

The following titles of her published works can be found on the shelf at ANBL or can be checked out through our digital collections:

M.C. Higgins, The Great. This YA book earned Hamilton the Newberry Medal in 1975, and is a coming-of-age novel about a boy who dreams of leaving his home in the mountains of Kentucky when the mining of the mountain threatens his family’s home. Reader reviews of this book on Goodreads are harsh. Not many like it, which makes it just intriguing enough for me to want to judge for myself.

The Planet of Junior Brown. Junior Brown is an overweight musical prodigy who loses touch with the world around him and is absorbed into a fantasy world filled with stars, planets, and music. Junior befriends a pal named Buddy and the story tackles the tough subjects of obesity, homelessness, and mental illness. Written in 1971, this book was made into a 1997 movie titled “Junior’s Groove”.

Her Stories, African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. This book is a collection of 19 magical and wondrous stories of black women retold by Hamilton. Published in 1995, this collected works received two awards, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1995, and the Coretta Scott King Award in 1996.

The Bells of Christmas. This picture book tells the story of the Bell family as they anticipate the coming of Christmas in 1890. Well-researched and written with historical accuracy, this story details many of the traditions and preparations for the holiday from the home of a middle-class black family in Ohio.

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