2022 Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal Winner Speech

Danica Novgorodoff, June 2022

I am honored, and a little bit astonished, to be receiving the Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal for Long Way Down. I am so grateful to the judges, to CILIP and all the librarians out there who make this world a better place, to Yoto, Peters and ALCS. I also want to thank the publishers and editors at Simon & Schuster and Faber Children’s who brought this graphic novel into the world, my agent Tanya McKinnon, and my family who helped me get the illustrations done during the difficult early months of Covid. I’m humbled to be in the company of the other authors and illustrators who have been nominated for this prize, who are such an inspiration. And my greatest thanks to Jason Reynolds, who wrote the brilliant novel, Long Way Down, and chose me to illustrate it.

Working on Long Way Down and interpreting Jason’s text into images was its own reward, truly a dream project for me—and receiving this medal brings me so much joy to know that readers have found the book meaningful, too. The work of an artist can be lonely, and sometimes I work for years without knowing if what I’m making will connect with readers. Jason’s storytelling and poetry is magnificent, and so I felt a great responsibility to make artwork that lived up to his writing.

Long Way Down is a book that asks us to empathize with a character who is planning to harm another person, and endanger his own life, out of grief and revenge. He’s in a complicated, difficult situation, and he needs to make a very hard decision. Through the illustrations, I wanted to show this emotional torment, to make his internal feelings come alive on the page. The book doesn’t preach, but it asks readers, what do you feel, and what would you do?
Books are a place for conversation, uncertainty, learning to think for yourself and ask hard questions. They’re a place to develop a moral compass, to learn to empathize with people who are different from you, or to feel compassion for people who are like you. It is through books that we artists, writers, librarians, and teachers can empower young people to be caring humans and strong thinkers—just as young people inspire artists, writers, librarians, and teachers to show up every day, to do this hard work, to keep alive our hope for the future.

We can empower young people by letting them choose what books to read. Let them read whatever inspires them, excites them, entertains them. Give them access to graphic novels! For some young people, graphic novels can be an especially engaging form of reading, and a gateway to all types of literature. But graphic novels are also an extraordinary, complex, versatile medium in themselves, not dumbed down versions of “real” books. You wouldn’t discourage a kid from going to a museum to look at paintings or sculptures or photography, so why would you tell them not to look at artwork in a book?

We live in a world of pictures. Children grow up developing a visual intelligence, and an ability to read images far before they know how to read text. Images are visceral in a different way than text, and when an artwork moves you, it’s speaking to you in a different language than words. There is no single way to tell a story, and graphic novels are one fascinating way to express emotions and ideas that can’t be put into words alone. When you have words and pictures collaborating on the page, it gives you access to a different experience of someone’s life.

While creating this book, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and agonizing over the crises of gun violence, racial injustice, and environmental racism. All of us have a role to play in fighting these evils, and making the world a better place. And any action we can take begins with empathy, with understanding how complex and hard it is to live in this world. We have a responsibility to give young people the chance to see themselves, as well as people unlike themselves, represented in books. Through books, we can show young people that all children deserve to be loved and seen and respected, no matter what their skin color, gender, or orientation is, no matter what kind of difficult situation they find themselves in.

And children have a responsibility to read books—all kinds of books—and to try to make sense of the world; to figure out: what is our place in this complicated, beautiful life, and what can we do to learn more, to understand more deeply, and to care for one another?

Thank you, and keep reading.