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The American Library Association (ALA) awarded the 2021 Caldecott Medal to Michaela Goade this week for her illustrations in “We Are the Water Protectors,” a picture book written by Carole Lindstrom (Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe).

The selection is historic, as it is the first time an Indigenous person has won the award. 

The Caldecott Medal, which is named after 19th century illustrator Randolph Caldecott, is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, which is a division of the ALA, “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children,” the ALA website says. 

“Michaela Goade’s vivid, swirling watercolors capture the sacredness of water and amplify Carole Lindstrom’s passionate call to action and celebration of Indigenous ancestry and community,” the website states. “Rich symbolism and repeating floral patterns appear alongside distinctive colors and atmospheric light to tenderly frame the defiant young protagonist standing up against the real-life horrors of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

“Michaela Goade’s semi-translucent color palette beautifully bathes every page with powerful illustrations,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Annisha Jeffries on the ALA award webpage.

The book, which teaches about the importance of water conservation and Indigenous-led environmental justice, is illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings. It was named one of the best books of 2020 by The Washington Post, the New York Public Library, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. 

“‘We Are Water Protectors’ honors Water Protectors around the world who are courageously fighting for Indigneous rights and environmental justice in the face of greed, corruption and oppression. They are fighting for all of us. This book is an invitation to join and a call to action because we are all connected,” Goade said in a 2020 interview. “‘We Are Water Protectors’ is about kinship to our families, friends, communities, ancestors, future generations, people you’ve never met on the other side of the world – to Mother Earth herself. She loves and provides in so many ways, and she needs our help. We hope We Are Water Protectors inspires you to protect our sacred planet and give back to Mother Earth, to support and join Water Protectors/Land Defenders around the world.”

Goade is from the Raven moiety and Kiks.ádi Clan from Sitka, Alaska and was raised and lives in Juneau. She is inspired by the coastal wilds of Southeast Alaska and aims to capture the magic and culture of the region in her work. 

“I am still struggling to find the right words. More to come but for now, with a VERY full gunalchéesh to [the ALA], the Caldecott committee, my dear Carole Lindstrom & the team Macmillan Children’s School and Library! To EVERYONE who lifted this book up, thank you and I love you,” Goade tweeted Monday in response to the award. 

She has also illustrated “Encounter” by Bruttany Luby and “Raven and the Tide Lady,” a book of traditional Northwest Coast Raven stories that have been adapted for children.

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