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NLU Prof Won Fulbright, Chairing Prestigious Caldecott Awards Dr. Junko Yokota credited with most diverse Caldecott book honors ever

junko yokota at wroclaw university

NLU’s Dr. Junko Yokota poses in front of the University of Wroclaw, Poland, where she is teaching on a Fulbright award.

NLU’s Junko Yokota, Ph.D., is having an amazing couple of years. Newspapers all over the world — in Korea, Turkey and Poland—are writing about her.

In 2013, she was chosen to chair the jury to determine the winners of the 2015 Caldecott  children’s book award. If you’ve ever browsed children’s books, you’ll recognize the Caldecott as one of the top honors in this category of literature.

In Spring 2014, she won a Fulbright award to teach  childrens’ literature, in English, at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. The Fulbright is a highly selective  academic exchange program administered by the U.S. State Department.

“My students are studying American literature, translation, teaching of English, and other such fields, and a few are writing their master’s theses on children’s literature,” she wrote, adding that they grew up with Polish books but speak and write English very well.

Additionally, Yokota was president of the jury for the globally influential International Children’s Book Festival on Nami Island in South Korea.

“I am quite active in the international children’s literature scene, and have served as a jury member of various awards,” she wrote.

So when the Nami Concours (book competition) started two years ago, and organizers began to assemble an international jury from Russia, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil and Japan/USA, they picked Yokota, due to her valued reputation in the children’s literature field.

They asked her to serve as inaugural chair and then continue as chair for the second term.

During the festival, a Korean newspaper quoted Yokota as saying the jury selected books with “soul” that kids would want to keep coming back to.

Meanwhile, Yokota spent a lot of time in 2014 with her Caldecott committee, reading, analyzing and studying the year’s crop of picture books. The winners they chose, announced in February, garnered praise for inclusion and diversity.

Yokota will present the Caldecott awards to the winners June 28 in San Francisco at the  annual conference of the American Library Association.

Her Fulbright duties will also wrap up at the end of June. She has been asked to speak all across Poland, from universities to conferences to book fairs. She wrote four articles during her time in Poland, and one will be published in a Polish journal.

Yokota also squeezed in time in May to keynote at the International Board on Books for Young People conference in Malaysia, about “Expanding the ways we tell stories in print and digital formats.”

Will she take time to rest after she returns to Chicago June 20?

“Rest? Why? So many exciting opportunities!” she responded.

“I have a full summer planned with CTCB work, research and writing, and more options than I can accomplish.”

She’ll  continue research and applying for future opportunities to extend her work. But first, she has a souvenir to unpack.

“I want to connect with the Polish school that meets at NLU’s North Shore campus (Skokie) and offer a talk on contemporary Polish picture books for the parents and teachers,” she said. “I am bringing home a big box of Polish picture books for exhibit in CTCB!”