Prize Celebrates the Best American History Book for Middle Readers, Ages 9–12

NEW YORK, NY – July 14, 2020—Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, has announced that  New-York Historical’s Children’s History Book Prize has been awarded this year to authors Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve for Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge (Aladdin Books, 2019). The prize of $10,000 is annually awarded to the best American history book for middle readers ages 9–12, fiction or nonfiction. A special online ceremony to celebrate the authors will take place at a future date.

Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge focuses on the fascinating true story of Ona Judge, an enslaved woman who dared to escape to freedom from George and Martha Washington. From her early days to her years with the Washingtons to her escape to New Hampshire, Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve give a voice to a little-known but crucial figure in history. 

“We are very pleased to award Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve with this year’s Children’s History Book Prize,” said Dr. Mirrer. “Ona Judge’s story is one of resourcefulness and determination but one that many people don’t know. The book also shows young readers a side of George and Martha Washington that isn’t often seen, but which is equally important for children to understand so that they’re able to humanize our Founding Fathers.”

“Two hundred and twenty four years ago, a young Ona Judge made the courageous decision to challenge the president of the United States and seek freedom and humanity,” said Erica Armstrong Dunbar. “I can think of no better time for Never Caught to be recognized as important history for young readers. It is an honor to receive this award, and I accept this on behalf of Ona Judge and all of our present-day freedom seekers.”

“While co-writing Never Caught with Erica has been the highlight of my writing career, the true value of winning an award like the Children’s History Book Prize is the awareness that Ona’s life, set amid a bigger, broader consideration of American history, will become known to countless more people,” said Kathleen Van Cleve. “I could not be happier or more honored.”

The book prize was selected by a jury comprising librarians, educators, historians, and families of middle schoolers. For the fourth year, an online poll invited the public to cast a vote for their favorite as well. Finalists for the Children’s History Book Prize included Fighting for the Forest by P. O’Connell Pearson, Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry, and This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce & Debbie Levy. The news of the prize was initially announced at the digital installment of the Reading into History Family Book Club on May 31 when Erica Armstrong Dunbar joined the discussion.

Past winners of the Children’s History Book Prize include Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages about one girl’s discovery of the long history of women who played baseball; Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and‎ Stan Yogi (authors),‎ Yutaka Houlette (illustrator) about a young Japanese American man who defied U.S. governmental orders by refusing to report to prison camps during World War II; Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg about a young enslaved girl who, forced with the horror of being permanently separated from her family, urges them all to flee to the swamps; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan about children facing daunting challenges—rescuing a father from the Nazis, keeping a brother out of an orphanage, and protecting the farm of a Japanese family during internment; Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost about two boys whose friendship is tested when the War of 1812 divided native and settler communities in the Indiana Territory; and The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine about a young girl in Little Rock, Arkansas, who sees her city and family divided over school integration.

At the New-York Historical Society and its DiMenna Children’s History Museum, visitors are encouraged to explore history through characters and narrative. The Children’s History Book Prize is part of New-York Historical’s larger efforts on behalf of children and families. DiMenna Children’s History Museum regularly presents programs where families explore history together. At its popular monthly family book club Reading into History—now virtual—families discuss a historical fiction or nonfiction book they previously read at home, share their reactions, discover related artifacts and documents, and meet historians and authors. New-York Historical’s work with middle school readers and their families is grounded in the belief that offering creative opportunities to engage the entire family helps young readers row and thrive.

About the Authors
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the Charles & Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University, is a writer and social historian, and a scholar of urban history, women’s history, and Philadelphia history. She specializes in the history of the African American experience: “I committed myself to telling the stories of black women who lived, loved, struggled, worked, prayed, and fought to survive in a nation that still recognized many of them as property. My writing, teaching, and lecturing focus on the uncomfortable concepts of slavery, racial injustice, and gender inequality. While there is deep pain associated with these topics, I marvel at the incredible triumph of survival and the beautiful history of resistance.” Dunbar is the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians and was the inaugural director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Kathleen Van Cleve, a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is an author, screenwriter, and film producer. For many years, she was business partners with actor and writer John Leguizamo at the New York-based production company, Rebel Films. She is the author of three novels, one of which is the award-winning middle-grade book, Drizzle

About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

About the DiMenna Children’s History Museum
The DiMenna Children’s History Museum at the New-York Historical Society presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games, and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum encourages families to explore history together through permanent installations and a wide range of family learning programs for toddlers, children, and preteens.

The New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024. Information: (212) 873-3400. Website: Follow the Museum on social media at @nyhistory on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Tumblr.

Press Contacts
Ines Aslan |New-York Historical Society|         
Marybeth Ihle |New-York Historical Society|

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Creative: Tronvig Group