Sitka Illustrator Michaela Goade Wins Caldecott Medal for ‘We Are Water Protectors’

Posted By Baley Champagne February 2nd, 2021 Last Updated on: February 5th, 2021

For the first time in 83 years, a Native American illustrator has won a Caldecott Medal. Michaela Goade of Sitka, Alaska’s Raven/Frog Clan collected the award for her illustrations in the picture book, “We are Water Protectors.”

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It’s awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

“It's a great honor to be the first Indigenous artist to win this award, but I am of course standing on many shoulders,” Goade told CNN. “I think it's important to acknowledge and reflect on the significance of being the first in 2021, while also looking towards the future with much hope. I won't be the last! It brings me so much joy to think about Indigenous youth who will see themselves in this recognition and know that their stories are powerful and valuable.”

Who is Michaela Goade?

Michaela Goade is an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and an artist and picture book illustrator who lives and works on the edge of the wild sea in Sitka, Alaska. She spent her childhood exploring coastal Southeast Alaska, her traditional Lingít Aaní (Tlingit land). Her earliest memories of the rainforests and beaches of her homeland allow Goade to delve into her creativity and produce majestic illustrations from a Native American perspective.

“Following the artist path has enabled me to reconnect with my culture, a true gift that has become both an anchor and a north star. It’s been an incredibly enriching experience and I’ll keep learning and working to honor the culture and tribe.”

What is “We are Water Protectors” about?

“We are Water Protectors,” is a 40-page Native American children's book authored by Carole Lindstrom, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, and illustrated by Goade. The book is written and illustrated from a Native perspective and introduces water to children as medicine. The antagonist, the black snake (Dakota Access Pipeline), destroys lands and contaminates water and all living beings who seek water to survive. Hence, “water is life.” 

The protagonist is the young water protector who takes a stand to eliminate the black snake and save the Earth from catastrophic destruction. “We are Water Protectors” chronicles an ongoing Native-led movement to keep Mother Earth safe from harm and corruption for the next seven generations. 

Take a look in this read-along video of “We are Water Protectors.” 


Why was “We are Water Protectors” chosen?

Native Americans are the authoritative protectors who fight for Mother Earth against real-life enemies. Portraying the water protectors’ fight through rich symbolism, swirls of watercolors, depth of illustrations all set the frame to understand the deeper story of the call to action. Goade's gold standard artistry in “We are Water Protectors” is what makes it a 2021 Caldecott Medal Honoree. 

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

Other notable Caldecott Medal winners 

Native American Genre Caldecott Medal recipients:

“Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest” written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott. 

“Arrow to the Sun” written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott

“The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses” written and illustrated by Paul Goble

“The Story of Jumping Mouse” written and illustrated by John Steptoe

“When Clay Sings” written by Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Tom Bahti

*These illustrators are not Native, but their works are Native inspired.

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Marguerite Nico

It is well deserved!!!

Alison Almquist

Can we win the Caldecott Medal winner?

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