A Grateful Michaela Goade Makes Caldecott History

Illustrator Michaela Goade became the first BIPOC woman and first Indigenous illustrator to win the prestigious Caldecott Medal.

Illustrator Michaela Goade. Photo by Sydney Akagi


Michaela Goade gratefully took her place in children's publishing history Monday as We Are Water Protectors won the Caldecott Medal, making her the first BIPOC woman and first Indigenous illustrator to win the prestigious award.

Velino Herrera (Zia Pueblo) was the illustrator of In My Mother’s House, which received a Caldecott Honor award in 1942. It took another 79 years for an Indigenous illustrator to take the prize.

I’ve been feeling many things,” said Goade, who had watched the 2021 Youth Media Awards from bed in the dark at 5 a.m. local time in Sitka, AK. “I’m incredibly honored. I realize this is a big win for the Native kid lit community, but also the different Native communities all over.”

Indeed, just after the announcement was made, Native scholar Debbie Reese tweeted, “"Native people everywhere are delighted!"Since the beginning, Goade has felt the support for We Are Water Protectors, which was written by Carole Lindstrom, and an appreciation for those who came before her.

“I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders,” she said. “The Native kid lit community is really supportive. They were championing this book from the very, very beginning—before it was even published. I’m just so grateful for all of the support from everybody—native, BIPOC, non-Indigenous, it’s just been widely embraced and it’s incredible to see.”

The entire kid lit world celebrated.

"This is such great news and we are so thrilled," said author Ellen Oh, CEO and president of We Need Diverse Books.

"I was not one bit surprised, but I cried anyway," wrote author Christina Soontornvat, who had a big day herself with two books receiving Newbery honors. "We Are Water Protectors is the kind of book that changes the world.”

Women swept the Caldecott, as they did the Newbery.

"I think that it's is amazing, and I’m happy to be in that company," Goade said. "It is affirming, not only for myself but for young, aspiring authors and illustrators. The more diverse voices the better."

[Read: Children's Publishing World Reacts to Michaela Goade's 
History-Making Caldecott Medal, Rest of the YMA Winners]

Goade loved Lindstrom’s story, which “felt very magical” to her from the moment she first read it.

“I was just so moved and inspired by her story and I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it,” said Goade. “I just saw a lot of great opportunity for being able to weave my own story with her words. She left so much room for the illustrations and her text was powerful yet poetic. It was the first story I’d worked on that didn’t follow a really linear plot. Creatively I learned so much. I learned these are the kinds of books I really enjoy. There’s a lot of room to meld more abstract and more literal, more cosmic and more grounded in reality at the same time.”

Caldecott committee chair Anisha Jeffries elaborated via email on the group's reasoning behind the selection. "Goade's illustrations illuminated each page; giving structure to the story, providing lush colors, and making it a visually compelling, stunning masterpiece," Jeffries wrote.

Before she started sketching, Goade spoke with Lindstrom, as she does all of the authors she works with. She tries to get a better sense of who they are, what the story is, and what she needs to know.

“Even though they are writing from their own lived experience, they’ve all been wonderful in saying doesn’t have to be rooted in [their] lived experience, feel free to bring in elements of your culture, your experience and your life,” said Goade. “That is where a lot of the magic can happen. I was really grateful for that. Carole was wonderful with that.”

Lindstrom took to Twitter to congratulate Goade.

"Oh, @MichaelaGoade I have no words to describe how proud of you I am. I love you so so much. You are so extremely talented and just an amazing person inside and out. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! So very well deserved. I wish I could hug you in person!!"

Goade says she wasn’t sure how broad a reach We Are Water Protectors would have, she just hoped it would be well-received in the communities that saw it. Instead, she and Lindstrom made history. Now, the book gets a gold sticker on its cover and will bring its message—"We are all connected to each other and the land," said Goade—to young readers far and wide.

“To be a part of the team that brought that project to life on a big scale has been just so incredible,” she said.

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