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….. And The Winner Is …

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

The Youth Media Award Winners for 2021, Including Caldecott and Newbery Awards

Striving for excellence in storytelling and communication is nothing new in children’s books. Thousands of new books are published each year, and many are heartwarming, thought-provoking, funny, or life-changing. Of those, a few are chosen as representative of what is truly remarkable in writing for children and young people.

This year’s selections celebrating the best in youth literature showcase a variety of writing and illustrating styles, genre and tones. One thing they all share: they hold a kernel of something that makes them stand apart in the world of children’s and teens’ literature. Each award represents the work of a team of librarians who read every book that might qualify for the award over the period of one year. This enormous investment of time and effort results in some noteworthy finds for readers and librarians alike. The following are a few of the honorees; the full list is available at the ALA website.

Caldecott Award: Outstanding Illustrations

Honor Book: A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart, illus. by Noa Denmon and written by Zetta Elliot. While it can be difficult to talk with children about feelings, this short and easy read manages to do just that. Capturing the wide range of emotions from fear and anger to joy and love, this poem is an ode to the value of Black lives and all lives. Ages 3-6.

Honor book: Outside In, illustrated by Cindy Derby and written by Deborah Underwood. When we have to be inside, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the wonder of nature that awaits outdoors. Outside is still there, and it can touch our lives whether we can leave our homes or not. Ages 3-6.

Winner: We Are Water Protectors, illustrated by Michaela Goade, written by C. Lindstrom. Ages 3-6. Reviewed last month.

Newbery Award: Excellence in Writing for Youth:

Honor book: All Thirteen: the incredible rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team, by Christina Soontornvat. Twelve young soccer players and their coach head into a cave for an afternoon of adventure. Little do they know how difficult it will be to leave the cave again, and how many people will work together to save them. A true story. Also a Sibert Honor winner for excellence in nonfiction and a finalist for the YALSA Award in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Grades 5-12.

Honor book: Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. By Carole B. Weatherford, illus. by Michele Wood. How would you feel if the only way to gain freedom was to be nailed into a box and mailed far away? Based on a true story.

Winner: When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller. Is there a tiger on the road in front of the family car? Or is it a vision? Lily wonders what it means to see a tiger that seems so real. Are the tigers angry? Can her grandmother, Halmoni, help her understand? A moving and magical story of family, friendship, and how we find ways to help one another. Also the winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature. Grades 4-8.

Pura Belpré Award: Best Representation of the Latino/Latina Experience

For illustrations: iVamos! Let’s Go Eat! by Raul Gonzalez (aka, Raul III). This adorable bilingual picture book features Little Lobo the wolf choosing lots of yummy foods in his Mexican-US border town. Part of the “Little Lobo” series. Ages 3-6.

For text: Efrén Divided, by Ernesto Cisneros. A thought-provoking middle grade read about living with the knowledge that your parents are undocumented immigrants, and the fear of deportation. Although the coverage of difficult subjects may be hard for younger students to process, this title approaches topics of poverty, loss, and the love of family with grace and perseverance. Grades 5-9.

Coretta Scott King Award: Best Representation of the African American Experience

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, illus. by Frank Morrison, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. The glorious cover of this picture book biography says it all: you gotta respect the Queen of Soul. Ages 3-6.

Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson. What will young ZJ do as he finds his football hero dad forgetting more and more due to game-related injuries? This story in verse is a quick read but finds its mark in relating to loss. Grades 4-8.

Printz Award: Outstanding Teen Literature

Honor Book: Dragon Hoops: From small steps to great leaps, by Gene Luen Yang. This creative graphic novel intertwines stories from a winning basketball team, a writer, and the lives of the team’s players. Grades 6-12.

Winner: Everything Sad is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. Grades 9-12. What do Khosrou’s stories really mean? Tales of fleeing secret police in Iran, life in a depressing refugee camp in Italy, even stories of his home near the river Aras seem foreign … unbelievable … impossible to his middle school classmates. Is he making everything up? Or could these stories actually be true?

Also of Note:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, by J. Reynolds and I.X. Kendi. Audiobook read by Jason Reynolds. - Odyssey Award for Audio. Essential listening (or reading) for those wanting to consider the ideas of racism and antiracism. Grades 5-12.

Dancing at the Pity Party: a dead mom graphic memoir, by Tyler Feder. - Sidney Taylor Award for a young adult title representing the Jewish experience. Tyler presents her honest, gripping experience as a college student who lost her mother to cancer. Grades 6-12.

Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom, by Kelly Lyons, illus. by Nina Mata. Honor recipient in Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book. Ty tries to learn the fine art of riding a scooter, which turns out to be more challenging that he expected. Grades 1-2.

It’s important to note that these are only a few of the many awards, honorees and winners on the American Library Association website. Need help choosing where to start? Ask your librarian for a recommendation!

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