Today, the ALA (American Library Association) announced the 2021 children’s book awards including the well-known John Newbery and Randolph Caldecott awards.
The Association for Library Services states the terms and criteria for the Newbery as “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States.”
What does distinguished mean to you?
I feel like a distinguished contribution means the book should be a well-written and compelling book with life-changing depth –and, also be one that kids will love to read more than once.
So, I am a bit sad that my two favorite books of the year, The Brave and I Am Every Good Thing, aren’t on the Newbery winner and honor book list.
The list of the Newbery and Caldecott winners and honor books are below. (And a few other awards just for fun.)
See what you think.
Leave me a comment with your thoughts about this year’s selection of books!
Newbery Medal Winner
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Lily, her sister, and their mother move in with her Halmoni (Korean for grandmother) but it’s not the same as before. Now her grandmother is sick at night and reveals to Lily that she stole stories from the tigers and now the tigers are hunting her to get them back. So, Lily tries to make a deal with a tiger to save Halmoni. It’s ultimately a story about Korean culture, storytelling, a girl’s coming of age, and grief. (Find all recommended magical realism books here.)
Newberry Honor Books
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Heartbreaking and horrifying, hopeful and redeeming, I can’t recommend this book enough. Della’s drug-addicted, psychotic mom is in jail, and so is Clifton, her mom’s boyfriend with whom she and her sisters lived for years, even when her mom was in jail. Now Della and her older sister Suki are safe in foster care with a woman named Francine. As Della’s story unfolds, we learn that Suki saved her from Clifton’s abuse and helped them escape. We suspect that Suki was also abused but we don’t know until much later in the story after Suki’s suicide attempt. When both girls start going to therapy, Della learns that she’s not the only child this has happened to (which is why this book needs to be shared with kids) and learns strategies to help with her anxiety. Yes, this book is about hard, awful things and suggest that grown-ups read it with kids so they can unpack the big issues.
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood
Brilliantly written in poetic stanzas with evocative, textured folk art, this dramatic retelling of Henry Brown’s life is a memorable, powerful biography. Born into slavery, he lived a life at the mercy of his cruel owners. After his wife and children were sold away, Henry feels that there’s nothing more to fear and plans his escape. He asks a friend to help and ships himself in a wooden box where he’s turned upside down, hurt, cramped, and finally FREE in New England. where he becomes a mesmerist performer.
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
Set in an Asian fantasy world where magical lights are controlled by the Governor, this story follows a boy who escapes from the prison where he was born and finds life outside just as difficult.
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat
I look forward to reading this nonfiction book about the Thai cave rescue. It is reportedly is very well-written and researched. (Did you notice that there are two books by this same author on the honor list?)
Caldecott Medal Winner
We Are the Water Protectors illustrated by Michaela Goade. written by by Carole Lindstrom
Amazingly beautiful illustrations! Narrated from the point of view of Indigenous Peoples, a black snake threatens the Earth’s water with poison. “We are the stewards of the Earth,” cries the narrator who continues with a pro-Earth stance to fight for the plants and animals who can’t fight for themselves.
Caldecott Honor Books
A Place Inside of Me illustrated by Noa Denmon, written by Zetta Elliott
A black boy expresses a myriad of feelings… Joy that glows bright and warm as the sun when he’s playing basketball, sorrow that is cold & dark when he sees the news about a police shooting, fear that stalks him and “seeps like a poison into my dreams”. He expresses his anger, hunger, pride, hope, love, and compassion in lyrical phrases and illuminating illustrations. This is an essential picture book for starting conversations about racial injustice, emotions, and what it’s like to be black in the U.S.
The Cat Man of Aleppo illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha
In the war-torn city of Aleppo, Syria lives a man named Alaa who works as an ambulance driver. As more people flee the city, more pets are left behind needing food and attention. Alaa begins to feed and care for the abandoned cats, getting help from others to feed the increasing number of animals. It’s a beautiful true story of love and compassion amidst war and hardship.
Me & Mama illustrated and written by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Beautiful writing and exquisite illustrations, this story about a girl’s adoration for her mama will touch your heart deeply. In the artist’s illustrations and the author’s lyrical, sensory text we see how much the little girl savors the ways she’s alike her mama and every moment they spend together. Reading it feels like a warm, loving hug.
Outside In illustrated by Cindy Derby, written by Deborah Underwood
Outside In explores our relationship with nature. Sometimes we forget about Outside, but Outside reminds us again with its sunset and shadows and birds…”Outside sings to us with chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof.” Celebrate nature with this lyrical ode to all that Outside gives us. Beautifully written with evocative watercolor illustrations, this picture book gem is one you don’t want to miss.
Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Amazing, gigantic illustrations give us a bees-eye view of a honeybee’s life from her birth to the days of working in the hive, guarding the hive, and searching for nectar. Beautifully written and illustrated, this book is an informative book about the life-cycle of bees that sensitively ends with a reflection of the honeybee’s accomplishments (“She has visited thirty thousand flowers…Her work is done.”), her final flight in the warm air, and the birth of a new honeybee.
NOTE: I use Honeybee as a mentor text to teach sensory images and vivid verbs in my PERSONAL NARRATIVE WRITING UNIT for grades 2 – 4 and 5 – 6. GO HERE to learn more about teaching writing using children’s books.
Theodore Geisel Award
See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Kids who like silly stories will want to read this story again and again! A playful remake of the Dick and Jane stories— with a narrator and dog who argue about the story. Because there is no “blue cat in a green dress” argues the dog! Until…a blue cat in a green dress appears! The repetition of words and similar short text structure makes this a fantastic new choice for beginning readers.
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