SLJ Reviews of the 2021 Youth Media Awards

SLJ's roundup of reviews for the winners and honorees of the 2021 Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, and more.


John Newbery Medal

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. Random. Jan. 2020. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524715700.
 Gr 4-7–Lily has always loved her halmoni’s stories; Korean folktales that begin, “long, long ago, when tiger walked like a man.” But Lily never expected to encounter the fierce magical tiger in her sick grandmother’s basement, or to strike a deal to heal Halmoni by releasing the powerful stories she stole as a young woman. Keller illuminates Lily’s desperation to heal Halmoni and bring her family together through the tiger stories interspersed throughout the book; stories of heroism and self-sacrifice, of sisterhood and bravery. Yet the book’s greatest strength is in its complex human characters, from Halmoni whose traumatic immigration story spurs her to unite her community through kindness and herbal remedies, to Lily’s prickly older sister Sam, whose grief and fear stirred up by Halmoni’s illness exists alongside a budding romance with a new girlfriend. Lily worries about her invisibility and living up to the “quiet Asian girl” stereotype she hates, but she doesn’t know how else to cope with her volatile teenage sister or her mother’s need to pretend that everything is okay, despite the weight of family trauma past and present. Keller weaves ancient folklore with Korean history through contemporary magical realism. She calls on the power of stories to bring families and communities together and the ability to heal by speaking to their pasts. VERDICT This deeply moving book is a must-purchase for all collections, showcasing vulnerable and mythic storytelling in the vein of Erin Entrada Kelly and Kacen Callender.

Reviewed by Molly Saunders, Manatee County Public Libraries, Bradenton, FL

An SLJ Best Book

John Newbery Medal Honors

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick. Oct. 2020. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781536209457.
 Gr 4-7–In 2018, 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their assistant coach were trapped in a cave for 18 days. It was a stunning and miraculous story that captivated the world. On June 23, 2018, the team and their assistant coach decided to hike through the caverns of Tham Luang Nang Non, the Cave of the Sleeping Lady. However, when they tried to leave, they discovered that the cave was flooded and they were trapped. Soontornvat’s narrative nonfiction account shares these events and those that led to the rescue along with intricate details about caverns, sump diving, and other scientific details that emphasize the harrowing conditions of the rescue. She also touches on Thai culture, immigration issues, Buddhism, and religion. The main rescuers and their heroic efforts are highlighted, but Soontornvat also showcases stories of the Thai volunteers who had a huge impact on the rescue. Full-color photographs, maps, illustrations, and graphs are included throughout the text. The author, who is Thai American, was in northern Thailand visiting family when the story first broke. Her author’s note features background information about interviewing the people involved with the rescue and meeting the Wild Boars team. Extensive source notes are included as well as a bibliography, image credits, and an index. VERDICT This stellar nonfiction work reads like a heart-pounding adventure story. Every library should have a copy.

Reviewed by V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies Magnet Elem. Sch., Raleigh, NC 

An SLJ Best Book

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford. illus. by Michele Wood. Candlewick. Apr. 2020. 56p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763691561.
 Gr 4 Up–Weatherford shares the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who was born into slavery in Richmond in the 1800s. Brown’s birth family was divided after the death of their master. Later, Brown’s pregnant wife and three children were sold and sent to North Carolina. In 1849, the same year Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery, Brown shipped himself in a wooden box to the American Anti-Slavery Society office in Philadelphia, successfully winning his freedom. Brown, given the nickname “Box” by abolitionists, promoted his escape by publishing an autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. He created a performance piece (“Mirror of Slavery”) that he exhibited in the United States, England, and Canada, solidifying his place in American history. Brown’s story is conveyed in a series of sixains (a poem of six lines), mirroring the six sides of a box. Each poem is deceptively simple, but Weatherford’s lush storytelling allows Brown’s voice and story to come through clearly. The imagery is often as brutal as the history itself, and Brown is portrayed as a nuanced and complex human being, willing to do what is necessary to survive. Wood’s mixed-media illustrations are dynamic and engaging. The details urge a second or third reading of the text. Bibliography and notes from the author and illustrator are included. VERDICT An artful and introspective retelling of the life of a remarkable man and a painful era in U.S. history. Weatherford’s text paired with Wood’s illustrations combine to offer a memorable work of nonfiction.

Reviewed by Casey O’Leary, Meredith Nicholson School 96, IN 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial. Aug. 2020. 256p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984815682.
 Gr 5 Up–Della’s story starts as a flash-forward, beginning with the easy part. The easy part isn’t actually easy. Della and her older sister Suki are in foster care, having run away from Clifton, the man they’d been living with since their mother was incarcerated. Clifton had threatened them for years, telling them if people found out he wasn’t their father, he wouldn’t be able to keep them and they’d have nothing to eat and nowhere to live. When Suki catches Clifton molesting Della, and takes pictures for evidence, the two ultimately end up in protective custody. Della is a conscientious narrator, always alerting readers to the harder parts of her story. Her tough exterior is misunderstood by her teacher, who takes issue with her language (the word “snow” is used throughout as a substitute for stronger terminology) but Della starts thriving, making friends and beginning to trust her foster mother Francine. Yet Suki is getting worse; she is plagued by nightmares, refusing to see her friends, and fighting with Della for the first time. A content warning for her suicide attempt is necessary, as the ultimate truth emerges that Suki herself was sexually molested by Clifton for eight years. Despite the horrors the sisters have endured, there is humor and warmth in this multifaceted, brave novel. Bradley creates fully developed, believable characters that readers will root for. It is heartwarming to see the sisters evolve as characters, as they begin to get help for all they have witnessed and experienced. VERDICT Raw and honest, this ultimately empowering novel is an important book for readers of all ages. Adults may want to follow up or simultaneously read the book with younger readers to discuss the difficult issues addressed.

Reviewed by Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Lib., Portland, OR 

An SLJ Best Book

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. May 2020. 400p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062747303.
 Gr 4-6–It’s January 1986, and siblings Bird, Fitch, and Cash’s seventh grade science classes are anticipating the Challenger shuttle launch at the end of the month. Twins Bird and Fitch are now in the same grade as their older brother Cash, who is repeating the year. Cash’s grades are poor, Fitch can’t control his temper, and Bird dreams of becoming an astronaut, but her mother only talks to her about dieting. All three siblings sink into separate coping mechanisms when their parents’ daily bickering inevitably erupts into fights. Entrada Kelly tells the story through each sibling’s viewpoint in distinct and engaging voices, giving readers a choice of characters to relate to. The Nelson-Thomas family is white, Bird’s friend Devonte is African American, and teacher Ms. Salonga has a Filipina surname. Entrada Kelly creates a vivid historical setting by being selective with 1980s details and highlighting elements with high kid appeal, such as arcade games and popular TV shows. There is similar restraint in recounting the Challenger explosion, depicted only by its effect on the characters rather than used gratuitously to complete a dramatic arc. There is no forced march towards a resolution, and the book simply ends with a greater resilience on the part of Cash, Fitch and Bird, along with an awareness that, by joining forces, they have the power to form the family they want themselves. VERDICT Lyrical but direct writing, relatable characters, and an engaging 1980s setting give this thoughtful read high appeal for middle grade readers.

Reviewed by Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

An SLJ Best Book

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick. Mar. 2020. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536204940.
Gr 4 Up–Years ago, the city of Chattana burned to the ground in a Great Fire and was thrown into chaos. The Governor restored peace to the city and powered it magically with orbs that gave light, heat, and power. Pong was born in Namwon Prison. Those lights represent freedom; but when he escapes from prison, he learns that the Governor controls who is in light and who is in darkness. In this society, everyone is beholden to the Governor and no one is truly free. Nok’s father, born into society and now the prison warden, is disgraced when the 12-year-old Pong escapes. Unable to bear her father’s shame, Nok embarks on a quest to find Pong and avenge her father’s reputation. As she does, she learns that things are not always as fair and simple as she was taught in school. Nuanced questions of morality, oppression, and being defined by one’s circumstances are compounded with exciting action in this novel inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The characters are resonant, and the action is enhanced by the fantastical Thailand-like setting. VERDICT The original storyline and well-developed characters make this a standout novel. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Julie Overpeck, Gardner Park Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

An SLJ Best Book

Randolph Caldecott Medal

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom. illus. by Michaela Goade. Roaring Brook. Mar. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250203557.
 K-Gr 3–From swirling, detailed watercolor illustrations to lyrical text with the refrain, “We stand with our songs and our drums. We are still here,” this title explores the Indigenous fight to protect water from pollution. A young Anishinaabe girl explains the prophecy of the black snake “that will destroy the land. Spoil the water. Poison plants and animals. Wreck everything in its path.” The unnamed girl calls for action to protect all living things and “fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” The illustrations use rich colors and shading to show the intricate connection among all living creatures. A broken pipeline leaks into blue waters, turning fish and fowl into skeletons. Ghosts of ancestors surround children as an elder tells them the black snake prophecy. Black pipelines form the body of the snake on a red background, its mouth open and ready to strike. The author and illustrator notes focus on the need to protect water, and explain events at Standing Rock, where tribal members and their allies fought against an oil pipeline. A glossary of terms is provided, and the last page has an “Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge” for readers to sign. VERDICT An accessible introduction to environmental issues combined with beautiful illustrations, this book will both educate and inspire youth. First purchase for all libraries.

Reviewed by Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

An SLJ Best Book

Randolph Caldecott Honors

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem To Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott. illus. by Noa Denmon. Farrar.

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham & Karim Shamsi-Basha. illus. by Yuko ShimizuPutnam. Apr. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984813787.
K-Gr 3–The power of one person’s kindness and commitment to others is a potent message. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel’s life is “a story about cats and war and people. But most of all, it is a story about love.” In this book based on an actual person and real events, Shamsi-Basha and Latham tell the tale of an ambulance driver who chose to stay in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria, even after war broke out. He begins to come across hungry, lonely cats as he drives his ambulance. With what little money he has, he buys scraps of meat to feed the animals; he extends his efforts to other animals and children as well. With international support, Mohammad creates a sanctuary from war’s devastation for animals and children. The straightforward telling is accompanied by graphically strong illustrations. The art depicts war-torn streets, bombed buildings, and great sadness but also playful cats and smiling children who have been helped by Mohammad. Notes from both authors and the illustrator provide a glimpse into the book’s inspiration and the research that went into the art. VERDICT A useful addition to school and public libraries to inform and to spark discussion about war, individual potential, and kindness to animals.

Reviewed by Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera. illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. S. & S./Denene Millner Bks. Aug. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534454217.
 PreS-Gr 2–A young Black girl enjoys a rainy day alone with her mother, savoring each ordinary moment for the joyful expression of love it represents. From combing their hair to a song-filled walk under cloudy skies, every part of the day is cherished because it is spent together. Mama is as bright as the sun and daughter orbits around her, basking in the glow of her kindness and understanding. Told from the daughter’s perspective, the simple yet lyrical prose shines with trust and pride in the bond the two share. The muted color palette and painterly style of the art evoke a cozy sense of security. While realistically portrayed, each image has a soft, dreamlike quality that also highlights the timelessness of the story. VERDICT A strong portrait of familial connection, this title captures the essence of unconditional love between parent and child, and is recommended for all picture book collections.

Reviewed by Sophie Kenney, Aurora P.L., IL

Outside In by Deborah Underwood. illus. by Cindy Derby. HMH.

Michael L. Printz Award

Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri. Levine Querido. Aug. 2020. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646140008.
Gr 4-8– Nayeri weaves stories within stories in this fictionalized account of his formative years. He shares layers of rich information about life in Iran, refugee camps, and his experiences as an immigrant in the United States during the late 20th century. The themes of family, love, and truth are as strong as those of faith, endurance, memory, and storytelling as Khosrou (also known as Daniel) tries to tell the tales of his beautiful, complicated life and family. Nayeri provides clues about other characters without overexplaining them. Tough issues are discussed, particularly domestic violence, bullying, and life as a refugee and an immigrant, but there is levity, too. Khosrou’s thoughts on Manwich sloppy joe sauce, using toilets in the U.S., and his father’s overindulgence in Twinkies all lighten this tale. Without being didactic, the text communicates the universality of the human experience and the lack of empathy shown by some, not all, of those he encounters in the U.S. and in the refugee environments. The strongest developed characters are Daniel and his mother; however, readers experience varying levels of complexities of other characters like Daniel’s father, stepfather, sister, teacher, and his friends (and enemies). VERDICT At once beautiful and painful, this timely story is highly recommended for middle grade readers.

Reviewed by Hilary Writt, formerly at Sullivan Univ., Lexington, KY

Michael L. Printz Honors

Apple: (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth. Levine Querido. Oct. 2020. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781646140138.
 Gr 7 Up–This bittersweet but ultimately inspiring memoir in verse chronicles Gansworth’s experience raised on a reservation. Gansworth, who is an enrolled Onondaga writer and artist, was born and raised at the Tuscarora Nation. The text aims to illuminate the truth about his family history and the trauma that shaped Gansworth’s life. Black-and-white photos and original graphic art supplement the text. The book’s very effective format creates emotional resonance. The straightforward narrative showcases themes of betrayal, racism, struggle, acceptance, resilience, risk, coming of age, and the power of family and community. The text opens by confronting and reclaiming the slur “Apple,” which is a derogatory term used to describe a Native person who is “red on the outside, white on the inside.” Gansworth’s deft storytelling skills shine; he is not afraid to examine uncomfortable truths. He writes honestly about the appropriation of Native American songs and dances, the effects of boarding school on both sets of grandparents, learning his native language, longing for his father’s approval, friendship, feeling lost, and leaving home for college. Throughout the narrative, he incorporates references to pop culture, such as television programs, movies, Batman, comic books, the Beatles, KISS, and Pink Floyd. All teens will relate to Gansworth’s profound portraits of joy, pain, and hope. VERDICT A well-written and captivating autobiography about the modern-day Indigenous experience that should be widely shared. Recommended for middle and high school libraries.

Reviewed by Naomi Caldwell, Alabama State Univ., Montgomery

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (text) & illus. by Gene Luen Yang. First Second. Mar. 2020. 448p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781626720794.
Gr 8 Up–A year after publishing his well-received Boxers and Saints, graphic novelist and math teacher Yang was beset by writer’s block. But his curiosity was piqued by the Dragons, his school’s men’s varsity basketball team. Over the years, they had come close to winning a state championship, and 2015, the rumor mill whispered, was their year. Though a self-proclaimed nerd, Yang overcame his aversion to sports and decided to follow alumnus Coach Lou and a diverse squad of young men on their quest for the ultimate accolade. As the author juggled raising a family, teaching, and writing, the Dragons struggled to take home the championship—an effort generations in the making. The frenetic action of basketball provides ideal fodder for graphic storytelling, and Yang’s visual trademarks—blade-sharp linework and squeaky-clean paneling—are in full force. His discourse on transforming human beings into cartoons that aren’t caricatures is especially delightful. The narrative combines the blood-sweat-and-tears drama of a sports story with elements of gonzo journalism, narrative nonfiction, and action comics, juxtaposing play-by-play accounts of games with explorations of players’ lives and the broader history of the sport. As Yang taps into subjects as varied as assimilation and discrimination in America, internecine violence in India, and China’s century-long quest for athletic recognition, readers learn how this low-cost, indoor game leveled racial, gender, and international boundaries to attain global prominence. VERDICT Another standout showing from Yang, this title will have even sports haters on their feet cheering.

Reviewed by Steven Thompson, Bound Brook Memorial Public Library, NJ 

An SLJ Best Book

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh. Dutton. Sept. 2020. 416p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525556206.
Gr 7 Up–Ada, pronounced Aah-dah!, means “first daughter” in Igbo and, as Ada shares, such a name carries the heavy weight of expectations. Written in verse, Ada’s narrative unfurls from her high school graduation, then jumps around in time while she navigates her early college days at an HBCU, dipping in and out of scenes from first, second, and sixth grades. Pivotal and sometimes wrenching episodes are seared into each of these time periods, from sexual abuse in first grade to a betrayal of her privacy by an aunty who arrives from Nigeria in sixth grade. Iloh poignantly captures the tension and jagged emotion required for Ada to juggle her needy and absent mother with the heavy expectations of her father, all while trying to figure out who she really wants to be. Amidst all this uncertainty and seeking lies dance. While Dad is the one to introduce Ada to dance lessons to connect her to his home country, it is the deep desire for movement that consumes Ada and begins to pull her in the opposite direction of his more practical aspirations for her. VERDICT Readers will be left wishing they could accompany Ada as she pursues her passion and finds her way to a genuine relationship, while left hopeful and inspired by her beautifully-told story.

Reviewed by Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. HMH. ISBN 9780358131434.
 Gr 7 Up–Fourteen teens form a bond growing up together in California. They go to school, work hard to be good kids in their community, and try their best to find happiness in various hobbies. American-born, they are of Japanese descent, and surrounded by people who do not trust their right to be in the U.S. World War II turns their already strained lives upside down. Taken and forced into desolate internment camps, these young kids must rally together as racism threatens to tear them apart. This novel evokes powerful emotions by using a variety of well-researched elements to tell the teens’ stories, creating a thorough picture of their thoughts and feelings through poetry, diary-style entries, and drawings. As Chee mentions in the author’s note, her family experienced the impact of being marked as “other” and therefore “dangerous,” and were forcibly uprooted from their homes and incarcerated in internment camps. The novel may be fiction, but it will be hard for readers not to fall deep into the harsh realities these teens face. The writing is engaging and emotionally charged, allowing the readers to connect with each character. VERDICT Chee’s words are a lot to take in, but necessary and beautiful all the same. This remarkable book deserves to be in any library collection.

Reviewed by DeHanza Kwong, Butte Public Library, MT 

An SLJ Best Book

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Sept. 2020. 176p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399545436.
Gr 4 Up–What happens after all your dreams come true? ZJ’s dad always wanted to be a football player. Through hard work, he achieved his goal and became an NFL player and hero to many. Unfortunately, his football fame came with a price. Now he experiences debilitating headaches, mood swings, and forgetfulness brought on by one too many concussions. ZJ remembers a time before his father changed; when his father would laugh, play with him and his friends, and support him with his music. That was the before—now he lives in the after. All ZJ has is memories of the incredible man his father was, and the fear of the unknown issue causing his father’s problems. Set in the early 2000s when concussion research on NFL players was at its inception, Woodson’s latest novel in verse conveys that not all success stories have a fairy-tale ending. Readers will feel an immediate connection to ZJ and his group of authentic, complex friends and family. The idea of showing the dark side of fame through the experiences of a young family member is a unique perspective that will resonate with readers of all ages. ZJ’s story will stay with the audience long after the last page is read. VERDICT A first choice for all collections. A unique take on sports and fame told from an unexpected perspective, and another incredible read delivered by Woodson.

Reviewed by Ashley Leffel, ­Griffin M.S., Frisco, TX Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award Honors

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D Taylor. Viking. (Logan ­Family). Jan. 2020. 496p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780399257308.
Gr 9 Up–Cassie Logan comes from the resilient, proud, and dignified Logan family of the Great Faith community in Mississippi. Throughout her life she witnesses the Great Migration and World War II, and experiences Jim Crow in public and private. She realizes teaching is not on her path and eventually pursues law in Boston. She is wooed by Central American construction man Flynn De Baca and has a tumultuous courtship and marriage with him until his drowning death, then alienates herself from her family due to her clandestine relationship with Guy Hallis, a white law firm colleague. Eventually, Cassie returns to Mississippi to participate in voter registration. Her family’s lives are tested when Papa’s health deteriorates. Taylor (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) has captivated legions of readers with award-winning masterful tales of the Logan family for over 40 years. Readers may find it hard to keep track of the numerous characters, though the presence of African American professionals and businesses is refreshing, and the family’s tight-knit dynamic is captivating. Taylor brilliantly weaves the fictional Logans and their communities with real historical figures and organizations. She makes it easy for those new to the series by recapping notable moments. VERDICT Readers will fall in love with the Logans, whether for the first time or again, with this important conclusion to a literary era.

Reviewed by Donald Peebles, Brooklyn Public Library

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338129335.
Gr 4-9–Although the bayou of Louisiana suggests something slow and gentle, 13-year-old King’s contemporary story feels intense and pointed. His 16-year-old brother, Khalid, died unexpectedly of unexplained medical causes, leaving his small family reeling. Three months later, King’s mom still isn’t cooking and his typically stoic dad has stunned him to silence by offering a rare “I love you” while dropping him off at school. Friends and middle school romance are difficult enough but then his ex-friend Sandy goes missing. Despite a relatively simple set of events, the story delivers emotional depth via the conversations between both friends and family members. The memories of Khalid’s dreamy sleep talk grippingly pluck at heartstrings, adding a romantic poetry to an already potent mix. Callender tackles some serious issues—racism, being gay, child abuse, grieving—with finesse and a heady sense of the passions and pangs of youth. On its own, this title solidifies Callender’s merit as a powerful middle grade and YA author, even without following on the heels of the well-awarded Hurricane ChildVERDICT An intense, gripping tale of love, loss, and friendship featuring a black youth grappling with his dreams and his identity. Recommended for all middle grade collections.

Reviewed by Erin Reilly-Sanders, University of Wisconsin-Madison

An SLJ Best Book

Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne. Viking. ISBN 9780451481542.
Gr 5-7–Dionne clearly presents the difficult battle for women’s suffrage that African American women endured before Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment on June 4, 1919. The trek to the ballot box for African American women was a difficult one, with many grim realities to overcome before and after the amendment’s ratification. Beginning with the start of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s and continuing to the present day, Dionne demonstrates why women anti-slavery advocates (African American and white) felt the need to band together to fight the sexism of the national abolitionist establishment. For instance, at the organizational meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, African American women were not invited to attend. The select white women in attendance were expected to observe the proceedings in silence. African American women fought their marginalization in the anti-slavery and later female suffrage movements and made their voices heard. The identification of African American women activists and the parts they played in American history is the strength of Dionne’s book. So many of these women played pivotal roles in the passage of fundamental civil rights legislation, yet remain unidentified in mainstream accounts. VERDICT A must-purchase for all secondary school libraries. Readers who liked Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage In Reconstruction America by Faye E. Dudden and Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas will particularly like Dionne’s work.

Reviewed by Susan Catlett, Green Run High School, Virginia Beach

An SLJ Best Book

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award 

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford & ­illus. by Frank Morrison. S. & S./Atheneum. Aug. 2020. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534452282.
PreS-Gr 3–Weatherford, using rhyming couplets to explain important words from Aretha Franklin’s life (Detroitgrooveproud, and humble) as she chronicles the Queen of Soul’s childhood, her rising stardom, and her political activism. Readers who are craving in-depth details about Franklin can turn to the author’s note or other sources, but this book is not a meticulous biography. Rather, Weatherford presents a powerful celebration of the legendary singer that offers snapshots of major life events. Morrison’s colorful paintings pulse with energy, and every page is dynamic. The interplay between the deceptively simple narrative and Morrison’s illustrations is pitch-perfect. For example, the pages for “Detroit” (the family moves from Memphis, TN) and “Strife” (Barbara Franklin leaves the family after her husband’s infidelity) mirror each other to powerful effect: The family stands before a large tree to “put down roots” in each spread, but Barbara is absent in the artwork for “Strife.” This beautiful picture book biography packs an emotional punch that is as compelling as the timeless songs that Franklin made famous. VERDICT Purchase this luscious, lyrical book for all nonfiction collections.

Reviewed by Jen McConnel, Queen’s Univ., Ont 

An SLJ Best Book of 2020.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award Honors

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon & illus. by Kaylani Juanita. Tilbury House. Jan. 2020. 32p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780884487975.
PreS-Gr 3–This book is a joyful ode to the color brown. Several brown girls are presented across the pages as they share how the hue is featured in their lives. In a repeating pattern, Doyon first describes each kind of brown (feathery, amber, radiant, cozy, thundering, etc.) with descriptions of time spent with family and friends, from cocoa-sipping winter days to peaceful hikes in the woods. Then she presents a simple simile: “Radiant my skin.” The text itself is a poem which dances playfully on the tongue when read aloud, featuring just the right amount of alliteration, a wide range of unusual vocabulary, and vibrant imagery. Juanita’s illustrations are a celebration of these girls, using all shades of brown and many warm colors on a light yellow background. She gives particular care to the details that make the girls seem very real: fun hair clips, bandage-adorned skin, and patterns on clothes. They are an active bunch, leaping into piles of leaves and pirouetting on roller blades. While all characters are brown, there is a diverse cast, including a family member who uses a wheelchair and several characters wearing hijab. VERDICT Whether this delightful book is a mirror or a window for a child, it is a must-read for its celebration of love for oneself and one’s family.

Reviewed by Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

An SLJ Best Book

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade  & illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Abrams. Apr. 2020. 48p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419734113.
K-Gr 3–Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) was inspired to write poetry from an early age. When she wasn’t dreaming on her back porch, she was filling notebooks with observations about nature and everyday life in her Chicago neighborhood. Themes of racial injustice, hunger, and poverty stood alongside depictions of joy and wonder in her work. Brooks dedicated her life to writing; she won contests, got published, and eventually became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. The biography’s awestruck, reverent tone is matched by the gorgeous acrylic paintings. Bright palettes of pink, orange, blue, and green evoke the influence of nature in Brooks’s work. There is a lovely contrast between the illustrations of lush outdoor sunsets and the beautifully rendered moments that depict her home life. The only thing missing from the text is more excerpts from Brooks’s poetry. Shining a spotlight on the poet’s own words would have enriched the context of her life story and shown how life can influence art and vice versa. Extensive back matter includes a poem by 15-year-old Brooks titled “Clouds,” an author’s note, a time line, source notes, and a bibliography. VERDICT A visually remarkable and inspiring introduction to the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Recommended for purchase in most collections.

Reviewed by Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

An SLJ Best Book

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera. illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. S. & S./Denene Millner Bks. Aug. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534454217.
PreS-Gr 2–A young Black girl enjoys a rainy day alone with her mother, savoring each ordinary moment for the joyful expression of love it represents. From combing their hair to a song-filled walk under cloudy skies, every part of the day is cherished because it is spent together. Mama is as bright as the sun and daughter orbits around her, basking in the glow of her kindness and understanding. Told from the daughter’s perspective, the simple yet lyrical prose shines with trust and pride in the bond the two share. The muted color palette and painterly style of the art evoke a cozy sense of security. While realistically portrayed, each image has a soft, dreamlike quality that also highlights the timelessness of the story. VERDICT A strong portrait of familial connection, this title captures the essence of unconditional love between parent and child, and is recommended for all picture book collections.

Reviewed by Sophie Kenney, Aurora P.L., IL


Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Sept. 2020. 512p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534441606.
Gr 8 Up–In Deonn’s rich and explosive debut, readers are introduced to a meticulously-built world of magic with roots in Arthurian legend and traditions of the African American South. After her mother’s death, Bree enters an Early College program, despite still processing her grief. It’s not long before she’s pulled into a secret society, and is pushed by circumstance into dangerous tournaments to go from Page to Squire all while watching her back for the demons who would kill her. This book discusses pertinent topics such as institutional racism, intergenerational trauma, and feminism with grace and a natural, unforced style. Readers will delight in a delicious love triangle that promises to get more delectable with a sequel. Though heavy at times with exposition, the novel provides plenty of scenes rife with action and emotion. Deonn pulls off a surprise ending that will urge readers to start from the beginning, to collect the clues laid along the way. VERDICT A promising series debut perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. This book underscores the movement for more inclusive versions of traditional Western narratives, and will be a favorite of contemporary fantasy readers. Highly recommended.—Abby Hargreaves, DC P.L.

An SLJ Best Book

Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton for Lifetime Achievement:

Dorothy L. Guthrie


Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third & illus. by Raúl the Third. Versify. Mar. 2020. 48p. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781328557049.
Gr 2-5–Delivery wolf extraordinaire Little Lobo must feed his hungriest clients yet. First seen in ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, Little Lobo and his dog, Bernabé, return with a new bike for speedy deliveries. The new wheels help the duo hit up a variety of food trucks to satisfy the diverse desires of a troupe of hungry luchadores with aliases like La Oink Oink and the ingeniously named Armor Dillo. Much like Market, the narrative is secondary to the richly detailed world Little Lobo explores. Anthropomorphic roosters, cats, bunnies, snakes, and even a pig with a tattoo that says jamon all have a friendly smile and words of encouragement for Little Lobo. A cucaracha with a yellow shirt, white cowboy hat, and bolo tie accompanies Little Lobo throughout the story: this book’s version of Richard Scarry’s Goldbug. Throughout this delicious odyssey, readers are treated to a smorgasbord of Mexican food terms, and the intricate illustrations are peppered with Spanish labels for the items pictured, from lapiz (pencil) to molcajete (mortar and pestle for making salsa). Be prepared to be lost in this book para siempre. VERDICT Combining two iconic elements of Mexican culture, food trucks and lucha libre, this tale will make readers of all ages hungry for tacos, burritos, and elote (Mexican street corn)—and for more stories set in the inviting, busy town created by Raúl the Third.
Reviewed by Chance Lee Joyner, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, NH 


Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Honors

Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello. by Monica Brown & illus. by Elisa Chavarri. Lee & Low. Aug. 2020. 40p. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780892394234.
Gr 3-6–Julio C. Tello dreamed of documenting Indigenous history through an Indigenous perspective. Growing up in the shadow of the Andes mountains in the late 1800s, Tello heard about the glorious history of Peru from his father. The widespread death and destruction that followed in the wake of the Spanish invasion nearly erased thousands of years of pre-European history, but Tello was determined to discover it all. His fearless curiosity earned him the nickname Sharuko, which means brave in his Quechua language. He graduated from medical school in Lima, Peru, in 1909 and earned a graduate degree in anthropology from Harvard in 1911. Upon returning to Peru, he made many important archaeological discoveries and became known as the “founder of modern Peruvian archaeology.” From the discovery of ancient skulls in his youth to his appointment as director of Peru’s Museum of Anthropology in 1939, Tello’s drive to uncover the heritage of his people helped him become Peru’s first Indigenous archaeologist. Brown’s bilingual narrative is clear and straightforward, making Tello’s life and achievements easily accessible. Chavarri’s colorful and upbeat illustrations highlight Tello’s discoveries, from the endpapers featuring stone heads extracted from the Chavín de Huántar site to the motifs of Paracas textiles. VERDICT A highly recommended and inspiring portrayal of dedication and perseverance for today’s generation of explorers.
Reviewed by Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County P.L., Tucson, AZ

An SLJ Best Book

Pura Belpré Children's (Author) Award

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros. HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062881687.
Gr 5-7–A timely story of one boy’s fight to reunite his family, save a friendship, and stand up for justice. Efrén’s favorite spot to read is the bathtub—when he wants to hide from his twin siblings, that’s where he retreats, though the smell of Amá’s delicious sopes always has a way of drawing him out. To Efrén, Amá is a Soperwoman! Living undocumented in the United States, Amá and Apá both work hard to provide a better life for their children. Although their apartment is small and money is tight, Efrén knows he has a lot to be thankful for. But one day everything changes. When he arrives home from school, Amá is gone. She has been deported. Stepping in to care for his siblings while Apá works overtime, Efrén tries to channel Amá’s superpowers. But when teachers and friends notice something is wrong, will Efrén find the courage to share the truth? Efrén’s story is not uncommon. In the last few years, the news has become saturated with headlines about deportations and separated families. Cisneros provides a heart-wrenching and evocative glimpse of what one family’s life might look like on both sides of the border. Using down-to-earth characters and authentic scenarios, he tells a story of resilience, strength, and love. VERDICT In a time full of divisiveness and unknowns, this resonant title will inspire young readers to make a difference, no matter the hardships they face.
Reviewed by Rebecca Redinger, Lincoln Park Branch, Chicago Public Library

An SLJ Best Book

Pura Belpré Children's (Author) Honors

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas. Farrar. Jul. 2020. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374313609.
Gr 4-7–With a dad in the military, Nestor has moving down to a science: pack his bedroom in under five minutes, keep his head down at the new school, and make sure people don’t learn he can talk to animals. For Nestor, each stop is nothing more than a countdown until he moves again. But this move is different. Nestor and his mother have come to New Haven, TX, to live with his Cuban abuela while his father is deployed to Afghanistan. Nestor has another new experience when he inadvertently makes two friends, Maria Carmen and Talib, who soon come to Nestor’s aid. Animals have been disappearing throughout New Haven. Forest creatures tell Nestor that it is the work of a tule vieja, a witch who can absorb characteristics of an animal by biting it during a solar eclipse. But the people of New Haven begin whispering that Nestor’s abuela is responsible. With an eclipse approaching in days, Nestor, his friends, and an unlikely ally head into the woods to confront the tule vieja and rescue the town. Cuevas crafts a riveting story based on folktales from Panama and Costa Rica. Spanish words and Latin American customs are integrated throughout. Despite rising tensions in the town which result in overt hostility against his family, Nestor overcomes years of self-imposed isolation to learn that being a friend means allowing people to help you. Additionally, he and his friends are forced to probe beneath the surface of the class bully, who is pulled into their quest. Magical folklore provides the foundation for the plot, but themes of home, family, and friendship are the core of the book, with a heaping dose of creepiness to make it morefun. VERDICT Hand this unique story to fans of “Rick Riordan Presents” and students looking for scary books.
Reviewed by Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera. Levine Querido. Sept. 2020. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646140039.
Gr 3-7–Readers will be immediately drawn into the zippy first-person voice of Lupe Wong, future first female pitcher in Major League Baseball and defender of social justice. Young people will identify with the torture that is the middle school square-dancing unit. Lupe is determined to fight for the right to not participate. In order to earn the privilege of meeting her favorite baseball player she must get straight A’s, and that includes square dancing. Her grandfather’s wisdom influences her to choose to “overcome instead of fighting.” Lupe finds that trying something new, and adding her own spin on it, can make her life richer. Readers will enjoy the time spent with Lupe; reluctant sports-loving readers might even find reading as palatable as Lupe eventually finds dancing. Lupe must also learn to navigate the rough waters of friendship in seventh grade when everything gets complicated. Debut author Higuera imbues the text with diversity through cultures and family structures, as well as neurodiversity; Lupe’s friend Niles is autistic. Lupe manages to make the square-dancing unit work, all while fixing some age-old traditions that are no longer culturally relevant. Kids becoming aware and ready to fight for social justice causes will be inspired by Lupe, who learns to sift through what she doesn’t like and fight for that which is most important. VERDICT A humorous, fresh #OwnVoices title sure to appeal to social justice advocates and reluctant square dancers everywhere.
Reviewed by Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn P.L., NJ


Pura Belpré YA (Author) Award

 Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez. Algonquin. Sept. 2020. 368p. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616209919.
Gr 7 Up–Seventeen-year-old Camila “Furia” Hassan navigates a world of lies in Rosario, Argentina. At home she plays the respectful and innocent daughter who is dedicated to learning English and attending medical school. Obedient to her abusive father, loyal to her rising-soccer-star brother and dedicated to her overwhelmed mother, Camila does not show her true colors. The headstrong Latina has dreams of her own: To earn a scholarship to a university and play soccer in the United States, to stick up for women’s rights in her beloved hometown, and to pursue her own relationship with Rosario’s local soccer hero and international heartthrob Diego “El Titan” Ferrari. Through Camila’s first-person narrative, readers learn about her conflicting feelings as a daughter, athlete, and friend, while she struggles to define her priorities. With a mix of Spanish words, vivid dialogue, and rich description, Mendez paints a realistic image of a young woman battling to become herself against the odds. Instances of abuse and child death are described in a sensitive manner for mature readers. This inspirational story is an important read for young adults everywhere to witness the dynamics and pressures for a young Argentinian. VERDICT This book is a powerful and realistic novel for libraries with a large Latinx or young adult population.
Reviewed by Emily Bayci-Mroczek, Naperville Public Library-Naper Boulevard Library, IL


Pura Belpré YA (Author) Honors

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera. Bloomsbury. Sept. 2020. 320p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781547603732.  
Gr 9 Up–This is a modern retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice Greek myth featuring Latinx teens. Eury and her mother lost their home to Hurricane Maria but Eury knows it was no ordinary storm. The death spirit Ato befriended Eury as a child. As she grew older, he became more possessive and sinister, wreaking havoc to get her attention and promising to take her to el Inframundo, the Underworld, so they could be together forever. No one believes Eury and she is wary of trusting people with her secret. While visiting her cousin in the Bronx, she meets Pheus, a talented and charming Afro-Dominican bachata musician. Pheus wants to spend all his time getting to know Eury and soon learns that her traumatic experience in Puerto Rico was created by a supernatural being, something outside of his comfort zone. Spending time with Eury makes him reevaluate his life, the way his friends treat others, and his casual romances. When Ato finally succeeds in taking Eury to the Underworld, Pheus risks everything to bring her back but must follow the cardinal rule of all myths: Don’t turn around. This book seamlessly blends Caribbean and Greek myth into a contemporary teen novel, exploring realistic aspects of identity, stereotypes, trauma, and romance. VERDICT This #OwnVoices novel is highly recommended for all teen collections. No prior knowledge of the original myth is needed, but readers may be inspired to research it after devouring this compelling and updated retelling.
Reviewed by Marissa Lieberman, East Orange P.L., NJ

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez. Philomel. May 2020. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781984812261.
Gr 9 Up–Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico know that in Puerto Barrios, their future and the future of those around them is always uncertain. After Pulga and Chico witness the murder of Don Feliciano, they are pulled in to local gang leader Rey’s group, their lives and loved ones threatened unless they comply. Pequeña, who has suffered from Rey’s threats in silence and has given birth to his child, can see all too clearly the future she will have by his side. In desperation, Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico leave their beloved mothers behind, relying on each other as they make the dangerous journey from Guatemala to the U. S. This fast-paced novel provides a heartbreakingly brutal look at just some of the dangerous realities faced by many. The circumstances that lead them to leave everything they love behind are replaced by different, equally harsh situations once they arrive in a place they thought would provide safety. Sanchez’s insightful descriptions of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, as well as their desperation and hopelessness, will elicit empathy in young readers. Short chapters filled with suspense and heartache will keep teens turning the pages to find out what happens to the trio. VERDICT A candid, realistic story that will leave readers thinking about the characters—and about our own world—long after the last page. Perfect for young adult collections in school and public libraries.
Reviewed by Selenia Paz, Harris County Public Library, Houston

An SLJ Best Book

Stonewall Book Award

We Are Little Feminists: Families by Archaa Shrivastav. designed by Lindsey Blakely. Little Feminist.


Stonewall Honors

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne & illus. by Aliza Layne. S. & S./Atheneum. Jul. 2020. 256p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781534441538; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781534441545.
 Gr 4-8–Beetle, a 12-year-old goblin, lives with her grandmother, the helpful town witch. When she’s not bored to tears being homeschooled on goblin magic, she’s hanging out with her best friend, the teeny and adorable Blob Ghost, a floating, speechless, but incredibly expressive red orb who haunts the local mall. Though magical forces prevent Blob Ghost from leaving the mall, Beetle is certain that the two will always be pals—until Beetle’s former best friend, Kat Hollowbone, arrives. Beetle and Kat don’t get along quite the same as before—there might be feelings involved now—but Kat isn’t here alone. Kat’s a sorcerer’s apprentice for her menacing aunt, Marla Hollowbone, who just happens to have bought out the mall. And unless Beetle and Kat do something, the mall will be demolished, with Blob Ghost still trapped inside. Cartoonist Layne makes a stellar debut. Simultaneously gorgeous and goofy, the artwork is reminiscent of the animated series Bee and Puppycat and a delicious love letter to shoujo manga. Layne’s supernatural cast is fantastic, from green-skinned Beetle and her grandmother to Kat and Marla, respectively, skeletal cat and bird creatures. Characters’ LGBTQ identities, such as Beetle and Kat’s changing relationship, as well as the use of the they pronoun for Blob Ghost, are gently woven throughout the narrative. Relying on intersecting plotlines in lieu of a more straightforward romp, Layne conveys themes of independence, identity, and realization of one’s potential. VERDICT Action-packed yet heartfelt, short and sweet yet riveting, this one is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Matisse Mozer, Los Angeles P.L

As SLJ Best Book

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram. Dial. Aug. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593108239. 
 Gr 8 Up–In the award-winning Darius the Great Is Not Okay, Iranian American Darius’s sexuality is inferred, but never stated. Now Darius is out, has a boyfriend, and is supported by his family and high school soccer teammates. He video-chats with his best friend and family in Iran for updates about his dying grandfather, but while Iran’s landscapes and Persian culture are spotlighted in the first book, here the focus is on Darius navigating the complexities of being a multiracial gay teenager. He continues to be bullied, but Darius is more concerned with his younger sister Laleh’s first experiences with racism and microaggressions. As his parents struggle financially and, like Darius, with depression, his aloof, queer grandmothers are asked to live with the family for a while to help out. They eventually open up as family dilemmas force them to be more involved, and Darius learns a little about their relationship and LGBTQIA+ history. This is a page-turning YA romance at its core. The repeating line, “That’s normal, right?” reminds readers that Darius is an insecure teenager who is trying to figure out life, just like everybody else. The author skillfully places worries about being uncircumcised and having inopportune erections alongside descriptions of elegant oolong tea tastings. The soccer team’s supportive culture, established by their Black female coach, is set neatly within the frame of Darius’s tense family dynamic. VERDICT Khorram again presents an artful tapestry of sci-fi fandom, Persian culture, soccer, racism, sexuality, depression, family crises, a love triangle, and endless amounts of global teas in Darius’s compelling story. Despite all of the seemingly disparate elements, this is a seamless and profound YA novel with a memorable and endearing main character.
Reviewed by Elaine Fultz, Oakwood City Sch., Dayton, OH

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062820259. 
Gr 9 Up–Black, queer, and trans Felix explores love, friendship, and possibly retribution in this powerful #OwnVoices story of identity and self-worth. Seventeen-year-old Felix Love hopes the summer art program he’s attending will help raise his grades and increase his chances of getting a full scholarship to attend Brown. Surrounded by a diverse and mostly queer group of artist friends, Felix navigates complicated relationships, including transphobia and harassment from his own friends, from his loving but still learning father, and from an anonymous bully. Bent on revenge, Felix begins catfishing his top suspect, only to encounter some uncomfortable and surprising revelations about not just his potential tormentor, but his own feelings. Coping with the abandonment of his mother and feeling like he isn’t worthy of love, Felix also grapples with the unsettling feeling that his identity still isn’t the best fit. It’s only after a lot of research that he discovers the label “demiboy” and begins to feel a sense of comfort that extends to how he works through and untangles his various complex relationships, both romantic and platonic. Immensely readable, the narration and the dialogue are honest, smart, and at times, bitingly vicious. Felix and friends are complicated characters, constantly fighting, messing up, and making up. Felix is achingly relatable, both vulnerable and guarded, often on the sidelines but wanting so much more. His explorations address privilege, marginalization, and intersectionality while he learns about what and who get to define a person. VERDICT Full of warmth, love, and support, this is an important story and an essential purchase.
Reviewed by Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Scholastic. Jun. 2020. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338503265.
Gr 9 Up–Grabbing readers from the outset is the cover photo of a bronzed and radiant Liz Lighty, wearing a hand-drawn crown on her mass of natural curls, complete with a supermodel-style gap between her front teeth. And the story only gains momentum from there. Hair is not the only big thing in Liz’s life. She has plans to study premed at Pennington College, but when she fails to get the partial music scholarship, she thinks all chances are gone. Her only hope for funding her education is the town’s biggest event of the year, the prom, which comes with its own scholarships. In fact, the prom in Campbell County, IN, is “like football in Texas.” As a music geek, Liz is out of her league in this world of dresses, makeup, posters with her face plastered everywhere, and the school’s paparazzi. With help from her friends and a few tricks up her sleeve, Liz learns to play the game, including hiding her budding queer romance, sheltering her grandparents from her money woes, and stepping into the spotlight. Johnson’s pacing is perfect as the story unwinds at dizzying speed, while attacking some tropes and celebrating others. Occasionally, life has fairy-tale endings. VERDICT Readers will fall in love with this refreshing book that celebrates the beauty of individuality.
Reviewed by Cicely Lewis, Meadowcreek High School, Norcross, GA


Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—Picture Book

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artistby Julie Leung (text) & illus. by Chris Sasaki. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Sept. 2019. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524771874.
PreS-Gr 3–From humble origins as a nine-year-old Chinese immigrant with false papers, Tyrus Wong challenged adversity to become a professional artist. Celebrated as the man behind the design for Disney’s Bambi, Wong worked for other film studios as well. Leung’s smooth exposition emphasizes the difficulties facing young Wong Geng Yeo, who traveled in 1921 under the identity of Look Tai Yow, a merchant’s son, in order to evade the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Days of practice on the long voyage allowed him to pass his immigration interview and be released to join his father, but only after an extended detention on Angel Island. Wong finished high school and art school, but continued to face discrimination as a Disney employee. Sasaki’s digital illustrations portray him as the single non-white man among a group of Disney animators drawing the repetitive “in between” frames of movies. The art often reflects the style of Chinese watercolor and ink paintings. One notable spread shows the artist working as a janitor, swirling his mop trails to paint a running horse on a tile floor. Other images are stylized but recognizable and appropriate to the mood and the period. The helpful back matter includes author and illustrator notes and photos from the Wong family albums, including his immigration card. The endpapers feature the kites Wong designed and flew on the beach near his California home. VERDICT A well-told story that spotlights the too-often unrecognized talent and contributions of America’s immigrants.

Reviewed by ­Kathleen Isaacs, Children’s ­Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD


Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—Picture Book Honor

Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (text) & ­illus. by Anna Kim. Viking. Jul. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451478894.
PreS-Gr 2–Danbi, an immigrant from Korea, is feeling anxious on her first day of school in America. Her heart pounds as she enters the classroom. Everyone stares at her. Even though many of the class activities and games are new, she participates as best as she can. During lunchtime, kids are curious about how to use her chopsticks, so she shows them and then leads them on a musical parade around the school. Kim, a debut author, has created detailed illustrations in soft colors, highlighting Danbi’s fears and then the brighter spots in a brand new setting. VERDICT A sweet and helpful book for children who are nervous about moving or starting a new school—or any big change.

Reviewed by Noureen Qadir-Jafar, Syosset Lib., NY


Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—Children's

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. Random. Jan. 2020. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524715700.
Gr 4-7–Lily has always loved her halmoni’s stories; Korean folktales that begin, “long, long ago, when tiger walked like a man.” But Lily never expected to encounter the fierce magical tiger in her sick grandmother’s basement, or to strike a deal to heal Halmoni by releasing the powerful stories she stole as a young woman. Keller illuminates Lily’s desperation to heal Halmoni and bring her family together through the tiger stories interspersed throughout the book; stories of heroism and self-sacrifice, of sisterhood and bravery. Yet the book’s greatest strength is in its complex human characters, from Halmoni whose traumatic immigration story spurs her to unite her community through kindness and herbal remedies, to Lily’s prickly older sister Sam, whose grief and fear stirred up by Halmoni’s illness exists alongside a budding romance with a new girlfriend. Lily worries about her invisibility and living up to the “quiet Asian girl” stereotype she hates, but she doesn’t know how else to cope with her volatile teenage sister or her mother’s need to pretend that everything is okay, despite the weight of family trauma past and present. Keller weaves ancient folklore with Korean history through contemporary magical realism. She calls on the power of stories to bring families and communities together and the ability to heal by speaking to their pasts. VERDICT This deeply moving book is a must-purchase for all collections, showcasing vulnerable and mythic storytelling in the vein of Erin Entrada Kelly and Kacen Callender.

Reviewed by Molly Saunders, Manatee County Public Libraries, Bradenton, FL

An SLJ Best Book of 2020.

Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—Children's Honor

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. HMH/Clarion. Mar. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781328781505.
Gr 5-8–Fourteen-year-old Hanna and her father move to the frontier town of LaForge, where Hanna hopes they can finally put down permanent roots. Since her mother’s death three years earlier, Hanna and her father have traveled from town to town, trying to find a place they will be accepted. Will LaForge be the place where Hanna can finally go to school and make friends? Or will they have to leave just like every other place because the townspeople are afraid of a girl who is half Chinese? At moments stingingly painful and ultimately triumphant, this story will cause readers to look at frontier life with a new set of eyes. Racism, immigration, Native American reservations, invisible histories, and parental loss are just a few of the heavy topics Park plumbs with grace while making them accessible for young readers. Hanna is a relatable heroine struggling to overcome ignorance and racism both firmly and kindly, all while seeking what she most desperately wants—acceptance for who she is. VERDICT A sometimes uncomfortable yet triumphant story from the world of “Little House on the Prairie” told through a marginalized perspective; this is a must-read for middle grades and beyond.

Reviewed by Emily Beasley, Omaha Public Schools


Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—YA

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II by Andrew Fukuda. Tor Teen. Jan. 2020. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250192387.

Gr 7 Up–It is 1935 and Alex Maki is excited to start writing to his new French pen pal, Charlie Lévy, until he finds out Charlie is a girl. But the assignments have already been made, and so Alex and Charlie are stuck with each other. Six years later, they’re still writing, though so much has changed. Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor, and suddenly everyone in Alex’s close-knit community in Washington State distrusts his Japanese American family, even though he and his brother have never set foot in Japan. Charlie, meanwhile, is still in Paris, but it’s a Paris no longer friendly to Jews. Then Alex and his family are taken away to a camp and Charlie stops responding to his letters. While this is a story about Alex and his friendship with Charlie, it transcends the two to tackle larger questions of racism and state-sponsored violence. Though there are numerous novels of World War II, Alex’s is a fresh story of the internment of Japanese Americans and the Japanese American experience broadly. While occasionally melodramatic, the novel is grounded in meticulous historical research and deals with both internment and life on the war front. VERDICT Recommended where historical novels are popular; this one adds an important perspective to World War II fiction.

Reviewed by Zoë McLaughlin, Michigan State University, East Lansing


Asian Pacific American Award for Literature—YA Honor

Displacement by Kiku Hughes & illus. by Kiku Hughes. First Second. Aug. 2020. 288p. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781250193537.
Gr 6 Up–On a visit to San Francisco in 2016, Kiku, a biracial teen from Seattle, gains a better understanding of her heritage and the power of memory when she is thrust back in time to the 1940s and, alongside her grandmother and many other Japanese people and Japanese Americans, imprisoned in incarceration camps. Kiku uses the slight knowledge she possesses about the future to navigate life at Tanforan Assembly Center in California and, later, Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Hughes has crafted a compelling look at this moment in history, relying on a blend of research and family memory. Kiku is an introspective narrator who guides readers through the challenges that detainees faced. Those unfamiliar with this period will walk away with a fuller picture of the struggles within these camps, as well as the different ways in which resistance bloomed. Reluctant readers will be pulled in by the book’s exceptional design; the judiciously varied panel sizes and layouts coupled with gutter-breaking illustrations cinematically move the story along. The subdued neutral palette roots Kiku’s experiences in the past and adds a layer of gravity. Hughes ties her narrative to the present by including moments from the 2016 presidential campaign, with its anti-immigration sentiment, underscoring the cyclical nature of prejudice and how those in power attempt to control the narrative to the disadvantage of marginalized communities. VERDICT A potent look at history and the lasting intergenerational impact of community trauma.

Reviewed by Pearl Derlaga, York County P.L., VA


Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle (text) & illus. by Mike Wohnoutka. Candlewick. Sept. 2020. 64p. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781536204278.
K-Gr 2–Who is running the show in this delightfully humorous easy reader? The first line of text, large black font on a white verso page, is “See the cat.” On the recto page, a yellow dog proudly declares in speech bubble text, “I am not a cat. I am a dog.” As descriptors of the cat accumulate, dog Max grows more and more indignant until indeed a cat does appear and the text “See the red dog” is paired with red-cheeked Max admitting, “I am so embarrassed.” In the second story, the omniscient narrator begins, “See the snake” as Max resignedly responds, “Here we go again.” The jig is up, however, as Max cleverly averts the dangerous snake by using a pencil to write in a different ending. In the third story, Max takes control by threatening to leave the book when the narrator again tries to manipulate him. Cartoon-style illustrations expertly support a text with repetition and simple sentences. As Max progresses from confused to canny to competent, children will find a reflection of their own reading journey as well as amusement at the metafictive aspect of a dog wrestling with a book. VERDICT This humorous, self-referential, fourth wall–demolishing easy reader features a dog who seems to be at the mercy of the storyteller—or is he?
Reviewed by Ramarie Beaver, formerly at Plano P.L., TX


Theodor Seuss Geisel Honors

The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa (text) & illus. by Maya Tatsukawa. Dial. Mar. 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525555827.

PreS-K–“I live with a bear” states the book’s unnamed human boy. As he describes it, this is one scary bear, with a loud roar, fierce appetite, and bossy attitude. Family or not, his parents just don’t understand. After some further reflection and an interaction with a few neighborhood bullies, the boy sees the benefits of having a bear-ish older sibling. Tatsukawa’s tale features endearing artwork. Sentences and a handful of dialogue balloons are brief, leaving most of the room for the digitally textured art, which almost looks like stamp work. For a debut title, this picture book is very well paced, and nicely emphasizes how even children at odds can connect. As the boy learns, sometimes they will get on each other’s nerves, but they are there for each other; they are family. VERDICT Simple and sweet. A story that should resonate with siblings.

Reviewed by Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons (text) & illus. by Nina Mata. Harper/HarperCollins/. (My First I Can Read). Sept. 2020. 32p. $16.99. ISBN 9780062951120; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780062951076..

K-Gr 2–In the “Ty’s Travels” series, a young Black boy brings his imagination to playtime along with a box and his scooter. In Zip, Zoom! Ty learns to ride his scooter in the park as his mother encourages him that he can do it. Along the way he imagines people in a stadium waving flags and rooting for him. He gets a bit discouraged when he falls off his scooter but a young girl named Ari, also Black, tells him not to give up and she shows him how it’s done, then rides along with him. In All Aboard! Ty is excited to play, asking his parents and brother to join in, but they are all busy. In the basement, he finds a box and visualizes it as a train, and takes a trip. With simple sentence structures that reinforce skills for emerging readers, Lyons gets to the heart of what it means to be a young child with imagination. The illustrations provide visual clues to Ty’s day, with the dynamic scenes in the park providing a bustling, multicultural landscape. VERDICT Children will enjoy and be able to relate to the young boy’s game of pretend as he navigates ordinary events. Add this to the beginning readers shelves with confidence.

Reviewed by Annmarie Braithwaite, New York P.L., New York City

What About Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins & Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion. (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!: Bk. 7). May 2020. 64p. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781368045735.

PreS-Gr 2–Piggie and Elephant have a grave dilemma: Should they read a book about worms, even if they are uncertain how it will end? They bravely decide to, and as they read, they meet a tiger who is also afraid of worms. Worms are obviously slimy and wiggly, thinks Tiger. Suddenly every object Tiger comes upon is related to worms. Flowers plus dirt equal worms. Crunchy apples equal worms. A book on the ground with a wiggly illustration must be a worm, too! Tiger runs away just as a group of striped worms declares it is afraid of tigers. Ultimately, the worms realize the book Tiger left behind is about tigers, but will they be daring enough to read it? Fans of Piggie and Elephant will be drawn to this title because of Willems’s familiar text style. The accompanying illustrations on white and colored backgrounds effectively show the characters’ energy and emotions. VERDICT Readers will identify with the characters’ reluctance to try new things and learning about unfamiliar topics.

Reviewed by Martha Rico, Yselta ISD, TX

Where’s Baby? by Anne Hunter (text) & illus. by Anne Hunter. Tundra. Jan. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735264984.

PreS-K–Papa Fox is searching for Baby in this simple, unassuming concept book about prepositions. Papa Fox looks up in a tree, inside a log, down a hole, and a plethora of other locations, but only finds other animals who are not his child. Meanwhile, hiding in the illustrations, Baby is clearly visible and follows Papa Fox as he searches. Finally, he returns to Mama Fox, declaring he cannot find Baby, until Mama Fox points out Baby has been hiding behind him all along. Papa Fox and his little one embrace, with Baby hoping they can go searching through the woods to meet different animals again. The artwork, which was rendered in ballpoint pen and colored pencil, is featured on expansive two-page spreads. The colors are muted and soft, adding to the quiet tone of the story. Young readers will enjoy spotting Baby in the illustrations, making this a fun read-aloud during group sharing. Although designed to teach children about prepositions, this element is never obtrusive or detracting to the storytelling. VERDICT A delightful picture book to teach children about prepositions in a subtle, charming way. Recommended.

Reviewed by Laura J. ­Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming (text) & illus. by Eric Rohmann. Holiday House/Neal Porter. Feb. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823442850.
K-Gr 4–Prior to the title page, two full-page close-ups show a honeybee emerging from her wax cell. The free verse poem that runs through the entire book helps readers envision the start of this life cycle. The text and the accompanying illustrations work together masterfully. The vocabulary is precise and razor sharp: each word makes an impact, adding a crucial detail. The language also generates and sustains curiosity. Early on in the narrative, Fleming wonders if the honeybee is ready to fly, but the answer is “not yet.” Other jobs come first—cleaning, nursing, queen tending, comb building, food handling, and guarding. The bee finally takes flight “on the twenty-fifth day of her life.” It is worth the wait. Rohmann’s illustrations make a dramatic transition. The previous oil-on- paper illustrations are amazingly detailed, large, and easy to examine. The warm colors of the hive (brown, black, yellow) show a safe, secure environment. But as Apis Mellifera peers out from the hive, the perspective radically changes, and a four-page gatefold of a sunny meadow with a field of flowers is visible. Readers follow the insect through each of her jobs until her end, where a new honeybee takes her place. It’s an impressive cycle. VERDICT This book is nonfiction at its best—a combination of beautifully crafted language and astonishing close-up illustrations. Fleming displays admiration for honeybees and conveys enormous respect for their work.

Reviewed by Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York

An SLJ Best Book

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honors

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco (text) & illus. by John Rocco. Crown. Oct. 2020. 264p. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9780525647416.
Gr 5 Up–This illustrated nonfiction book depicts each step of the scientific and engineering journey that facilitated the moon landing. The history of the Apollo program takes a back seat to the explanations of various rocket science concepts. This is often presented in a problem-and-solution format, which adds a narrative aspect to the otherwise technical texts. The hand-drawn illustrations move from portraits to technical drawings with remarkable ease. Every page provides graphic features, including illustrations or callout boxes. Many graphics-heavy nonfiction books can be overwhelming, but this work’s aesthetic is classic and coordinated. The stories of the people and their process are given as much weight as the many diagrams and engineering marvels. Several of the collage illustrations and individual profiles show the people of color and women who helped with the NASA program while acknowledging the overall lack of diversity and problems within both the time period and institution. There are a lot of books about the Apollo program, but this one offers many unique elements that make it a good addition to a collection. VERDICT A gorgeously illustrated nonfiction book about the Apollo program and the space race that does its best to highlight diversity and the human story but focuses primarily on engineering. An engaging second-level purchase for medium and larger libraries.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage P.L., AK

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade (text) & illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Abrams. Apr. 2020. 48p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781419734113.
K-Gr 3–Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) was inspired to write poetry from an early age. When she wasn’t dreaming on her back porch, she was filling notebooks with observations about nature and everyday life in her Chicago neighborhood. Themes of racial injustice, hunger, and poverty stood alongside depictions of joy and wonder in her work. Brooks dedicated her life to writing; she won contests, got published, and eventually became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. The biography’s awestruck, reverent tone is matched by the gorgeous acrylic paintings. Bright palettes of pink, orange, blue, and green evoke the influence of nature in Brooks’s work. There is a lovely contrast between the illustrations of lush outdoor sunsets and the beautifully rendered moments that depict her home life. The only thing missing from the text is more excerpts from Brooks’s poetry. Shining a spotlight on the poet’s own words would have enriched the context of her life story and shown how life can influence art and vice versa. Extensive back matter includes a poem by 15-year-old Brooks titled “Clouds,” an author’s note, a time line, source notes, and a bibliography. VERDICT A visually remarkable and inspiring introduction to the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Recommended for purchase in most collections.

Reviewed by Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA 

An SLJ Best Book

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick. Oct. 2020. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781536209457.
Gr 4-7–In 2018, 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their assistant coach were trapped in a cave for 18 days. It was a stunning and miraculous story that captivated the world. On June 23, 2018, the team and their assistant coach decided to hike through the caverns of Tham Luang Nang Non, the Cave of the Sleeping Lady. However, when they tried to leave, they discovered that the cave was flooded and they were trapped. Soontornvat’s narrative nonfiction account shares these events and those that led to the rescue along with intricate details about caverns, sump diving, and other scientific details that emphasize the harrowing conditions of the rescue. She also touches on Thai culture, immigration issues, Buddhism, and religion. The main rescuers and their heroic efforts are highlighted, but Soontornvat also showcases stories of the Thai volunteers who had a huge impact on the rescue. Full-color photographs, maps, illustrations, and graphs are included throughout the text. The author, who is Thai American, was in northern Thailand visiting family when the story first broke. Her author’s note features background information about interviewing the people involved with the rescue and meeting the Wild Boars team. Extensive source notes are included as well as a bibliography, image credits, and an index. VERDICT This stellar nonfiction work reads like a heart-pounding adventure story. Every library should have a copy.

Reviewed by V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies Magnet Elem. Sch., Raleigh, NC 

An SLJ Best Book

Mildred L. Batchelder Award

Telephone Tales by Gianni Rodari & illus. by Valerio Vidali. Enchanted Lion. Sept. 2020. 212p. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781592702848.
Gr 3-5–Accountant Mr. Bianchi promises his daughter that he will tell her a bedtime story every night. While he is traveling across Italy, he calls her at 9 p.m. on the nearest pay phone and tells her a short story. So begins a plethora of clever tales. There are a lot of stories to love in this Italian export. Rodari is a master storyteller; his imagination knows no bounds from runaway noses, buildings made of ice cream, magical carousels, and an elevator to the stars. Each story is thoughtful and well constructed as Rodari plays delightfully with different themes. In “The Country with the Un in the Front,” war is “immediately unwaged.” “The Young Crayfish” emphasizes being yourself, as the crayfish learns to walk forwards despite his family’s judgment, and readers learn the strength of truth against injustice in “Giacomo of Crystal.” The narration is distinctly Italian from the names of all the cities, characters, food, and expressions. Although there are some female characters, a majority of the entries center male characters, and strong female leadership is only really shown in “The Well at Cascina Piana,” where women from 11 warring families band together to help a male character and as a result, save their families. Almost every human is depicted in the accompanying illustrations as having a pink hue to their skin. VERDICT Though not perfect, this could be used for storytelling and bedtime reading. For larger collections.
Reviewed by Rebecca Fitzgerald, Harrison P.L., NY


Mildred L. Batchelder Honors

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet. adapt. & illus. by Claire Fauvel. HarperAlley. Jan. 2020. 176p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780062915603; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062915597.
Gr 7 Up–Billet has crafted a pictorial paean to the everyday heroes of Vichy France, as seen through the eyes—and camera lens—of a Jewish teen. Rachel Cohen’s story begins in 1942 at the Sèvres Children’s Home outside Paris, where students separated from their parents direct their own education. As Nazi deportations increase, the school’s Jewish residents must flee. Rachel assumes a new identity—Catherine Colin—and hides in plain sight. Aided by those she meets on her journey, “Catherine” travels from Sèvres to a monastery in Riom, a family farm in Limoges, an orphanage in the Pyrenees, and a second small farm before finally returning to a liberated Paris in the hope of reuniting with her parents. Along the way, her beloved Rolleiflex camera documents her story one snapshot at a time. Adapted from a novel based on Billet’s mother’s wartime experiences, this tale vividly renders a period that might seem removed to younger readers. Almost every panel—especially those inspired by real photographs—could stand alone as a work of art. From the subtle motion lines and detailed facial expressions to intricately composed scenes and dramatic backdrops, Fauvel’s ink and watercolor illustrations are masterly. This brief book will leave readers wishing they could spend more time among the torrent of settings and characters. VERDICT A remarkable tribute to the generosity, compassion, and courage of ordinary people who endanger themselves to do right, as well as those who capture glimpses of light in the darkness.
Reviewed by Steven Thompson, Sadie Pope Dowdell Library, South Amboy, NJ 


Schneider Family Book Awards—Young Children

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott (text) & illus. by Sydney Smith. Holiday House/Neal Porter. Sept. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823445592.
Gr 1-4–In first-person narration about the author as a boy, this debut brings readers into the world of dysfluency, that is, stuttering. The narrator, a white boy, sits alone at the kitchen table before school, imagining how badly his day will go, and it’s even worse. The letters M, P, and C bring special terrors for the garbled sounds they demand of him in a school day, when the teacher asks students to describe a favorite place. His solitude is, for readers, almost unbearable until he returns to his understanding father. He knows about a “bad speech day,” and takes his son to the river. There, without many words, he explains how his son talks like the river, with ebbs and flows, a rush of sounds, emotion, and meaning streaming. The boy’s dawning realization brings the story to a resonant pause, in a foldout that opens to a vast four-page spread of the sparkling waters that surround him. And then the remembrance resumes, for when he returns to school, he talks about his special place in his own manner, his dysfluency making him and his telling unique. Smith’s lyrical, color-saturated paintings capture mighty nature as well as the blurred, staring faces of schoolmates, who mock and laugh but mostly do not understand the main character’s inner world. An author’s note, in tiny type but very personal and expressive, outlines the journey Scott has taken to make peace with himself. VERDICT By turns heartbreaking and illuminating, this picture book brings one more outsider into the fold through economy of language and an abundance of love.

Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih, School Library Journal , Sep 01, 2020
An SLJ Best Book

Schneider Family Book Honors—Young Children

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel (text) & illus. by Nabi H. Ali Sourcebooks Explore. Mar. 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781492688976.
Gr 1-4–Pimentel’s latest nonfiction book is a biography of disability rights activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins and a history of the landmark 1989 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Born in 1981, Keelan-Chaffins, who has cerebral palsy, felt the world was always telling her to “STOP!” when she was “raring to GO!” At the time, sidewalks didn’t have curb cutouts and her schools only had stairs. After attending an activist meeting, where adults “with all sorts of disabilities” invited her to participate, Keelan-Chaffins was inspired to make her voice heard. She and her sister were often the only youth activists at these gatherings. Congress was reluctant to pass the ADA, so Keelan-Chaffins and her family joined others to protest in Washington, DC. Adult disability advocates who used wheelchairs crawled up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol in an act of defiance. Keelan-Chaffins was determined to ensure that children with disabilities didn’t get ignored. Her youth and tenacity caught the media’s attention, in turn, pressuring Congress to pass the ADA. Pimental’s present tense writing and portrayal of the power of a young person fighting to create change will engage young audiences. A few illustrations do not visually match the content of the text. A foreword and back matter enhance understanding. The time line that is provided might cause readers to seek extra information to fully understand specific milestones.VERDICT Even with a few quibbles, Pimentel offers a great look at a young activist creating change and a better understanding of the importance of the ADA.

Reviewed by Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR 

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin by Tracy Newman & illus. by Abigail Halpin. Abrams . May 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781419741104.
K-Gr 4–This appealing picture book biography concentrates on the childhood of violinist Itzhak Perlman. Born to Polish Jewish parents living in Palestine in 1945, Perlman first heard music from a radio in his family’s small apartment. He began studying the violin at age five and became a worldwide sensation after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. Dismissed by some people as a novelty act, Perlman accepted a scholarship to Juilliard to continue his training, ultimately resulting in an illustrious performing and teaching career, winning 16 Grammys and four Emmys. Detailed back matter includes author and illustrator notes, a time line, and an extensive bibliography, and fills in details about the virtuoso’s life. Watercolor and colored pencil illustrations, finished digitally, show bars of music swirling around Perlman to demonstrate how completely sound is woven into his existence. VERDICT Newman’s text paired with Halpin’s effective illustrations and design offers an intriguing glimpse into the life of this musician and advocate.

Reviewed by Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA , May 01, 2020


Schneider Family Book Awards—Middle Grade

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte. Scholastic . Mar. 2020. 288p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338255812.

Gr 3-7–Free-spirited, inquisitive 11-year-old Mary Lambert loves to spin stories. She’s also deaf, as are her father and many others on Martha’s Vineyard. No one knows why the island has such a high population of deaf people. Mary’s friend Ezra Brewer, the old seaman, says that deafness is in the blood and was brought to the island when the original Lamberts settled there more than 100 years ago, in 1692. Signing is the only language Mary has ever known, and her life is full. But when tragedy strikes her family, she keeps a deep secret from her parents; she knows it is all her fault. Her relationship with her mother becomes strained, and everyone is on edge. Learning that a scientist is coming to the island to study why there are so many deaf residents sparks Mary’s curiosity. He charms her mother and many others on the island, but Mary soon discovers his intentions are not honest while falling victim to his deceitful plan. She is taken from her home and becomes his “live specimen” for scientific study. Her struggle to regain control of her life in a world where the deaf are considered “moronic” and her determination to find a way home will take all of her strength, cunning, and courage. LeZotte crafts a moving tale of 1805 Martha’s Vineyard that highlights issues still relevant more than 200 years later, including racism, ableism, and prejudice. Colonialism of the Wampanoag land as well as a perception of savagery among the Indigenous people, the preconceptions of the deaf, and a family’s attempt at overcoming tragedy while remaining whole are the underlying themes in the novel. But these themes add nuance to the expertly crafted story of Mary, her response to her situations, her courage, and her hope that she will reunite with the community she loves. VERDICT Exceptionally written, fast paced, and full of topics that will inspire deep discussion. A valuable addition to secondary elementary or middle school collections.
Reviewed by Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools , Mar 01, 2020
An SLJ Best Book


Schneider Family Book Honors—Middle Grade

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit. Penguin . Feb. 2020. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525554189.

Gr 5-8–For readers who love baseball and heartwarming realistic fiction, this new title from Kapit is a standout. Vivy is a girl with a passion for baseball; she wants to be a pitcher more than anything else. Her life changes when a baseball coach scouts her at the park playing with her brother. But Vivy’s mother is concerned about her joining the team, mainly because she will be the only child with autism and the only girl. When Vivy’s social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, she chooses major league pitcher VJ Capello. Vivy and VJ correspond about everything and form a friendship that they both grow to need. Vivy is a heartwarming protagonist; her daily routines, struggles, and wishes will resonate with young readers who will be rooting for her from the first page. Kapit’s portrayal of a girl with autism and a love for baseball feels authentic. The unique storytelling format of letters and emails will have even the most reluctant of readers turning the pages quickly. VERDICT A baseball story with heart for young readers of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. This is a must-have title for elementary and middle school libraries where realistic fiction is popular.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Pelayo, St. Charles East High School, IL , Jan 01, 2020

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed (text) & illus. by Victoria Jamieson. Dial . Apr. 2020. 264p. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9780525553915.
Gr 4-8–Perennial comic book favorite Jamieson teams up with Mohamed, a Somalian refugee, to tell a heartbreaking story inspired by Mohamed’s life. Cared for by kind Fatuma, an older woman who also lost her family, Omar and his little brother Hassan have lived in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya since they were small, when their father was killed and they were separated from their mother while fleeing civil war. Though Omar loves looking after Hassan, who is mostly nonverbal, life in the camp, where “it felt like all you ever did was wait,” is stultifying and grindingly difficult. When Omar has the opportunity to attend school, he and his friends realize that they can increase their families’ painfully slim chances at being chosen for resettlement. Heavier on text compared with Jamieson’s usual fare, this title still features the expressive, gentle style of Roller Girl or All’s Faire in Middle School—the language of cartoons makes the subject matter accessible to a middle grade audience. Indeed, the authors highlight moments of levity and sweetness as the children and their families do their best to carve out meaningful lives in the bleakest of circumstances. An afterword and author’s notes go into greater detail about Mohamed’s life, how the two met and decided to collaborate, which elements of the story are fictitious, and how to help other refugees. VERDICT With this sensitive and poignant tale, Jamieson and Mohamed express the power of the human spirit to persevere.

Reviewed by Darla Salva Cruz, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY 

An SLJ Best Book

Schneider Family Book Award—Teen

This Is My Brain in Love by I.W Gregorio. Little, Brown. Apr. 2020. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316423823.

Gr 8 Up–Jocelyn Wu has a plan to save her family’s struggling Chinese restaurant in Utica, NY. With her father’s reluctant approval she decides to hire a summer intern to help out at the restaurant and increase its online presence. Enter William Domenici, new intern and aspiring journalist looking for a story. Will and Jos hit it off; although they are very different, they have a lot in common. Jos, an American-born Chinese girl, and Will, the son of a Nigerian doctor and an Italian lawyer, are both entering junior year of high school and don’t exactly blend into the background of their predominantly white, upstate New York town. Told in alternating first-person chapters, the story quickly immerses readers in the drama that unfolds over the course of the summer: Can the restaurant be saved? Will Jos and Will get together despite Mr. Wu’s strict rules? Issues of mental health also come into play. Will, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he was younger, has spent years learning how to manage his anxiety with the help of his therapist. It is his sensitivity to mental health issues that enables him to encourage Jos to seek help for her depression. VERDICT Deftly navigating issues of race and mental health, as well as giving voice to the reality of American teens born to immigrant families, many of whom grapple with different cultural and familial expectations, Gregorio, a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, has written a heartwarming foodie rom-com. Recommended for fans of realistic fiction.
Reviewed by Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn 


Sydney Taylor Book Award—Picture Book

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail by Lesléa Newman (text) & illus. by Susan Gal. Charlesbridge . Jan. 2020. 32p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781580898829.
PreS-Gr 1–Simple, lyrical text describes how a contemporary Jewish family celebrates the Passover Seder. Inside, the house is filled with light and laughter as a young boy fills the ceremonial cup of wine for the Prophet Elijah, dips parsley in salt water, breaks the middle matzo, hears the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and enjoys the holiday meal. Meanwhile, a small stray kitten waits alone in the dark for the moon to rise. When the time comes for the boy to open the door for the Prophet Elijah, the kitten has scampered up the walk and is waiting to be invited inside. The text concludes: “And that’s how Elijah [the kitten] found a home.” The luminous detailed illustrations—done in ink, charcoal, and digital collage—use deep gold, black, and blue tones to beautifully depict the contrast between the loving, festive atmosphere inside the house and the dark, still night outside. Readers will delight in finding the adorable white kitten on each spread and will notice how the kitten’s actions outside mimic the boy’s actions inside. A large, intergenerational and racially diverse family is warmly depicted. An extensive author’s note is appended, providing background information about the history and customs of the Passover holiday along with a listing of some of the traditional rituals of the Passover Seder. VERDICT Anybody who has ever opened the door for Elijah during the Passover Seder will relish this charming, magical, and heartwarming story.

Reviewed by Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL 


Sydney Taylor Book Honor—Picture Book

I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book by Mychal Copeland. André Ceolin. Behrman/Apples and Honey

Miriam at the River by Jane Yolen (text) & illus. by Khoa Le. Kar-Ben . Feb. 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781541544000; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781541544017.

PreS-Gr 3–Miriam takes readers with her as she heads to the Nile at night to set her infant brother adrift in a woven basket. Then she hides to watch as the basket floats past wading birds and a curious hippo until a beautiful young woman commands her handmaidens to rescue the boy. Miriam hurries away to tell her parents that the baby has a name (Moses) and a home. Miriam’s trust in God calms her fears, even as she envisions a massive parting of water that she cannot interpret. This glimpse into the future references her role as prophet and leader as recounted in Exodus and Midrash tales. Yolen provides details about Miriam and Moses in notes at the book’s end, but it is her own poetic language that brings Miriam’s story to life. Le’s evocative illustrations shimmer on the page with intense colors and patterns, chronicling Moses’s watery journey and Miriam’s careful observations. Since neither Yolen’s picture book text nor end notes explain Pharaoh’s decree, readers unaware of the original story may wonder why the baby had to be hidden in the first place. VERDICT This engaging retelling of the early life of Miriam and Moses will be of particular interest to those familiar with the biblical story, while other readers will appreciate the courage of the young heroine.
Reviewed by Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University Library, Mankato 


Sydney Taylor Book Award—Middle Grade

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. Delacorte . May 2020. 400p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593121573.

Gr 5 Up–Will Levine is a seventh grader with several problems. He is bullied severely by his classmates for his small chin, his former science teacher discovers he has been hoarding wild turtles in his room from the marsh behind school, and now he’s being forced to spend his spare time in the hospital visiting a terminally ill boy, RJ, as a community service project for his upcoming bar mitzvah. Will has an intense phobia of hospitals because his dad died in one when he was young; he is also fearful of an upcoming surgery he needs for medical reasons. However, RJ may be just the person to help Will shift his perspective and gain confidence. RJ asks Will to complete his bucket list on his behalf; Will dutifully forces himself to try new things (attending a rock concert, riding a roller coaster, attending a school dance, and playing drums at a talent show). Through this process, Will and RJ become close friends, which makes the idea of saying goodbye even more difficult. VERDICT A strong debut novel about grief, loss, and coming out of one’s shell.
Reviewed by Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, MA , May 01, 2020


Sydney Taylor Book Honor—Middle Grade

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman . Viking . Mar. 2020. 352p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984837356.

Gr 4-7–It is 1986 in Pripyat, Ukraine, and fifth grade classmates Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are sworn enemies. At home, Oksana’s father physically abuses her and rails against Jewish people, and at school Oksana bullies Valentina, who is Jewish. But when a reactor explodes at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both girls’ fathers work, they find themselves thrown together in the tumultuous evacuation. With a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Oksana’s only chance of safety is to accompany her classmate to Valentina’s grandmother’s home in distant Leningrad. The warmth and compassion of Valentina and her grandmother shock Oksana, who begins to realize that everything her father told her about Jews was wrong—which means that maybe he was also wrong when he called Oksana weak and unlovable. In time, the two girls learn to trust each other with their respective secrets and develop a life-sustaining friendship. This story, told in Oksana’s and Valentina’s alternating perspectives, is interspersed with a third perspective from 1941, that of Rifka (a Jewish girl fleeing Kiev and the advancing German army on foot), who finds shelter and friendship in Uzbekistan. These tales ultimately intersect, presenting a deeply affecting testament to the power of unlikely friendship in the face of bias, tragedy, and distance. Each strand of the narrative is equally fast paced, gripping, and heartbreaking. Oksana experiences a nuanced evolution in her feelings toward her abusive father, from grief to anger to empowerment, while Valentina grapples with what Judaism—a faith she knows almost nothing about—means to her as she begins to practice in secret with her grandmother, and Rifka loses everything in the process of finding safety and a new family. A detailed author’s note provides further historical background and a recommended reading list. VERDICT A stunning look at a historical event rarely written about for young people, elevated by strong pacing, emotional depth, and intense, moving friendships that readers will root for. A first purchase.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia , Mar 01, 2020

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen. House of Anansi/Groundwood. Sept. 2020. 144p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781773064109.

Gr 4-6–Miriam Brockman needs a miracle. Her family has relocated from New York City to a tiny (population 510) town in rural New York State. With no experience, they’ve purchased and plan to run a small motel. Upon arrival, they discover the motel is dilapidated and a fiscal disaster. The opportunity to create a miracle presents itself when newfound friend Kate gives Miriam a tour of the town. The 11-year-olds spot an oval rust stain resembling a woman with a halo on the screen of the abandoned drive-in theater. Kate thinks the shape looks like the Virgin Mary and uses a knife to add a crucifix-shaped slash next to it. It’s not long before news of the religious image is picked up by the media and the town is teeming with visitors, many seeking their own religious experience. The girls realize their hoax has gotten out of hand but face a dilemma: The influx of tourists is a much-needed economic boon for the town, especially for the family’s motel. Skillfully woven into the plot are details of Miriam’s Jewish faith—its rituals, history and the disturbing reality of anti-Semitism in today’s world. A shocking act of vandalism against the hotel and a near tragedy involving Miriam’s younger brother show the predominantly Christian community coming together to support the family despite their differences. VERDICT A leisurely paced, character-rich tale of family, religious faith, and the human need for the miraculous. Strongly recommended for middle grade collections.
Reviewed by Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY 

Anya and the Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternack. HMH/Versify . Nov. 2020. 416p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780358006022.

Gr 5-8–Anya’s quest to save her father turns into an adventure that is both heartbreaking and enlightening, in this sequel to Anya and the Dragon. Thirteen-year-old Anya experiences flashbacks to her near-death battle and her father still hasn’t returned, so she takes matters into her own hands. Best friends Ivan and dragon Håkon go along for the ride. Their plan to find Anya’s dad is derailed by the mysterious Lena, who gives magical gifts and cryptic advice, including turning Håkon into a human (to his utter confusion) before sending them not to Anya’s dad, but to Kiev, where they encounter the Nightingale, a being of immense magical power. They also meet Princess Vasilisa and her entourage, which includes Misha, the first Jewish person outside of her own family Anya has ever met. A dream leads Anya to find the Nightingale again, who turns out to be a Deaf forest elf named Alfhercht with a very good reason for fighting the Tsar. Anya agrees to help Alfhercht rescue his brother, despite the fact that it could keep her from saving her father. A real strength is the continued growth and development of the three main characters: Anya’s PTSD and slowly growing confidence, Håkon’s struggles with his new body and need for companionship, and Ivan’s freely given heart, which eventually settles on Alfhercht. Supporting players are also written with similar care. Alfhercht’s deafness is depicted without stigma or fanfare. Instances of modern language, like the odd “Wow!” can be a little jarring, but make the story more accessible, and the ending leaves the door open for at least one more sequel. VERDICT A fine, maybe even better, follow-up to the original. Recommended for juvenile fantasy collections.
Reviewed by Mara ­Alpert, Los Angeles P.L , Aug 01, 2020


Sydney Taylor Book Award—YA 

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder (text) & illus. by Tyler Feder. Dial . Apr. 2020. 208p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525553021.

Gr 8 Up–Feder’s tender memoir of coping with a parent’s death deftly and sensitively blends joy, anguish, and even whimsy. The author was just 19 when her mother, Rhonda, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, with little chance of survival. Feder was often away at college while her family oversaw Rhonda’s treatment in Florida. During a visit home, Feder was shocked to find Rhonda had taken a turn for the worse, passing away mere days later. Equal parts celebration, reflection, and mourning, this graphic memoir touches on the unpredictable path of grief. Feder shares her experience of navigating death with beauty and raw honesty. At times, the pastel coloring belies the somber moments, but the powder soft pinks also celebrate Feder’s memory of Rhonda and emphasize Tyler’s youth. The minimal backgrounds center the focus on Feder and her family, and the controlled but loose lines speak to the ever present conflict between Feder’s need for stability and the chaos into which she was thrust. The chapters end with illustrated tips, lists, and other quirky yet informative extras. VERDICT Grieving teens will find incredible solace in Feder’s story; all readers will be stirred by this wrenching yet uplifting musing. Hand this one to readers who are ready to move past Raina Telgemeier’s work and take a step closer to Lucy Knisley’s memoirs.
Reviewed by Alea Perez, ­Elmhurst Public Library, IL 
An SLJ Best Book

Sydney Taylor Book Honor—YA 

They Went Left by Monica Hesse. Little, Brown . Apr. 2020. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316490573.

Gr 9 Up–A heartbreaking and heartwarming story of survival, loss, and renewal. The year is 1945, and Zofia finds herself in a hospital after being liberated from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Poland. Suffering from memory loss in a hospital with other survivors, Zofia relies on the kindness of Dima, a Russian soldier, to get home and find her little brother, Abek. However, the home Zofia returns to is not one she recognizes. She quickly discovers that she needs to continue her search for Abek elsewhere. Alone, Zofia travels across borders to locate her brother; she doesn’t know what happened to him or where he ended up, but she will not give up hope that he is alive and looking for her. This book starts where many World War II fiction ends: liberation. Readers travel with Zofia as she struggles to piece her life back together and discover what a family looks like now. Hesse’s meticulous research of this moment in history creates an overwhelming sense of time and place. She intertwines historical fact with masterful storytelling that allows readers to embrace the characters and relate to them without forgetting the heaviness of the time period. VERDICT Highly recommended as a first purchase for both public and school libraries. Sure to please a variety of readers; those interested in historical fiction, romance, and mystery will not be able to put this book down.
Reviewed by Maryjean Riou, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ , Mar 01, 2020

Odyssey Award Audiobook

Kent State by Deborah Wiles. Scholastic. Apr. 2020. 144p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338356281.
Gr 7-10–The Kent State shootings are recounted in poems voiced by the affected, from students to townspeople to the National Guard. Chaotic and contradictory, the narrative reflects the atmosphere on campus and in the nation. Each voice has its own font, but the identity of the speaker is not always clear. “Lament” introduces the four dead students and mentions the nine wounded. The events of the weekend are covered day by day as students’ anger rises, they act out, and the National Guard is called in, culminating with the shootings on May 4th. “Elegy” ties the shooting to past and present atrocities urging readers “to be informed citizens.” The phrase “Insert Your Name Here” in bold print is sprinkled in the May 4th and Elegy sections, which is distracting, but also forces readers to engage in the events. The townspeople, National Guard, and Black United Students are the only clearly defined narrators. The font for the townspeople is the smallest, making it easy to overlook. The prelude explains the impact of the Vietnam War on the U.S., and the author provides detailed information on the research and writing process at the end. VERDICT The use of multiple voices captures the tumult of the Kent State campus and varying perspectives on events, but can make the story difficult to follow at times. A good general purchase.
Reviewed by Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA


Odyssey Honor Audiobooks

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. HarperAudio. ISBN 9781094156958.
Gr 9 Up –Novels in verse are a natural match for the audio format, and Acevedo’s latest is no exception. The author and Melania-Luisa Marte provide powerful narration for this story of 16-year-old sisters who find out about each other when their father dies in a plane crash. Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira, who lives in New York, grieve and get to know each other, developing strong bonds.

SLJ 2020 Top 10 Audiobook

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Listening Library. 9780593214992.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi. 4 CDs. 4 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2020. $25. ISBN 9781549184482. digital download.
Gr 7 Up –Kendi’s National Book Award–winning book Stamped from the Beginning has been engagingly adapted here for younger listeners by Jason Reynolds. Billed as a “not history history book,” the audio traces the history of racism and African American people from 1415 to the present day. Reynolds focuses more on the people that made the history than the events, which gives life to the story. Activists such as Cotton Mather, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis are spotlighted, as are the American Founding Fathers/slaveowners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Slavery, the civil rights movement, and #BlackLivesMatter are covered. Kendi reads the introduction to the audio, clearly describing the differences among segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists. Reynolds narrates the rest with his customary energy and expression, and in a conservational tone which adds intimacy. The audio is set up chronologically and in easily accessible chapters. Younger listeners may find some of the issues discussed both challenging and emotional. VERDICT This audiobook, which has deservedly received a lot of media attention, should be in all secondary school libraries.
Reviewed by Julie Paladino, formerly with East Chapel Hill H.S., NC

SLJ 2020 Top 10 Audiobook

When Stars Are Scattered. Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed. Listening Library. 9780593162576.


Excellence in Nonfiction Award

The finalists of the YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award were announced in December 2020.

2021 Winner:
The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace FlemingRandom/Schwartz & Wade. Feb. 2020. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525646549.
Gr 7 Up–Build a wall. America First. Foreign invaders. While these phrases echo standard Trump rally talking points, they were first uttered by Charles Lindbergh. Fleming digs into her subject’s complicated life to uncover his true character. Following the birth of aviation, the skies were dangerous and unruly. Anyone who wanted to fly could. Lindbergh heartily accepted the challenge: as a showman, an army pilot, an airmail pilot, and finally as the first man to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. His unprecedented feat turned him into an overnight sensation and also marked the beginning of his antipathy toward the press. Unfortunately, his fame brought tragedy when his first child was kidnapped and murdered. What followed was the original “trial of the century.” Fleming’s moment-by-moment narration of Lindbergh’s flight and the loss of his child evokes excitement and grief. But there is more to his story. Lindbergh was the creator of an artificial heart, an early environmentalist, an advocate of eugenics, a Nazi sympathizer, and a leader of the America First Committee. He derided a free press and blamed American Jewish people for leading the country into war. He glorified fascism while claiming to be a patriot. This biography, told in short, easy-to-read chapters, at times reads like a suspense novel. Fleming successfully deconstructs the public persona of Lindbergh and highlights how some of the aviator’s core values (nationalism, xenophobia) echo the country’s current political and social unrest. VERDICT A must-read. Drawing on primary sources, including Lindbergh’s own journal, Fleming has crafted a cautionary tale of the downfalls of hero worship.
Reviewed by Cathy DeCampli, ­Haddonfield Public Library, NJ 

An SLJ Best Book

William C. Morris Award

The finalists for the William C. Morris were announced in December 2020.


2021 Winner:

If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Mar. 2020. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062885029.
Gr 8 Up–The small town of Auburn, PA, has a crow problem. While Leighton Barnes is just trying to survive home and high school, thousands of birds continue to descend on the town. The daughter of a former high school football star and a homecoming queen, Leighton’s life is less than idyllic: her focus is to keep herself, her mother, and her two siblings safe from domestic violence. Her father’s failures, from football to business, have created a monster; his rage keeps the entire household in constant fear. In the midst of growing violence at home, Leighton is pursued by a football star at school, allowing her a little normalcy in an otherwise chaotic existence. The threat of the crows and Leighton’s house, which miraculously repairs itself when windows and walls are broken in violent outbursts, offer some magical undertones that are a relief and counterpoint to very real-world drama. But McCauley doesn’t explore them enough to move the story into magical realism, nor is the treatment light enough to be ignored. VERDICT Despite the awkward imbalance of magic and realism, this is a compelling story of a teen struggling with violence at home.
Reviewed by Heather Acerro, Rochester Public Library, MN


Margaret Edwards Award

Kekla Magoon


Children's Literature Legacy Award

Mildred D. Taylor

Alex Awards

  Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. Gallery/Saga.  

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Tor.

The Impossible First: An Explorer’s Race Across Antarctica by Colin O’Brady. S. & S. Sept. 2020. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534461987.

Gr 6 Up–Professional triathlete and world-record breaker O’Brady has a legacy of being great at whatever feat he undertakes. This young readers’ adaptation of his memoir is an example of his winning spirit. The compelling text chronicles O’Brady’s quest to complete the daunting 932-mile solo trek across Antarctica. O’Brady provides insight into his psyche throughout his journey as well as the movies and rivalries that fuel him. Through flashbacks, readers are able to sketch a composite of the experiences and character traits that formed O’Brady’s ambitious personality. Even against seemingly insurmountable odds—he sustained serious burn injuries while in Thailand in 2008 and doctors told him that he would never walk “normally” again—O’Brady finds a way to overcome. At the core of this narrative is a saga of perseverance and willpower that can only be accomplished through sheer might and the kind of vulnerable introspection that arises from two months of near solitude. Written in a relaxed, conversational tone, sometimes the memoir reads like a journal entry; other times the reading experience is like listening to the awe-inspiring tales of a good friend. VERDICT Recommended for school and public libraries serving middle to high schoolers and fans of man-versus-nature adventures.
Reviewed by Tamela Chambers, Chicago P.L , Sep 04, 2020

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArts. Apr. 2020. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781419734847.

Gr 8 Up–In the midst of the divisive Vietnam War, Ohio’s Kent State University was a haven for free thinkers and creatives who were fed up with compulsory enlistment and didn’t believe that the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam was about “keeping Communism at bay.” On April 30, 1970, Nixon informed the nation that the United States would be invading Cambodia and that the war would ramp up instead of winding down. Protests were organized, including one at Kent State, prompting chaos and violence. The mayor of Kent begged the governor to send in the Ohio National Guard, and two days later, as the smoke cleared, four unarmed young college students lay dead and more than half a dozen were seriously injured. Compiling firsthand accounts, interviews, news articles, and photographs, Backderf skillfully recounts almost by the hour everything that occurred between Nixon’s announcement and the aftermath of the shooting. The amount of text is a little daunting at times, but readers will be riveted by the black-and-white comics and strong linework. Revealing malice, panic, fear, and frustration, Backderf’s depictions of people tell the story as powerfully as any eyewitness and will make readers crave even more information. VERDICT Fans of the author’s My Friend Dahmer won’t be disappointed. Students learning about the Vietnam War will find this vivid exploration of history a welcome supplement to dry textbooks.

Reviewed by Michael ­Marie Jacobs, ­Darlington School, GA 


The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony. Park Row

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. Gallery/Saga

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth. Morrow

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi. Tor. Jan. 2020. 176p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250214751; ebk. ISBN 9781250214768.

Gr 9 Up–Ella’s Thing allows her to conjure orbs of light, whip up a stiff breeze, and even blow up rats crawling in the apartment she shares with her younger brother Kev—the book’s narrator—and their mother. But before it’s fully developed, the Thing is provoked by anger and leaves Ella frail and exhausted. She’s a loving and protective older sister to the very smart Kev, and is often angered by injustices in her neighborhood. After Ella is particularly affected by the murder of a young Black man on the news, she vanishes to the desert where she hones her powers. Much of the book’s setting alternates between the desert and Rikers Island jail, where Kev ends up for his questionable involvement in an attempted armed robbery. Ella is a powerful, omniscient protagonist who embodies Black Girl Magic and superhero strength. Yet she is weighed down by her experience of being a Black woman in America. She relives family members’ traumas, including her mother’s stillborn delivery by a disinterested doctor and her brother’s time in Rikers. Elements of science fiction are blended with discomforting near-reality (for example, Kev is microchipped when he’s released, through which he is monitored and medicated). Similarly, actual events propel the narrative: The LA Riots, the Charleston AME Church shooting, and confederate flag disputes are just a few examples. Strong language and drug use is present, but should not dissuade one from adding this short novel to their collection. VERDICT That Kev is a young adult through the bulk of the novel helps make this a compelling choice for those serving older teens.
Reviewed by ­Lindsay Jensen, Nashville P.L , Nov 01, 2020

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Gallery.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry. Pantheon. Mar. 2020. 384p. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781524748098.

The Danvers High School Girls Field Hockey team’s losing streak turns around after they make a dark pledge of amateur witchcraft. Using the pronoun “we,” Barry tells this story from the perspective of all of the girls, making the reader feel like one of the team. VERDICT Set in the 1980s, Barry’s unique historical novel is full of wit, uplifting friendships, and riveting field hockey games.
Reviewed by Elliot Riley, Deerfield Academy, MA 
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing