SLJ Reviews of the 2023 Youth Media Award Winners

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2023 Youth Media Awards.



John Newbery Medal

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson. Little, Brown. Feb. 2022. 416p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316056618.
Gr 5-8–Sometimes, to be free, you have to make a life in a place where no one can find you. Freewater is such a place. With their mother leading the way, Homer and his younger sister Ada try to escape their hellish lives of slavery on the Southerland Plantation. But Homer remembers his promise of freedom to his friend Anna; his mother turns back for her but is caught. Homer and Ada run to nearby river and plunge into the raging waters that carry them into the Great Dismal Swamp. Lost and disoriented, they are rescued by Suleman, a mysterious and taciturn guide who leads them through the inhospitable swamp to Freewater, a settlement of escaped men, women, and children living in freedom. Slowly, Homer begins to appreciate living and working together to contribute to the thriving community. But what about his mama? Plagued by guilt about his mother’s capture, Homer decides to return to the plantation to rescue his mother and Anna. His new friends from Freewater pledge to return with him. Using a hand-drawn map that (unbelievably) survives multiple drenchings, Homer and company undertake the seemingly impossible rescue. Told from many alternating points of view, it is somewhat challenging to keep the characters straight at the outset. While using archeological evidence of settlements of formerly enslaved people within the Great Dismal Swamp as the basis for the text, the story itself is a speculative look into such a community. VERDICT A fascinating look at a fictional Black resistance settlement in little-known place.-Reviewed by Lisa Crandall  


John Newbery Medal Honors

 Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango. illus. by Alyssa Bermudez. Random. Sept. 2022. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593563977.
Gr 6-10–Arango’s novel in verse captures all the angst and awkwardness of being a middle school student and intersects that with tremendous grief, trauma, and the realities of living with with mental health issues. Iveliz is struggling with the loss of her father, her Puerto Rican grandmother’s worsening Alzheimer’s, and friendship issues. She explores these worries through her poetry journal with honesty and vulnerability. Iveliz has a very clear sense of right and wrong, but often wrestles with how to speak up about the wrongs that she experiences from bullies and within her family. Readers take this journey with Iveliz, learning positive coping strategies to deal with explosive anger, forgiveness of one’s self and of others, bullying, and toxic family dynamics. This powerful, realistic novel also unravels the cultural tensions that sometimes exist between the elder and younger generations. Iveliz is empowered and moves towards healing with a combination of mental health services and medication, even though her grandmother minimizes the genuine need for both. Arango does not leave this cultural stone unturned, but drives the characters to confront this generational rift. By doing so, she makes Iveliz’s journey towards healing vibrate with heroism. The protagonist opens herself up to the help she needs and forges healthy boundaries with friends and family. VERDICT In this poignant debut novel in verse, Arango offers a character with heart, whom readers will be rooting for and whose story will resonate with them. A compassionate, stirring story that readers will not forget.-Reviewed by Stephanie Creamer  

 The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick. Apr. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536204957.
Gr 3-6–Living a squalid life helping her conman father with his get-rich-quick schemes, Sodsai Mudawan uses her own cunning to secure an Assistantship with the Master Mapmaker of the Kingdom of Mangkon. Fortune favors her bravery even further when a declaration from the Queen provides an opportunity to join her master Paiyoon on a daring voyage to chart the shadowy Sunderlands, a region rich with secrets and sea monsters. The monetary prize attached to the expedition is just what Sai needs to free herself from her troubled past, but as her master wrestles with his culpability in the kingdom’s expansion, Sai begins to have her own conflicted feelings over what she is willing to do (and sacrifice) to make her dream a reality. The spare, evocative prose immediately places readers in the hold of the story, and the Dickensian colorfulness of the characters and Sai’s clipped delivery will have kids tearing through pages at an eager pace. Soontornvat brings a naturalness to her worldbuilding in this Thai-inspired landscape that will allow fans of magical realism and high adventure to find a tale worth cherishing. VERDICT A gripping story with multiple layers, including action, magic, and a thought-provoking through line of colonization and the role of manifest destiny, this original novel will leave middle grade readers wanting to journey through this land of dreams and dragons again and again-Reviewed by Jose Cruz

 Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee. Random. Feb. 2022. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984830258.
Gr 4 Up–When 11-year-old Maizy’s grandfather falls ill, she and her mother visit her grandparents in Minnesota for the first time. While helping run their Chinese restaurant, Maizy learns about her family history with enduring roots in the town since the 1880s. As Maizy discovers her ancestors’ struggles against racism, she also confronts issues that still plague the town. In connecting with her grandparents, Maizy learns not only about past generations, but also about family dynamics of living up to your parents’ expectations and strained familial relationships. This fast-paced, humorous, heartwarming tale of family and history is likely to appeal to readers of all ages. VERDICT Recommended first purchase for all collections. This contemporary fiction tale has mystery, friendship, and family packed into an enthralling read.-Reviewed by Monisha Blair. An SLJ Best Book.


Randolph Caldecott Medal 

Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Knopf. $17.99 ISBN 9780593308431. 

Randolph Caldecott Honors 

 Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds. illus. by Jason Griffin. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. Jan. 2022. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781534439467.
Gr 7 Up–Reynolds’s breathtakingly poetic prose melds seamlessly with Griffin’s effective multimedia images to capture a story of our time that should be read by everybody. Written in just a few lengthy sentences over the space of a few hundred pages of artwork, the book follows a Black family during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The family’s young protagonist captures the very real confusion and fear of 2020 in two interwoven narratives: his family’s experience with the pandemic, including his father’s battle with COVID-19, and his reaction to the persistent violence and systemic racism on the news. Reynolds has the talent of conveying so much in very few words, and along with Griffin’s stunning images of fire throughout the book, powerfully conveys the overall theme of oxygen and being unable to breathe. The reminder to breathe in and breathe out throughout carries so much weight as memories from early 2020 resurface, from patients in hospital beds fighting for a good breath to pleading for one breath while under the weight of police to watching the news with the feelings of helplessness and suffocation. Although reminiscent of heartbreaking and tumultuous times, this novel is permeated with so much comfort and hope as it leaves readers with the solace that togetherness brings. VERDICT For everyone who has felt the weight of grief and fear or the comfort of love and family in the last two years, this is a must read.-Reviewed by Amanda Harding. An SLJ Best Book.

 Berry Song by Michaela Goade. illus. by ­Michaela Goade. Little, Brown. Jul. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316494175.
PreS-Gr 1–This book shares the foraging tradition of a young Tlingit girl and her grandmother living on an island off of the coast of Alaska. The grandmother teaches the young girl which berries to pick and how to say “Gunalchéesh,” or give thanks. Told with rhythm to match the song, the duo sings as they pick berries (“Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry. Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry”). The author captures rich language to mirror the beauty of nature. A note cautions young foragers to research and use adult supervision, while the back matter includes a glossary of information on which berries are safe to gather. These additions make this picture book perfect for cross-disciplinary learning with science or social studies. VERDICT Goade calls upon her childhood memories and current home and shares important information about the beauty and utility of nature. Told in rhythm, song, and narrative, the language is rich and evocative—perfect for early elementary readers.-Reviewed by Tracey S. Hodges. An SLJ Best Book.

 Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy. illus. by Janelle Washington Roaring Brook. Sept. 2022. 64p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250220950.
Gr 2-6–The heartbreaking story of Emmett Till is shared with great emotional depth. Using cut-paper collage and lyrical storytelling, Joy and Washington revive Mamie Till-Mobley’s story. The brilliant, loving mother of Emmett was a child of the Great Migration. Mamie and her family moved up from Mississippi to Argo, a Chicago suburb, where the studious girl worked hard to graduate at the top of her class. She married Louis Till, and after a strenuous birth, their only son arrived. Though doctors predicted he would have severe cognitive and motor delays, Mamie insisted on bringing Emmett home. Louis turned violent, and Mamie refused to tolerate the behavior. Now with just his mother and grandmother, Emmett grew into a kind boy who played joyfully in the streets of Argo until he fell ill with polio. The disease left him with a stutter, which his ingenious mother helped him circumvent using a clever trick of stopping when he was stuck on a word and whistling to calm him before he continued speaking. Unfortunately, like Mamie before them, readers are powerless to stop Emmett’s fateful trip to Mississippi. They cannot stop Emmett’s alleged whistle, the white woman’s lie, the white kidnappers’ murder, or the jury’s unjust verdict. The symbolic red and blue colors in the collage, weaving Mamie and Emmett’s lives and stories together, creates a beautiful artistic tapestry. With rich language and a wealth of knowledge in the back matter, this text has depth and usefulness for a broad audience. VERDICT An essential purchase for all libraries.-Reviewed by Abby Bussen  

Knight Owl by Christopher Denise. illus. by Christopher Denise. Little, Brown/Christy Ottaviano. Mar. 2022. 48p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316310628. 
PreS-Gr 3–This adorable book begins with brave and courageous Owl longing to become a knight; however, his small stature presents many problems, and there are those who doubt if Owl is up to the challenge of his future career as a knight. Owl’s dream is too big to let the negativity of others stop him, so he tries out for the knighthood and gives it his best efforts. Denise crafts a humorous and witty book, allowing readers to share in the small owl’s adventures and reflect on some of their own life challenges. The glorious images, reminiscent of the work of Arnold Lobel, add flare and intrigue, and when the Knight Owl defends the castle from the enemy, the details in the illustrations provide depth and add to the mythical fantasy for an outstanding conclusion. This is a great read-aloud that also teaches a homonym or two. VERDICT A clever tale for old and young; the lesson to hang on to one’s dreams always bears repeating.-Reviewed by Tanya Haynes 


Michael L. Printz Award 

 All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir. Razorbill. Mar. 2022. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593202340. 
Gr 9 Up–In a genre flip from fantasy, Tahir has created a contemporary novel that spans both time and place. In past Pakistan, Misbah weds Toufiq in an arranged marriage that results in a move to California after upheaval at home. Now they run a small hotel in the Mojave Desert. Their son Salahudin and dear family friend Noor hold a connection bound by their history and the challenges they face due to Islamophobia, racism, and more. When his mother’s health fails and his father battles alcoholism as he grieves, the financial and maintenance aspects of the hotel fall to Sal, who takes drastic measures to save the hotel his mother loved so very much. Simultaneously, Noor is striving to leave her uncle’s grasp by planning to go away to college, but finds herself caught up by Sal’s choices. Tahir’s lyrical prose unpacks both the beautiful and the brutal. She deftly captures the layers of grief, rage, family, examination of faith, and forgiveness, while managing to inject levity into dire situations and provide a semblance of hope. Music aficionados will revel in the songs referenced throughout various scenes in the book. VERDICT This deep dive into the complex ferocity of emotions within families is a love letter to Pakistani culture and revelations from the past that test the boundaries of survival. Put this book at the top of your list.-Reviewed by Lisa Krok. An SLJ Best Book.


Michael L. Printz Honors

Scout’s Honor by Lily Anderson. Holt. Apr. 2022. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250246738.
Gr 8 Up–Prudence Perry, 16, is a third generation Ladybird Scout. She has spent plenty of time doing her share of community service and earning badges through crafts and baking; however, she has also spent a fair amount of time slaying mulligrub monsters before her best friend was killed by one. Prudence is recruited to train a new group of Ladybirds in the art of taking down these dangerous creatures that feed on anger and sadness and are running rampant around the northern area of California. This campy novel is original and funny with adventurous and likeable characters who play off each other with ease despite their personality differences. The connection that the main character makes with the new recruits is heartwarming and real. The creatures are descriptive and readers will enjoy the teen angst and Prudence’s keen decision-making. Not only does this novel deliver adventure and good deeds but also a good dose of pop culture with many references throughout. Characters are of various ethnicities and race and the main character, Prudence, is white and Puerto Rican. VERDICT Fans of Stranger Things will dig into this comedic horror novel.-Reviewed by Karen Alexander

Icebreaker by A.L. Graziadei. Holt. 

 When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb. Levine Querido. Oct. 2022. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781646141760.
Gr 9 Up–In a tiny village so small it’s only known as Shtetl (the word for town), an angel and a demon have been studying the Torah together for a very long time. Little Ash, the demon, however, wants to know why all the young people are moving to America. He manages to convince the angel, who agrees partly to help Samuel the Baker’s daughter, who hasn’t been heard from since she traveled across the sea, and partly to watch over Little Ash and prevent him from causing any mischief. The angel is immediately unsuccessful at stopping Little Ash’s mischief, but finds that perhaps the baker’s daughter is in some trouble after all. When the angel gets a name and matching papers to board a ship, it starts to change, and its feelings towards Little Ash change as well. There, they meet another immigrant who needs their help, but can an angel and a demon really protect Jewish immigrants from antisemitic sentiment, greedy factory owners, and a dybbuk? Getting to America is only half the battle, and the angel, now known as Uriel, must protect the people it has come to care for, while Little Ash does it in his own fashion. VERDICT A must-buy for any collection, Lamb’s historical fiction novel brings soft queer joy to a compelling tale of immigrants and unions and Jewish folklore.-Reviewed by Stacey Shapiro

 Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer. illus. by Jules Zuckerberg. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. May 2022. 240p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780063069497.
Gr 7-10–Schrefer’s book is about animal sex, but specifically homosexual behavior in certain animals. Chapters include species examples, such as dolphins and doodlebugs, that detail what and how this information was learned. In addition, chapters begin with a humorous comic, have illustrations sprinkled into the narrative, and deliver interviews Schrefer conducted with real-life scientists, many of whom identify as LGBTQIA+. Formally organized by the animal case study, the additional interviews and illustrations create breaks in the information that might disrupt the overall flow; however, they provide insight into the science of sex that’s more than procreation, a funny interruption to deeper content, and personal connection to researchers in the field. Format aside, the research is fascinating and opens another avenue for career exploration for younger readers. Plus, the facts are noteworthy and shareable—just the kind that the intended audience devours. The book’s celebration of the human-animal connection offers positivity about how natural queer behavior is opens another entry point to acceptance and understanding. Schrefer blends emotion and logic with a plethora of vocabulary by describing scientific, anthropological, and behavior studies. VERDICT A nonfiction book that richly mines scientific facts, this can be read in one sitting or researched as individual chapters for ultimate flexibility.-Reviewed by Alicia Abdul. An SLJ Best Book.


Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson. Little, Brown. Feb. 2022. 416p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316056618. 
(See review above)


Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Honors

 Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi. Dutton. Jan. 2022. 128p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399187384.
Gr 5 Up–Zoboi’s biography of science fiction author Octavia Estelle Butler details her life from birth in Pasadena, CA, to her legacy as an author. Raised by her mother and grandmother after losing her father when she was four, Butler grew up in a non-segregated town filled with opportunities that her mother worked hard to give her. After struggling with dyslexia in school, Butler found reading and storytelling as a way to escape the schoolyard banter, where she found it difficult to connect with her classmates. Butler’s life story is complemented by the history she grew up within, providing context of the Great Depression, World War II, the space race, the red scare, and the Civil Rights movement. Told through poetry, narrative, photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, story drafts, childhood sketches, quotes, report cards, and war propaganda, this stunning biography is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of literature. Zoboi carefully crafts each chapter of Butler’s life with various types of poetry, using clever rhymes and rhythmic stanzas. Each poem and section of prose elegantly connects to the space theme, painting the picture of Butler as a star child, born out of stardust. The vivid poetry will fill readers’ heads with imagery of the historic journey Zoboi presents. The quick-paced chapters and rich voice will draw readers of all ages into this nontraditional biography. VERDICT This must-read biography belongs on every library shelf and will redefine the way readers engage with biographical texts.-Reviewed by Angie Jameson. An SLJ Best Book.

 The Talk by Alicia D Williams. illus. by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu. S. & S./Atheneum. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534495296.
K-Gr 2–Jay and his friends love to race each other and be kids; when the marks on the wall show that Jay, who is African American, has grown a couple of inches, his mother looks on sadly because the world won’t see him as a little boy anymore. When he and his friends hang out together, some people aren’t happy about it. Jay’s grandpa warns them not to crowd in groups of more than four because people may think they’re troublemakers. As Jay grows into a young man, his parents continue to warn him about how to behave in public and what to do when stopped by the police. Before Jay leaves the house in a black hoodie with the hood up, his family sits him down for “the talk.” Though it’s not an easy conversation, Jay’s family reminds him that whatever happens is never his fault and that he is surrounded and supported by his family. This picture book is an excellent portrayal of the difficult conversations many Black and brown families have with their children to keep them safe. Powerful illustrations capture every stage of Jay’s growth from fun-loving kid to young man. There is a wordless spread depicting instances of racial profiling and injustice that allows readers and their adults to have a self-guided discussion about the images and the feelings they evoke. VERDICT This powerful picture book about race, family, and growing up is an essential purchase for every library’s collection, putting words to an impossible and necessary conversation, and giving children whose families don’t have “the talk” a window for understanding and an opportunity for compassion and change.-Reviewed by Myiesha Speight. An SLJ Best Book.

 Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith & Derrick Barnes. illus. by Dawud Anyabwile. Norton. Sept. 2022. 208p. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781324003908. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781324052159.
Gr 8 Up–Smith’s life story, centered around the historic raising of his fist at the 1968 Olympic games, is also a portrait of resistance against inequality in America. The narrative alternates between a chronological recounting of Smith’s life, beginning with his humble roots working on a farm in Texas, and one of the most significant races of his athletic career. As a Black athlete, Smith experiences racism on multiple levels from childhood up through college and adulthood, and these life experiences inform his worldviews and reflections on his community’s treatment based on race. Throughout, the determination and joy he derives from his family and Christian faith keep him focused on the high road in any conflict, and the narrative highlights various coaches, politicians, educators, activists, and fellow athletes who made an impression on Smith as well as on America. The balance between the personal and the broader historical perspectives makes this book as accessible as it is educational. For example, Smith’s titular stand is given full context regarding the preparation, execution, and aftermath, including fallout. Anyabwile’s black-and-white illustrations achieve the same balance and then some as they portray Smith’s tumultuous periods as well as his hard-fought triumphs. There is nothing saccharine about this view into the past, but there is plenty worth remembering and considering. VERDICT An illuminating example of the power of a moral stance, no matter when it occurs in one’s life.-Reviewed by Thomas Maluck. An SLJ Best Book.


Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award 

 Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual by Carole Boston Weatherford. illus. by Frank Morrison. Crown. Sept. 2022. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593306345.
Gr 1-4–“It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,/ Standing in the need of prayer./ Not my father, not my mother,/ but it’s me, O Lord,/ Standing in the need of prayer.” A familiar spiritual is recast as a pledge to remember history and make a better future, and the lockstep of words and art feels as if Weatherford and Morrison were in harmony from the outset. A scene of a slave in shackles and another one for sale gives way to a portrait of Nat Turner and then to one that is an homage to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Great Migration. Portraits, like stepping stones through history, well-explained and documented in the back matter, reference people or moments mentioned in Weatherford’s verses, from the Tuskegee Airmen, Duke Ellington and all of Black music, Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King, Jr., Florence Griffith Joyner, Colin Kaepernick, and Black Lives Matter. The force of the words along with the glowing, sculptural lines of Morrison’s paintings will draw onlookers into the journey through time and pain, to two modern children carrying protest signs and facing readers directly, ready and hopeful for what’s next. VERDICT An evocative use of prayer as old-school protest with a history lesson that is as lilting as a ballad, this spiritual demands a group setting to be fully appreciated for the uplifting answers it provides.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih 


Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award Honors 

Me and the Boss: A Story about Mending and Love by Michelle Edwards. illus. by April Harrison. Random/Anne Schwartz. 

 Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas. HarperAlley. May 2022. 256p. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780063056763.
Gr 3-6–When Bree’s father takes a coding job in Florida, the two move cross-country and Bree’s world is turned upside-down. Away from her friends, in a town obsessed with the local swim teams, Bree struggles to find her safe space among the mathematics classes and clubs. The lack of space in her desired elective classes lands her in the worst possible situation: swimming class. Unable to swim and grasping for excuses to avoid class, Bree begins drowning in anxiety and self-doubt. However, when her older neighbor Etta takes an interest in teaching her how to swim, things begin to turn around for Bree. Filled with vibrant illustrations and charming characters, this title tackles themes ranging from overcoming fear and forging friendships to grappling with classism and racism as the public school swim team competes with the private school team equipped with more resources to prepare for the season. The work presents an opportunity for readers to reflect on both typical childhood issues as well as the systemic issues the United States has faced for centuries such as the lack of access to pools and resources for Black athletes. Rich with images and references to Black culture, this text will serve as a mirror and window for readers. Bree, her father, and Etta are Black. VERDICT A fresh companion to Jerry Craft’s New Kid, this graphic novel belongs on shelves in school and libraries everywhere.-Reviewed by Angie Jameson 

 Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith & Derrick Barnes. illus. by Dawud Anyabwile. Norton. Sept. 2022. 208p. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781324003908. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781324052159.
(See review above.)


Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award 

 We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds. Roaring Brook. Nov. 2022. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250816559.
Gr 9 Up–Seventeen-year-old biracial teen Avery (Black and white) has just broken up with her girlfriend and best friend of five years after too many ugly racist microaggressions, leaving her with a sense of relief at ditching such a toxic relationship. The frantic pace of school and looming early admissions application to Georgetown are put on hold when she follows her parents to small-town Bardell, GA, to care for her dying maternal grandmother, Mama Letty, whom she has never met. Racial tensions and mystery abound in this community, piling rumors on half-truths, keeping Avery’s head spinning while searching for someone to explain the facts. She tries to navigate her mother’s vicious relationship with Mama Letty, deeply hurt by the never-ending hostility and bitterness between them. Unexpected friendships with two local girls offer Avery new perspectives and opportunities. Ultimately, Avery must choose her own path, find her unique voice, and balance the facts of people’s messy histories with the good they do. This book pulls no punches, delving deeply into racial tensions, whitewashing of ugly truths, homophobia, and justice left undone. Yet, there is a lightness, humor, and catharsis for characters and readers despite the heavy subject matter. VERDICT Hammonds delivers a breathtaking exploration of vital issues wrapped up in a mystery, challenging readers to reexamine their own truths. A must-purchase for all libraries serving high school readers.-Reviewed by Kristen ­Rademacher. An SLJ Best Book.


Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award 

 Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy. illus. by Janelle Washington Roaring Brook. Sept. 2022. 64p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250220950.
(See review above.)


Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award

Where Wonder Grows by Xelena González. illus. by Adriana M. Garcia. Cinco Puntos.


Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Honors 

The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope, and Rebuilding by Karina Nicole González. illus. by Krystal Quiles. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2022. 40p. $18.99. ISBN 9781250787187.
PreS-Gr 2–The strength and hope of a young girl, her family, and her country after a devastating hurricane is shared in this beautiful picture book. When Hurricane María makes landfall in Puerto Rico, Elena and her family take refuge in their home, hiding in the closet as the rain falls in sheets and the wind howls, tearing off the roof and soaking everything in its path. In the aftermath, the mango tree that provided shade, sweet mangoes, and a perch for the coquíes that share their nightly song, stands bare and battered. The coquíes go quiet. Elena’s family and their neighbors work to repair their homes, creating a garden where they share fruits and vegetables. Eventually, the mango tree provides shade again, and they hear the song of the coquíes once more. The heartfelt, lyrical text conveys the resilience of Elena and her family; each sentence is full of a simplicity and beauty---in both English and Spanish editions. Even when describing how Elena’s family is preparing for what would be one of the most destructive hurricanes in Puerto Rican history, each word is necessary and each sentence reads as an essential part of a larger poem. Readers will sing along with Elena to the lyrical “Co-quí, co-qui” tune, the joy the song brings evident on the characters’ faces. The gouache and acrylic illustrations are vibrant and magical, illuminating Elena’s home as she shares time with her family and pulling readers in to a darkness as the hurricane makes landfall. VERDICT An inspiring picture book full of love and wonder for Puerto Rico, it is highly recommended for library collections for children.-Reviewed by Selenia Paz 

 A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams. Nov. 2022. 48p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781419749421.
Gr 2-5–A young girl tells her brother the story of the tlahcuilohqueh, painters of words. She slowly tells her brother all about the stories they make, what happens to them, and the pride of her family in doing this job. Tonatiuh has created a story that blends cultures and historical facts into words students will understand. The mix of English and Spanish comprise a simple vocabulary aided by a glossary at the end which facilitates bilingual readers and learners alike. The spare text on each page is very visible against the fantastic illustrations. Tonatiuh continues to create beautiful depictions of his heritage, with each illustration showing exactly what the text addresses, and making certain parts of the Mexihcah book process much clearer. The simple details of his drawings are amazing; at the end of the book, readers will understand just how authentically the illustrations hew to actual pictures of the handful of remaining codices. An author’s note at the end also serves as a history, going into the dark time of colonization and how his culture, and the books of his people, have been harshly impacted. VERDICT Once again Tonatiuh has gathered history, language, and stories into a cultural gift to readers; an excellent book for students who want to learn how books are made, those who love history (even the difficult parts), and anyone interested in learning about Mexihcah culture.-Reviewed by Margaret Kennelly 

Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land by Mirelle Ortega. illus. by Mirelle Ortega. Abrams.

 Phenomenal AOC: The Roots and Rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by Anika Aldamuy Denise. illus. by Loria Lora. HarperCollins. Sept. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063113749.
Gr 1-5–Brilliant, brainy, articulate, controversial, beautiful, devoted to family and cause, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an exciting changemaker for many, and the story of how she became the youngest congresswoman ever at 29 is inspiring. This picture book begins with her birth in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx and ends with her surprising election against a long-time incumbent in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez’s parents left the Bronx when she was just five and moved to Yorktown Heights, primarily for the education of their two children. This move, along with the family’s ongoing connection to the Bronx, would be pivotal in Ocasio-Cortez’s life. She saw with startling clarity the divide between “wage-working and wealthy neighborhoods.” She was underestimated because of her skin color, and inequity lit a spark of activism in her "that would later become a fire." After joining with 300 Native tribes to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, Ocasio-Cortez became a changemaker for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. Although the story does not cover her work as a congresswoman, the end pages mention her Green New Deal legislation and provide five steps for young people to become changemakers. The story is sprinkled with ethnic vocabulary that celebrates Ocasio-Cortez’s heritage. The vibrant, two-dimensional illustrations capture the intensity of her commitment to helping the environment and bringing progressive justice. VERDICT An empowering picture book that captures the substance, style, and celebrity surrounding one of the most watched, dynamic figures in Congress today.-Reviewed by Sally James

 Srta. Quinces (Miss Quinces) by Kat Fajardo. illus. by Kat Fajardo. Scholastic/Graphix. May 2022. 256p. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781338535594.
Gr 4-8–In her graphic novel debut, Fajardo adeptly captures the angst of young people who are caught between two cultures—too Latinx to be accepted as American and too American to be accepted as Latinx. All tween Suyapa “Sue” Gutierrez wants to do this summer is hang out with her cool friends at summer camp and work on her comics. Instead, she has to head to Honduras to visit family where her mother surprises her with plans to have a quinceañera party. The last thing Sue wants to do is wear a big poofy dress, dance the waltz in high heels, and celebrate a very traditional and girly event where she is the center of attention. Fajardo explores themes of sisterhood, bilingualism, and intergenerational conflicts and resolutions in this delightful and often touching volume. The protagonist is sweet but prickly, a winning combination in this inviting work done in candy-colored and cheerful digital art. The variation in panel sizes enhances the even pacing, and the expressive faces and body movements ramp up the book’s humor. Blue font indicates when characters are speaking in Spanish, while black font indicates English. Sue and her family often switch between the two, but over the course of the summer, their speech bubbles feature more blue text, though she remains more proficient in English. Sue’s school friends are a variety of races as are her family members—refreshingly showing the diversity within the Honduran community. VERDICT With all of the charm of Raina Telgemeier and Lucy Knisley’s works, this title will be enjoyed by voracious fans of coming-of-age graphic novels. But the specificity of having to stride two cultures and feeling like an outcast in both will especially resonate with readers from bicultural communities.-Reviewed by Shelley M. Diaz 

Still Dreaming /Seguimos soñando by Claudia Guadalupe MartÍnez. illus. by Magdalena Mora. Lee & Low. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $20.95. ISBN 9780892394340. BL.
Gr 3-5–Martínez offers a bilingual Spanish and English picture book about family repatriation to Mexico. In first-person narrative style, an American boy relates his journey to Mexico from his Texas house, the only home he has ever known. In a small car, a family of three that wants to stay together instead of facing separation says goodbye to the relatives it leaves behind. As the group drives past fields, it encounters other families on the road that were forced to leave from different cities. This hopeful narrative represents the main character’s youthful reasoning while providing explicit information about the type of work migrant workers do. The art, rendered in gouache, ink, and digital media, uses a soft palette that navigates between clear and darker pastel colors. Detailed illustrations support the story and help readers understand the social complexities of this immigration tale. Although this picture book is inspired by the Mexican Repatriation of the first part of the 20th century during the Great Depression, the plot and illustrations portray a current scene familiar to present times. The English text relies on sporadic Spanglish, with a fluid Spanish translation that reads naturally. This book contains back matter with the author’s notes referring to the Mexican Repatriation and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. VERDICT This is solid choice for classrooms wanting to discuss the U.S.’s family separation policies and a seemingly forgotten historical event. Recommended for picture book collections.-Reviewed by Kathia Ibacache  


Pura Belpré Children's (Author) Award 

 Frizzy by Claribel A Ortega. illus. by Rose Bousamra. First Second. Oct. 2022. 224p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781250259622; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781250259639.
Gr 4-8–Every Sunday, Marlene and her mom visit the dreaded salon for a day of hair-pulling and the unforgiving heat of the hair dryer. Because her hair needs to look pretty for her older cousin’s quinceañera, the Afro-Dominican tween has to go for a second round of hair straightening, otherwise she won’t look presentable in her family’s eyes. While the adults marvel at her cousin’s “good” hair—straight and blond—Marlene doesn’t understand why her curls aren’t good enough. With the help of her like-minded friend and her forward-thinking aunt, Marlene embraces herself, inside and out. In the creators’ graphic novel debut, themes of anti-Blackness, colorism, and self-acceptance are explored with nuance and honesty. The subject of internalized racism is discussed in a way that will resonate with kids and families grappling with it for the first time. Bullying and grief are some of the other issues addressed. Ortega’s writing is pitch-perfect for middle grade; she gives Marlene an extra layer of vulnerability that tweens will recognize. Bousamra’s candy-colored palette of pinks, purples, blues, and coppers makes this sweet coming-of-age tale even more accessible and welcoming. The characters’ facial expressions and the dynamic panel design keep the narrative flowing. Readers with curly hair will want to take notes as Marlene’s aunt teaches her how to style her hair. Marlene has brown skin, and her family members have a variety of hair textures and skin colors. VERDICT An excellent choice for all graphic novel collections. Give to those who are not ready for Elizabeth Acevedo’s books.-Reviewed by Shelley M. Diaz. An SLJ Best Book.


Pura Belpré Children's (Author) Honors 

The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope, and Rebuilding by Karina Nicole González. illus. by Krystal Quiles. Roaring Brook. Aug. 2022. 40p. $18.99. ISBN 9781250787187.
(See review above.)

The Notebook Keeper: A Story of Kindness from the Border by Stephen Briseño. illus. by Magdalena Mora. Random House Studio. Jun. 2022. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593307052. PreS-Gr 2–When their community is no longer safe and with more of their friends leaving, Noemi and her mother begin the journey to the border. Alone at first, they are soon joined by others hoping to cross into the United States. Noemi and her mother are worried to find that they must wait until their number is called before they can try to receive permission to cross—a number that is recorded in a notebook by the notebook keeper, Belinda. As days turn to weeks and Noemi sees the difficulties people around her are also facing, she is inspired by Belinda’s kindness and begins to spread that kindness with her actions. When Belinda’s own number is called, she chooses Noemi and her mother to continue the work as notebook keepers. The color pencil and gouache illustrations depict the many families that have made the journey for a better life and their life in the camp, while also showing readers the worry and fears etched into the faces of Noemi, her mother, and those around them. The short sentences and soft narration, from Noemi’s point of view, are sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases and convey her worries as well as her determination to be a source of encouragement for others as they wait their turns. VERDICT A unique perspective on the difficulties facing families who wait at the border that makes abstract occurrences relatable and realistic, this picture book’s young narrator spreads a message of hope and kindness.-Reviewed by Selenia Paz

 Tumble by Celia C. Pérez Penguin/Kokila. Aug. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593325179.
Gr 5 Up–This fresh realistic fiction novel is heartwarming, adventurous, and strong. Adela Ramírez is 12 and living in New Mexico. Growing up with a single mom never bothered her, until her stepfather Alex asks to adopt her. Now she has an overwhelming decision. She loves Alex and loves the life they have created with her mother and soon-to-arrive baby brother, but Adela has strong feelings about her father having to give up his parental rights in order for Alex to adopt her. Alex sets out on her own to find out who her father is, and why he left without a trace. Adela’s detective skills serve her well, but what will she do now that her father is found and back in the picture? Will they be able to have the father-daughter relationship that she has dreamed of? Will she fit into his celebrity luchador wrestling family, the Bravos? Middle grade readers will find resonance in the realistic flow of this novel. Pérez writes the struggle of Adela and her family in an authentic way throughout. The ups and downs mixed with the mystery of why Adela’s mother kept so much of her life with her father a secret will have readers wanting more. Fans of luchador wrestlers and wrestling will appreciate the sports themes woven all around the family story. Hand this to fans of Pérez’s Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers. VERDICT A novel that wrestles with the complex emotions of family and beginnings; a must-have for any library collection serving tweens.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Pelayo  


Pura Belpré YA (Author) Award 

Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado. Sourcebooks/Fire. May 2022. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781728246000.
Gr 10 Up–What are monsters? Does society create monsters or do they plague the earth regardless of what we do? In this book, a 16-year-old from the Bronx named Raquel is determined to find the answers to these questions. For years, kids in the Bronx have mysteriously gone missing without a trace, taken by the monsters. Center to the plot is an urban legend called the Echo Game, which is said to trap people under the city. Raquel and her friends team up when their friend Francisco (the cousin of Raquel’s crush Charlize) is taken and enter a sinister world drenched in the dark past of New York. Tirado drops readers into a suspense-filled, terrifying world. Readers will be immediately struck with alarm, terror, and the feeling that something is about to sneak around a corner. This feeling propels the story forward and builds tension that does not release until the conclusion. The story holds many secrets, twists, and surprises for readers, touching into the supernatural and merging fiction and reality. This is a fast-paced, psychologically engaging, and terrifying novel that takes everyday traumas such as slumlords and racism and personifies them as monsters. There is Black and Latinx representation among the characters. VERDICT Readers will be on the edge of their seats and will have the chance to explore societal issues in a new way to answer the question “What are monsters?” when reading this book.-Reviewed by Tracey S. Hodges  


Pura Belpré YA (Author) Honors 

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester Clarion. May 2022. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780358536864.
Gr 9 Up–A disability should never be a stigma or a barrier and in this book, main character Verónica refuses to let hers stop her from achieving her dreams. The Peruvian American teen has hip dysplasia, for which she has had multiple surgeries and does rehabilitation. One of her types of rehab is swimming. Her dream is to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park the summer before her senior year, but her parents do not agree with this. However, Verónica refuses to give up her wishes, as she faces her fears of disappointing her strict Latinx family and possibly rejection from her dream job at Mermaid Cove. Readers will relate with Verónica’s struggles as a teen and root for her, especially when she battles a crush on a cute guy who her parents would never let her be with, and finds the strength to determine her own path. As the book twists and turns, drama further ensues when she realizes her parents might be hiding something from her about her disability. VERDICT Teens will be unable to put down this book filled with drama, hope, and family conflict, including great Latinx representation.-Reviewed by Aurora Dominguez  

High Spirits by Camille Gomera-Tavarez Levine Querido. Apr. 2022. 224p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781646141296.
Gr 10 Up–In this debut collection of 11 interrelated yet stand-alone stories, the Afro-Latino Dominican American experience is center stage, a breath of fresh, saltwater air to all readers and a mirror to island-hopping teenagers in the United States with strong ties to their extended families in the Dominican Republic. The collection starts with a visual family tree spanning four generations. Some stories are set in northeastern U.S., but most are set in Hidalpa, a small, fictional coastal town near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The first story features Gabriel, who suffers from a fit of memory rather than forgetfulness, remembering spilling the habichuelas at his grandmother Mabel Belen’s house while in therapy in the U.S. Contradictions prevail with cousins partying hard and remembering church, arguments about islander racism and sexism, the cruelty of older generation husbands, and younger brothers in tow on dates. When his mother finds marijuana in his room, Franklyn is sent from NYC to the island to Tía Lupe’s, where he is made a servant but helps his cousin avoid date rape. Memory pervades the collection with all the vicissitudes of global identity-making, including interminable waits on visas. Expect both realism with full phrases of authentic Dominican Spanish, and full-force magic realism with the past ever-present. The last story ties the collection together with La Doña Belen’s recounting of family history, with just a hint of sweet fiction. VERDICT A must-buy for libraries serving older teens.-Reviewed by Sara Lissa Paulson  

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2022. 416p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063060234.
Gr 8 Up–Yamilet Flores and her brother, Cesar, are set to start the school year at Slayton Catholic, both leaving behind unhappy pasts at Rover High. Cesar has a habit of getting into fights at school for reasons Yamilet can’t figure out, and Yamilet is struggling with a betrayal by ex-best friend Bianca, who revealed to others Yamilet is gay. Hoping to avoid a similar situation at Slayton, Yamilet pretends to be straight as she navigates the school. Soon she falls in with a good group of friends that includes Bo, a Chinese American girl who is kind, intelligent, confident, and out. Working hard to make money in case she is kicked out of home when her truth is revealed, Yami doesn’t always pay attention to what’s happening with Cesar. Yamilet is refreshing and genuine, starting off as someone who does not always stand up for herself and evolving into someone fiercely protective of her family, her friends, and herself. Yami and Cesar, who both struggle with a sense of shame, deal with their feelings differently while also providing each other with love and support. Yami glows with pride for her Mexican and Indigenous ancestry, and although she stands out in Slayton, where most of the student body is white, she finds support from many kind and considerate classmates. Difficult topics, such as suicide, are explored. VERDICT Filled with humor and love, this fast-paced novel will have readers immersed in Yamilet’s world, rooting for her and her loved ones all the way.-Reviewed by Selenia Paz 


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award 

 Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge. illus. by Lauren Tamaki. Chronicle. Oct. 2022. 132p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781452165103.
Gr 5 Up–Art reflects the harsh realities of life in this emotional look at the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, filtered through the lenses of three very different photographers. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forcibly relocated all Japanese immigrants and their descendants, many who were American citizens, into concentration camps. The War Relocation Authority commissioned photographer Dorothea Lange to capture images of the internment to prove the process was being done ethically. Lange, who opposed the fear-mongering endeavor, instead used her camera to show the absurdity of calling these average Americans “threats.” Toyo Miyatake, himself a Manzanar prisoner, used a secretly constructed camera to take candid shots of the bleak facilities, but also of the supportive community that surrounded him. Ansel Adams had not opposed the incarceration, but by the end of the war felt that loyal citizens should be welcomed back to society. Adams used carefully posed portraits to show exactly what Lange’s work initially underscored—how ridiculous it was to suggest a child or grandfather was a dangerous spy. In stark contrast to the heartbreaking subject matter, Tamaki’s gorgeous black, white, and red illustrations work in tandem with Lange, Miyatake, and Adams’s photographs to paint a devastatingly beautiful picture of both the injustice of the incarceration and the right to humane treatment, which they were denied. Coupled with Partridge’s simple, perfect writing and back matter that deepens the text, this is a work that will haunt readers. VERDICT An essential first purchase.-Reviewed by Abby Bussen. An SLJ Best Book.


Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honors 

 Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy. illus. by Janelle Washington Roaring Brook. Sept. 2022. 64p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250220950.
(See review above.)

 A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis (text) & illus. by Antoinette Portis Holiday House/Neal Porter. Jun. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823448920.
PreS-Gr 1–Like tissue paper held up to a sunny window, Portis’s pictures have the glow of stained glass, offering texture and inviting readers to come a little closer to see what she has created. A seed grows, but on the title page that seed is still in the bird’s beak. It falls, settles into the soil, and sun and rain are simply present, part of the process. Soil, sun, water, air, and the seed takes root, grows tall, forms a bud, blossoms into more seeds, which feed more birds, and the cycle is complete. This approach to nature requires no embellishment, no anthropomorphizing, no cheerleading to lure in young eyes. Four- to five-word sentences on the left set off every gemlike illustration on the right, breaking format only when the book needs to be turned sideways so that the full glory of the sunflower’s height can be revealed. The back matter includes charming layouts of the parts of the seed and root, what the seed needs to sprout, and the life cycle of the sunflower plant. Complicated scientific principles are rendered simply and gracefully in scenes that seem to deliver a dose of Vitamin D. VERDICT As with all of Portis’s books, natural science is served sunny-side up, without a word out of place, in this essential guide.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih

 Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mara Rockliff. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Random House Studio. Jan. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524720643.
Gr 1-4–Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are familiar names in the fight for justice and equality, but unsung heroes such as Georgia Gilmore contributed to the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, too. In fact, Gilmore had been boycotting the bus herself before Parks was arrested. For over a year, she helped support the boycott by making and selling her delicious food, then using the proceeds to pay for transportation and fines for those who were arrested unjustly. When Gilmore spoke out in court, she was fired from her job, but King encouraged her to work for herself, making food at her house. Gouache illustrations are full of life and expression; think Gordon C. James’s paintings for Derrick Barnes’s Crown. Gilmore is a big Black woman, often wearing bright colors, with a missing front tooth. Substantial back matter includes “After the Boycott” and resources. VERDICT Offering an outstanding take on the Montgomery Bus Boycott from a fresh perspective, this is an essential purchase.-Reviewed by Jenny Arch 

 The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel. illus. by Susan Gal. Scholastic. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338225891. 
Gr 3-5–In the small town of Eishyshok, previously Poland, now Lithuania, lived a young Jewish girl named Yaffa. Her family roots went back in the town for 900 years. Her grandmother ran a studio where people from the village came to get their photographs taken for New Year’s greetings and memories. But then the war came, and the Nazi soldiers rounded up the Jews in Eishyshok and killed all but Yaffa and her family who escaped and hid. Thirty-five years later, President Jimmy Carter reached out to Yaffa and asked her to help with a memorial being built for the victims of the Holocaust. Yaffa remembered the photographs her grandmother had taken, and the ones she had hidden in her socks as she fled the village. She decided to build the memorial not on bricks, but on photographs that were saved from Eishyshok. Traveling around the world, she found 6,000 photographs to display on what would later be called the Tower of Life. Not a memorial of the dead, but of the life that came from her beloved hometown. There are many picture books about the Holocaust, but this one stands out with Gal’s beautiful watercolor pictures and the true account of one woman’s goal that her community never be forgotten. VERDICT A beautiful tribute to one small town and the six million Jews across Europe who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Highly recommended.-Reviewed by Heidi Dechief. An SLJ Best Book.


Stonewall Book Award—Children's 

Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild. illus. by Charlene Chua Farrar. Jan. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780374313722. 
PreS-Gr 2–In this sensitive picture book about first friendship and first crushes, Violet, who has pale skin and red hair, daydreams about taking her friend Mira, who has light brown skin and curly hair, on heroic adventures. “As far as Violet was concerned, only one person in her class raced like the wind. Only one had a leaping laugh. Only one made Violet’s heart skip.” But every time Violet tries to tell Mira how she feels, she goes shy. As Valentine’s Day approaches, Violet decides that a handmade card is the perfect way to show Mira just how special she is. A soothing color palette enhances the story’s quiet and lighthearted tone, and transparent watercolor washes on textured paper add light and warmth to wintry scenes. Children will notice Mira’s baffled expressions in the background as Violet frets, offering opportunities for conversation around social-emotional learning. Cheerful schoolmates are drawn with varying shades of skin and hair types. Mira’s warm response when Violet finally delivers her valentine is touching, and sends a reassuring message about being true to one’s feelings. While the girls’ relationship is not explicitly romantic, Violet’s daydreams (where, for example, she is wearing a knight’s outfit and laying treasure at Mira’s feet) and her skipping heart suggest that her feelings may grow into something more. VERDICT This book fills an important need for non-heteronormative representation in picture book collections and will sit alongside books like Thomas Scotto’s Jerome by Heart. Recommended for holiday collections.-Reviewed by Amy Fellows  


Stonewall Book Honors—Children's  

 In the Key of Us by Mariama J Lockington. Farrar. Apr. 2022. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374314101. 
Gr 5-8–With lyricism and emotional honesty, Lockington tells the story of two girls who find hope and healing in each other at Harmony Music Camp. Andi has lost her “soul sound” on the trumpet ever since her mother, a creative and at times erratic force, died in a tragic accident. Now living with her much more pragmatic aunt and uncle, Andi can’t help but see a summer away at camp as a convenient method to get her out of the way in preparation for the arrival of their new baby. Zora would much rather be dancing, but her family has mapped a very narrow path for her as a flutist, and she is beginning to break under her mother’s constant expectation of perfection. Although confident and sparkly on the outside, Zora experiences intense anxiety that she releases through self-harm. As two of the only Black kids at camp, Andi and Zora are frequently thrown together by students and staff who ignorantly assume that they will automatically connect. But as they open up to each other about their fears, losses, and dreams, they actually begin to develop a real friendship, and maybe more. Andi and Zora share the narration, and each section begins with a beautiful poem written in the voice of the camp itself, which lends a warm, comforting atmosphere to the setting. VERDICT Navigating sensitive topics like body image, mental health, racism, grief, and healthy relationships with a gentle hand, this moving coming-of-age story is perfect for tweens and young teens.-Reviewed by Catherine Cote. An SLJ Best Book.

 Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer & Joe Wilson. illus. by Daniel Sousa. Penguin/Kokila. Jun. 2022. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593530061.
Gr 3-5–Kapaemahu, a reference to the four healing stones found on Waikiki Beach, is a Hawaiian legend told through the eyes of its spiritual natives. The story’s opening pages highlight the journey that four Tahitians took to settle in Ulukou on Waikiki. Each of the four leaders—Kapaemahu, Kapuni, Kinohi, and Kahaloa—possessed a special healing power to help the island’s inhabitants. Following their healing, the people of Waikiki showed their gratitude by moving four large boulders to their beach. This book is best suited for elementary students at the intermediate level due to its advanced vocabulary; the illustrations feature mostly dark colors to represent the mysticism and suppression of Hawaii’s Indigenous people. The book is also incredibly important as a story for children to connect with regarding gender identity (“The visitors were tall and deep in voice yet gentle and soft-spoken. They were not male; they were not female”) as well as cultural preservation. The latter can be translated to any culture being studied or observed in school or at home and provides a great lesson in acceptance and love in a diverse world. Few readers will have heard of the Kapaemahu. It is a wonderful story to honor the Indigenous people of Hawaii and celebrates their history beautifully, while still giving appropriate attention to the suppression of native people and the need to honor those who came before. Back matter includes glossary, author’s note, and more. VERDICT This unique offering serves as a fine read-aloud in conjunction with a history lesson on Hawaii, its people, their language, and the colonization that occurred.-Reviewed by Kerra Mazzariello. An SLJ Best Book.  

The Real Riley Mayes by Rachel Elliott. illus. by Rachel Elliott. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins/. May 2022. 224p. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062995742; Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780062995759.
Gr 4-8–In this delightful story, fifth grader Riley Mayes is trying to find her place. Her friend has moved away, and she is bouncing around from group to group trying to find friends who understand her. Her teacher certainly doesn’t; Riley’s class interruptions and constant doodling land her in trouble on a regular basis. When the class is assigned to write a letter to a well-known person, Riley chooses to write to Joy Powers, a comedian she admires, but she gets stuck on what to write and how to say it. In the meantime, the new kid in her class, Aaron, seems okay, and classmate Cate begins to befriend Riley. Things are looking up until the other kids start harassing Riley and calling her “lesbian.” Would that be so bad? How does a person know they’re gay? Riley is filled with questions. Though confused, she has a tremendous support team in her parents, her older brother Danny, and her newfound friends. Through many ups and downs, Riley begins to find her footing and, most importantly, recognize that she has plenty of people to go to. This realistic and heartwarming story, filled with humor and angst, has a little something for everyone to enjoy. Readers will readily empathize with Riley. VERDICT The simple and endearing artwork with soft colors will fly off library shelves and be a hit for readers who enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s books and Jennifer Holm’s “Sunny” series.-Reviewed by Esther Keller  

Strong by Rob Kearney & Eric Rosswood. illus. by Nidhi Chanani. Little, Brown. May 2022. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316292900.
Gr 2-4–This is an autobiography of Rob Kearney and his career as a competitive weight lifter and body builder. It follows him from childhood, when he showed a prowess for super strength, doing a variety of sports from football to cheerleading before moving forward to adulthood where he begins to train for the Strongman competitions. Kearney’s story is inspiring as it shows how perseverance and tenacity are important traits for working towards goals. It is also a story about gender expression and identity. His personal style is celebrated and encouraged by his very supportive partner, Joey, who not only trains with him but always motivates him to be true to himself, from rainbow hair to floral and pastel training clothes. The book is also filled with facts about a sport that isn’t widely featured in children’s literature. For example, a diagram of all the necessary gear needed to train for the Strongman competition provides a visual element without distracting from the story’s narrative. The book is filled with relatable anecdotes and moments that readers can connect to; Kearney actually comes in last in one of the competitions. The illustrations are vivid and dynamic. VERDICT This is an important and unique topic told in an engaging narrative style, featuring a little-known sport, a great athlete, and an even greater story of ultimate sportsmanship.-Reviewed by Melanie Okadigwe 


Stonewall Book Award—YA

 When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb. Levine Querido. Oct. 2022. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781646141760.
(See review above.)


Stonewall Book Honors—YA

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston Wednesday Bks. May 2022. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250244451.
Gr 9 Up–Shara Wheeler has disappeared, and Chloe Green, her long-term arch-rival for valedictorian at their conservative Christian school, is determined to find her. In Chloe’s mind, Shara is pulling this stunt just to mess with her, but apparently Shara wants to be found: she left clues with Chloe; Shara’s popular boyfriend, Smith; and Rory, Smith’s ex-best friend who has pined after Shara for years. Turns out that all three have kissed Shara, and they spend the last few weeks of senior year furiously searching for her. Chloe belatedly realizes that her most precious friendships and relationships have suffered because of this hunt, that not everyone is as they seem, and that she must decide how Shara fits into her life now that she can grow beyond Willowgrove Christian Academy. The cast of characters is racially diverse, and many are LGBTQIA+, including a gender nonbinary friend of Chloe’s. Chloe herself has two moms, and everyone is individually processing how to survive and thrive in small town Alabama within the confines of its conservative worldview. McQuiston deftly uses humor to communicate these struggles without dismissing religion. Her characters are well-rounded and relatable, especially Chloe, who admits that she uses surliness as a shield of protection against the world. The hunt for Shara stops just short of being madcap, and the story morphs into a more standard—yet sharp and enjoyable—“last goodbye” plot as Chloe and her friends figure out what life will look like after Willowgrove. VERDICT A worthwhile investment for public and school libraries that features humor, friendships, romance, and the confrontation of bigotry and hypocrisy. Highly recommended.-Reviewed by Christine Case  

Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas. Kokila.

Man o’ War by Cory McCarthy. Dutton.

 The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson. HarperCollins/Heartdrum. May 2022. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780063086166.
Gr 10 Up–This searing story starts with a trigger warning from the author. Louise, who is Métis, plans to spend the summer after graduation with her mom, uncles, and friends while working at the family’s ice cream shack earning money for college. Her mom decides to travel the pow-wow circuit, selling her beaded jewelry. The older white man who raped her mother, resulting in Louise’s birth, is released from prison, and is now stalking her. The return of King Nathan, a friend who might want to be more than a friend, but from whom Louise keeps a huge secret, changes her summer. Multiple secrets are revealed over a few months—that Louise first passed as white when she moved to town, that her family may lose their farm, and about an act of revenge all related to the toxic violence of racism and sexism in a small town on the Alberta Prairie. Louise slowly reveals her own secrets, and the ones her family have kept from her. Brutally honest about the sexual and physical violence Native women are subjected to, this story deals with a variety of painful topics and their impact on Louise’s friends and family. Each chapter begins with a beaded image from her mother’s art and a quote from her uncle’s ice cream recipe book. VERDICT The honesty and complexity of this book make it a gripping read; a great first purchase for libraries serving teens.-Reviewed by Tamara Saarinen. An SLJ Best Book.


Theodor Seuss Geisel Award 

I Did It! by Michael Emberley. illus. by Michael Emberley. Holiday House. (I Like to Read Comics). Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780823446513.
PreS-1–The thrill and trepidation of trying something new is explored in this unpanelled graphic story. A catlike critter in striped pajamas tries their hand at childhood skills like building block towers and scaling trees, resulting in frustrating failures. The critter is undeterred, or perhaps spurred to action by frustration, and riding a bicycle becomes the story’s central challenge. With encouragement from their friends, the feline protagonist is fully satisfied with the results of their efforts. Emberley’s illustrations wobble, march, and scale the blank pages to create a sense of movement, and the pencil-etched cast feels loved and familiar, like a well-worn collection of stuffed animals. The text is comprised of a litany of variations on the title, expressive while spare, ideal for newly independent readers. VERDICT Pairing animated, thoughtful illustrations and simple text with a story focused on determination, this book is a perfect pick for new readers, both nervous and brave.-Reviewed by Emilia Packard  


Theodor Seuss Geisel Honors 

Fish and Wave by Sergio Ruzzier. illus. by ­Sergio Ruzzier. HarperAlley. (I Can Read ­Comics Level 1). May 2022. 48p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063076679; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780063076662. PreS-Gr 3–One day, Fish gets up early to try to find a new friend to play with. He meets a little wave and he thinks he’s found a friendly friend, but Wave overwhelms and scares Fish when he suddenly gets bigger and rises. Wave apologizes and explains that rising is a part of his nature. When he rises again, the two work together to find a way to have the ride of their lives. This book not only introduces the friendly Fish character but also serves as an introduction for beginning readers into the world of graphic novels. Billed as a Level 1 comic, with simple art and just enough words to tell its equally simple story, it reads more on a preschool level than elementary. The art does not adequately complement the story; some panels tells readers what characters are doing without showing those characters, and other panels show the characters but have no words describing their actions or intent. As a result, the story has a defined beginning, middle and end, but it still feels incomplete. VERDICT A decent entry to introduce young readers to graphic novels, but poor use of panels keeps it from standing out.-Reviewed by Erik Knapp 

 Gigi and Ojiji by Melissa Iwai (text) & illus. by Melissa Iwai ­HarperCollins. May 2022. 32p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063208063. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780063208056.
Gr 1-3–Gigi is excited to meet her grandpa, Ojiisan, who is arriving from Japan to live with her family. Even with her basic Japanese vocabulary and the drawing she made to welcome him, their introduction stumbles through several cross-cultural misunderstandings, which makes Gigi cry. Her mom helps her understand the differences between American and Japanese culture and reassures Gigi that all will be well in time. Gigi’s interiority is well represented in this wonderful early reader; her thoughts and worries are front and center. Her need for adult consolation and the child-friendly explanations of cultural context will resonate with young readers. The arc of the story is easy to follow. Diversity is well represented; readers will see in the bright, adorable art that Gigi’s dad is white, and her mom is Japanese. Readers will also have to make a few inferences about the story, but with three to seven sentences per page, the images support the text to help children understand Gigi’s feelings, her parents’ reassurances, Roscoe the dog’s actions, and Ojiisan’s mannerisms. Although some sentences are 10 to 18 words long and some pages contain up to nine six-letter words, most of the text is short dialogue. Japanese words are explained through conversation, and there is a glossary at the end to cement understanding. VERDICT Gigi crafts her Japanese American identity in this enchanting early reader. The cuteness, inclusivity, and cross-cultural problem-solving represented will have young readers coming back again and again. A must-buy.-Reviewed by Jamie Winchell  

Owl and Penguin by Vikram Madan. illus. by Vikram Madan Holiday House. (I Like to Read Comics). Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780823451500.
PreS-Gr 2–Debuting with an exercise in adorable empathy, Owl and Penguin make a breezy foray into the tradition of supportive picture book friendships. Faced with challenges like being unable to fly, losing an ice cream cone, and getting drenched in a downpour, they strive to make things better for each other through pleasant plotting. Madan’s brightly colored illustrations of the boggle-eyed buddies add to the goofy fun for tenuous young readers. Owl and Penguin’s conversation occurs primarily in the form of speech bubbles and emphatic facial expressions, with light narration in panel captions. While it may not break new ground in the annals of interspecies literary friendships, as an opportunity for early readers and caregivers to discuss problem-solving and feelings with copious visual cues, this title is the perfect tool. VERDICT Cute and cheery, this graphic novel for early readers is a functional, fun read-together.-Reviewed by Emilia Packard  

 A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis. illus. by Antoinette Portis. Holiday House/Neal Porter. Jun. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823448920. (See review above.)


William C. Morris Award  

The finalists for the William C. Morris were announced in December 2022.

2023 Winner:

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum. Philomel. Sept. 2022. 224p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593525821.
Gr 8 Up–For Orthodox Jew Hoodie Rosen, the move to a new city has not been all that bad even though the town resents the Jewish people moving into their community and worries about how it changes the status quo. Hoodie’s days, though, have stayed pretty much the same—he goes to religious instruction every morning and “regular” school in the afternoon, a school only for members of the Orthodox community. His comfortable existence, only slightly bothered by the conflict in the town, becomes much more difficult when he meets Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary, the daughter of the town’s mayor who wants the Jewish people gone. He has an instant attraction to Anna-Maria despite a relationship with her being forbidden by his religion. Hoodie’s life takes a difficult turn with the defacing of Jewish graves and a vicious antisemitic attack in the community. His relationship with Anna-Maria and his actions that offend the Jewish community result in him being ostracized. This unique coming-of-age story addresses issues of faith and action in a manner that has both light-hearted and very serious moments. Hoodie’s gentle rebellion against the constraints of his religion and his family will resound with readers of this relatively short novel who find themselves at odds with those closest to them. Adding to the uniqueness of the book are the easily understandable discussions of Jewish Orthodox beliefs. Hoodie, a nicely developed character, has special appeal because of his thoughtful analysis of what he believes and what he wants from his life. VERDICT A great addition to a diverse book collection for any YA library.-Reviewed by Janet Hilbun


Excellence in Nonfiction Award 

The finalists of the YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction Award were announced in December 2022.

2023 Winner:

Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith & Derrick Barnes. illus. by Dawud Anyabwile. Norton. Sept. 2022. 208p. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781324003908. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781324052159. (See review above.)


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Picture Book  

 From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang. illus. by Rachel Wada. ­Carolrhoda. Oct. 2021. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781541581302.
Gr 1-3–In this moving, positive story, a father encourages his young daughter to confront challenges and look beyond borders. In Wada’s scenes, no Hmong refugee appears skeletal, but the “Humane Deterrence Policy” of the camp in Thailand, in 1985, includes just three days’ worth of food a week. Kids play happily together, ride dogs and chase chickens; the aunties of the extended families embroider calmly; but soldiers appear as splotchy memory-shadows, behind pretty blue-green foreground leaves. Kalia has overheard talk about the war and adults’ fears, and asks, “Is all the world a refugee camp?” Then, from a treetop, her father changes her perspective, assuring her she’ll “travel far to find peace.” Autobiographically based, like Yang’s The Most Beautiful Thing, this book includes an account of the writer’s successful subsequent life, pronunciation help, and a map. Wada seamlessly mixes media (graphite, watercolor, digital) in subdued hues into a simple, sensitive child’s-eye depiction of the camp and its people, scaled for reading to a group. VERDICT This is a gentle celebration of vision, hope, and determination in a book for all collections.-Reviewed by Patricia D. Lothrop 


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Picture Book Honor 

Nana, Nenek & Nina by Liza Ferneyhough. illus. by Liza Ferneyhough. Dial. Aug. 2022. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593353943. 
PreS-Gr 1–Nina, who is around age five or six, has one grandma in Malaysia and another in England, and gets to visit both in this clever same-and-different book that is Ferneyhough’s debut. Images of Nina’s home “in-between” the grandmas show the Golden Gate bridge; she flies toward the sunrise for one visit, and toward the sunset for the other. Differences abound, but spotting similarities is also fun and instructive. Food is mostly different but a little similar; sand is the same; temperatures are different; the moon is the same. The most important similarity is the feeling Nina has for her grandmothers, and they have for her. The detailed but clearly drawn illustrations show Malaysian art, English teacups, and American guitars. Mama and Nenek are light brown; Dad and Nana are pale; no one is idealized. Speech bubbles contain short duplicated phrases in Nenek’s Malay and Nana’s English (with pronunciation help for some words). Even Nana’s English isn’t the same as American English! VERDICT Nina’s comfort in very-far-apart places, her facility with languages, and her love for family mean that this engaging book will widen the world for young listeners and their families, no matter their locations or origins.-Reviewed by Patricia Lothrop  


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Children's Literature 

 Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee. Random. Feb. 2022. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984830258. (See review above.)


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Children's Literature Honor 

Troublemaker by John Cho with Sarah Suk. Little, Brown. Mar. 2022. 224p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780759554474.
Gr 5 Up–It is 1992, and the Rodney King verdict has just been returned. Riots explode across L.A. Told from Jordan’s middle school Korean American perspective, the book delves into issues like the challenges faced by immigrant families, systemic racism, and a flawed justice system. Jordan has been in some trouble at school, and he and his father are not speaking. His father leaves his gun behind when he goes out to board up their family’s store, so Jordan decides to take it to him for protection. He and his friend Mike head out into Koreatown with different agendas; Mike wants to retrieve something from his family’s restaurant, and Jordan is determined to keep his father safe. Jordan and Mike are often in trouble, but, luckily, the gun stays in its case in his backpack. Some strengths of this novel are Jordan’s close family and his relationship with his older sister Sarah. She may be successful in school, but she has her secrets, too. Despite disagreements, it is clear that the family cares for one another. This is a good middle grade historical fiction. Its main character is relatable, and the fast pace keeps readers engaged. Some young readers may not understand the trials of trying to find a pay phone, but as Cho’s author’s note points out, many of the conflicts in 1992 are still relevant today. VERDICT A strong purchase for libraries with readers who enjoy recent historical books or have an interest in racial justice.–-Reviewed by Claire Covington 


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Youth Literature 

 Himawari House by Harmony Becker. illus. by Harmony Becker. First Second. Oct. 2021. 384p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250235565; pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781250235572.
Gr 9 Up–Living in a foreign country is an immersive and often rewarding experience, but grappling with a new language can also be a struggle to keep one’s head above water. Becker, who illustrated George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, pinpoints this sense of discovery and disorientation in her debut graphic novel. Nao, a Japanese American teenager, arrives in Tokyo for a gap year and quickly befriends her roommates—bouncy Tina, who is Chinese Singaporean, and homesick Hyejung, who is Korean—and interacts with two male Japanese roommates, Shinichi and Masaki. Together, the fast friends experience touchstones of Japanese life—combini, izakaya, obaachans, cherry blossoms, and matsuri. But this is largely stage-setting for Becker’s focus on language learning in context; speech bubbles written as subtitled Japanese become more complex as Nao’s comprehension improves. There are countless intersecting modes of communication even within Nao’s social circle: Tina’s Singlish, Hyejung’s thickly accented English, their paths to Japanese acquisition, and surly Masaki’s fluent written but poorly spoken English. The ability to define oneself depends on the ability to communicate that self to others, and our heroes tackle language barriers head-on to articulate their identities in an exhausting, exhilarating year in Japan. Becker’s art references manga and Japanese urban aesthetics playfully but not obsessively, reinforcing the book’s themes of immersion and self-definition. VERDICT This lighthearted yet serious-minded journey of discovery will delight, educate, and challenge teens interested in language and cultural exploration.-Reviewed by Emilia Packard. An SLJ Best Book.


Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature—Youth Literature Honor  

The Silence that Binds Us by Joanna Ho. HarperTeen. Jun. 2022. 448p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780063059344.C
Gr 9 Up–High school junior Maybelline Chen is shattered when her beloved older brother Danny dies by suicide. Neither May nor her parents saw signs of depression in Danny, a Princeton-bound senior and popular athlete, and his death leaves them reeling with guilt. Then, a wealthy white parent at May’s school lashes out with a racist gut-punch of an accusation, blaming “Asians” and “tiger parents” for increased student stress and competition and claiming that May’s Chinese American father and Taiwanese mother placed so much pressure on her brother that he killed himself. Devastated and circumspect, May’s parents ask her to keep quiet to protect her family from further backlash, but May’s rage fuels her to writes a series of letters and poems for the local paper that evolve into broader collaborative and intersectional activism at school. Tackling a range of important, timely topics that include the history of anti-Asian discrimination in the United States, allyship among historically marginalized populations, and the power of narratives to uphold (or disrupt) systems of oppression, this is a powerful, hopeful YA debut from award-winning children’s author Ho. While some dialogue veers into didacticism, May’s journey through personal and familial grief is poignant and questions of power and privilege are explored with nuance that will spark conversation among teen readers. VERDICT Recommended for general purchase; hand to fans of Mark Oshiro’s Anger Is a Gift, Misa Sugiura’s This Time Will Be Different, or Kelly Loy Gilbert’s When We Were Infinite.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Giles 


The Sydney Taylor Book Award—Picture Book 

 The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel. illus. by Susan Gal. Scholastic. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338225891. 
(See review above.)


The Sydney Taylor Book Honors—Picture Book 

Big Dreams, Small Fish by Paula Cohen. illus. by Paula Cohen. Levine Querido.

 The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda by Shoshana Nambi. illus. by Moran Yogev. Kalaniot. Sept. 2022. 32p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781735087580.
PreS-Gr 2–This Sukkot story offers a unique view into a little-known community as they celebrate the Jewish harvest festival. Shoshi lives with her brothers and grandparents in the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda. Every year, the members of her community celebrate Sukkot by building the traditional sukkahs, or huts. They make them as beautiful as possible in the hopes of winning a contest. Villagers use their talents and resources to make each one special. One villager buys, rather than makes, the items that make his the fanciest. But when a storm goes through, it gets destroyed. The villagers come together to rebuild it, bringing items from their own sukkahs. When it wins, Shoshi declares that she is happy because they all won. The first-person text effectively explains the holiday and offers a window into this unique community, while simultaneously providing an engaging story that includes a gentle, nondidactic message. Shoshi is a well-rounded character; her experiences and feelings are universal and will speak to the audience. The brightly colored linocut-like illustrations have a slightly flat, naïve style that fits the setting, while the characters’ large, expressive eyes and colorful clothing are appealing. Extensive back matter gives a view into both the history of the Abayudaya community and the Jewish holiday. VERDICT This unique title would be a welcome addition to any collection looking to broaden their offerings of sukkot books.-Reviewed by Amy Lilien-Harper  

Sitting Shiva by Erin Silver. illus. by Michelle Theodore. Orca.


The Sydney Taylor Book Award—Middle Grade 

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe. Levine Querido. Feb. 2022. 170p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646141258.
Gr 3-7–After losing her father in a terrible accident, 11-year-old Aviva Jacobs and her mother move into a small apartment above the local mikvah, a traditional bathhouse for orthodox Jewish women. Aviva’s mother takes care of the mikvah and those who visit it, and Aviva takes care of the dybbuk, a mischievous spirit in Jewish folklore. Aviva’s dybbuk is a real troublemaker. From tearing up checks to spilling out the contents of visitor’s purses, it keeps Aviva on her toes. As Aviva tries to manage the dybbuk, she must also work with her ex–best friend to plan the most amazing Bat Mitzvah Bash that her school has ever seen. As she juggles the stresses of school, friends, and an increasingly tense situation at home, Aviva discovers her inner strength and the resilience of her community. Many readers will find Aviva charming and relatable as she navigates the roller coaster that is growing up. VERDICT A strong purchase for every school and public library. In this tale that’s at times funny, sad, and scary, Lowe seamlessly crafts a coming-of-age story that readers will enjoy.-Reviewed by Maryjean Riou 


The Sydney Taylor Book Honors—Middle Grade 

 Honey and Me by Meira Drazin. Scholastic. Oct. 2022. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338155433.
Gr 4-6–A poignant coming-of-age middle grade novel that follows Honey and Milla, two best friends navigating social circles, mother-daughter relationships, religious identity, and the complexities of sixth grade bat mitzvah season. When Milla finds out her best friend will be transferring to her school, she is so excited. Honey has a vibrant personality; Milla adores her but often feels in her shadow. Honey is also part of a large family, unlike Milla’s, and she often helps out Honey’s mother rather than her own. Chapters take place chronologically through the school year and coincide with the variety of Jewish holidays. As expected for a slice-of-life novel, a lot of the plot revolves around the everyday life of the girls and their family, including sneaking off from Shabbat services to find snacks around the synagogue, preparing for a writing concert, dress shopping, and dealing with the loss of someone close to them. While the tweens are a part of a close-knit, modern Orthodox community, the novel showcases the diversity in traditions, expectations, and schools within that community. End notes include a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words, Jewish holidays, and an author’s note reflecting on the importance of representation in fiction. VERDICT An effortless story that is both widely relatable and culturally specific. This excellent title featuring main characters not often represented in contemporary realistic fiction is highly recommended.-Reviewed by Marissa Lieberman  

Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack. HarperCollins/Versify.  Sept. 2022. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780358572039.


 Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J Sass. Little, Brown. Mar. 2022. 336p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780759556270.
Gr 3-7–Ellen Katz is an autistic, queer, Jewish 13-year-old who is spending two weeks on a class trip in Barcelona. She is excited to reconnect with her best friend Laurel, who she hasn’t seen much lately. Ellen has looked at the past itinerary for the course and planned out everything she and Laurel will do in Spain. But a surprise group scavenger hunt that puts them in separate groups throws off all her carefully detailed plans. Even with Abba as a parent chaperone, Ellen needs to face the changes that new friends and new adventures bring. As Ellen works with her new nonbinary classmate, Isa, and gets to know her other teammates, she realizes that maybe it is okay to make new friends and try new things. Even though she misses her time with Laurel, with the help of her new friends, who are supportive of her accommodations, Ellen learns a bit more about herself, her family, and her Jewish faith. Sass’s latest book gives readers insight into what it is like to be autistic, sharing how Ellen’s brain functions and the coping mechanisms that help her deal with things when they become overwhelming. The text thoughtfully deals with gender identity and fluidity at various levels. VERDICT A heartwarming and inviting book about finding self that hits at the ever-changing (and challenging) world of middle school. Recommended for all middle grade shelves.-Reviewed by Rebekah J. Buchanan. An SLJ Best Book.


The Sydney Taylor Book Award—YA 

 When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb. Levine Querido. Oct. 2022. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781646141760.
(See review above.)


The Sydney Taylor Book Honor—YA

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen. HarperTeen.

Some Kind of Hate by Sarah Darer Littman. Scholastic.

 Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds. Razorbill. Oct. 2022. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593349755.
Gr 7 Up–In this lush and cozy holiday romance, Reynolds (The Summer of Lost Letters) brings readers to Nantucket and the raucous and loving Barnabel family. Shira Barnabel is looking forward to spending Hanukkah with her extended family in her grandparent’s sprawling Nantucket home, but then a snowstorm leaves her whole family stranded on the mainland. Instead of a house full of cousins, Shira finds herself lighting the first candle with sworn enemy Tyler Nelson, the boy responsible for her first and only broken heart. Shira decides to turn the situation to her advantage and talks the charming Tyler into giving her lessons in flirting, in the hopes of attracting a new intern in her family business. Reynolds takes readers through the paces of Hanukkah, Christmas, and general winter traditions of a wealthy Nantucket social circle—all perfect set pieces for Tyler to administer lessons in seduction. A mystery involving Shira’s family and an old Nantucket whaling ship brings the two into each other’s orbit more and more often, and the line between flirting lessons and actual flirting becomes blurred. Reynolds’s narration is smart, warm, and full of plenty of well-earned swoony moments. The evolution of Shira and Tyler’s relationship, as well as a subplot about Shira’s grandparents, thoughtfully explore the ways hurt feelings can affect perceptions of and openness to love and affection over time. A companion to the author’s debut novel, this can be read as a stand-alone. VERDICT Absolutely delightful.-Reviewed by Beth McIntyre


Schneider Family Book Awards—Young Children

Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion by Shannon Stocker. illus. by Devon Holzwarth. Dial. Apr. 2022. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593109694.
Gr 3-6–The life of deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie dances and swirls across the page in this vibrantly illustrated picture book biography that is perfect for elementary school readers learning about music and fascinating women. Glennie’s story begins in Scotland, where she can play music by ear by the age of 10. Soon thereafter, she loses her hearing, and it seems as if she will lose access to music, too. A compassionate teacher, Ron Forbes, understands that Glennie feels the music with every part of her being, and she becomes an essential musician in any percussion section. This is more than a story of overcoming discrimination due to disability—Stocker captures something about the artist’s need to be herself, regardless of abilities. Glennie is making music to this day. Lush brushstrokes, delicate character portraits, and warm colors make this a beautiful title to explore, and the ample text and sweet author’s note ensures that Glennie’s story will have an impact on readers. VERDICT An excellent addition to biography sections, especially for musical readers looking to feel the music and not just hear it.-Reviewed by Aryssa Damron


Schneider Family Book Honors—Young Children

In the Blue by Erin Hourigan. illus. by Erin Hourigan. Little, Brown. May 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316497626.
PreS-Gr 4–A small girl narrates against a rainbow background the joy of time spent with her father. Then the pages turn blue, as his posture and facial expressions become sad, and almost unreadable. Very little is explained, but the meaning is clear; her father cannot help the blue place he is in, and she has to wait for him to figure it out. She reacts with rage and frustration, while her mother quietly supports them both. There is a place her father goes for help, and the hint of a pharmacy, and slowly the pages grow brighter again, as her father becomes once more the man she knows. Like the seaside where the book opens, this book begins like the gentle lapping of waves and crescendos, emotionally, with the weight of the father’s illness. Readers will feel the crush, and then the relief, as the family (who are all white) works together to go with the flow, without being overtaken by it. Back matter includes print and online resources and an author’s note about her father’s clinical depression. VERDICT An essential glimpse of the impact of one person’s mental health issues on the entire family, and a lovingly crafted path to a realistic resolution—not a cure, but managing.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih


Schneider Family Book Awards—Middle Grade

Wildoak by C.C. Harrington. Scholastic.


Schneider Family Book Honors—Middle Grade

 Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic. Aug. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338654585.
Gr 5-8–In her latest novel, Lloyd calls on personal experiences to create a realistic and magical adventure for middle grade readers. Twelve-year-old Olive has been homeschooled her entire life. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as brittle bone disease) and uses a wheelchair, and her mother has always feared for her to leave the nest—but Olive is determined to go to public school and make a friend. When her mother relents and Olive starts public school for the first time, she must deal with so much more than she bargained for. Then she hears about a magical hummingbird that grants wishes, and it seems like finding this creature will be the answer to all her problems. With a few new companions along the way, Olive tries to discover the secrets of the hummingbird. This is an uplifting story for readers who enjoy realistic settings with magical threads. Olive is developed beautifully as a main character, giving older elementary and middle school readers plenty to relate to and love. The authentic voice that Lloyd crafts in Olive shines throughout the book. VERDICT A must-have for any elementary school or middle school library, this magical and heartening novel will keep readers engaged until the end. A perfect fit for fans of realistic fiction and fantasy alike.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Pelayo

 Honestly Elliott by Gillian McDunn. Bloomsbury. Mar. 2022. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781547606252.
Gr 4-7–A novel full of heart, humor, and honesty. Elliott is your typical kid dealing with his parents’ divorce, his best friend moving away, a baby brother being born, not fitting in at his new school, nearly failing sixth grade—and on top of it all, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder. His passion for cooking drives him to want to do better so he can go to an awesome cooking camp in the summer. When his big school project comes up, he sees it as an opportunity to pay for camp and prove to his dad that cooking is a worthwhile endeavor. But when Elliott’s so-called friends refuse to work with him, he ends up making an unexpected ally and convincing her that his cooking skills can get her an A. Elliot is an instantly lovable character, and readers will be hooked from the very first chapter. McDunn provides an honest look into ADHD and normalizes male characters exploring their feelings through therapy, which is a refreshing take on navigating a complicated dad-son relationship. Middle graders will be able to see themselves as Elliot through his various interests and relationships. Those with ADHD may appreciate this reflective text as a glimpse inside the brain of a middle schooler with ADHD. VERDICT This is a must-have for any library servicing middle grade readers; Elliot’s struggles are commonplace, and his story is told from a place of warmth and humor, which makes those realities a little less painful and the lessons included easier to digest.-Reviewed by Erin Decker


Schneider Family Book Award—Teen

 The Words We Keep by Erin Stewart. Delacorte. Mar. 2022. 400p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984848864.
Gr 9 Up–Three months ago, Lily, hinted at as white, found her older sister Alice on the bathroom floor having hurt herself. Since then, Lily has been trying to keep things together for her family and herself. However, she is thrown for a loop when Alice comes home from treatment earlier than expected. Then there’s Micah, Lily’s partner for a school poetry and art assignment and Alice’s friend from treatment. Micah, who is Latino, is determined to get Lily to process what Alice has gone through and her experience. Lily also has her own secrets, and the project she and Micah embark on may help bring them to light. Told entirely from Lily’s perspective, this story explores not only one’s own mental health but also the impact it has on those around them. Stewart authentically presents the subject matter and isn’t afraid to address the negative, including self-harm and the stigma facing those with mental illness. This book’s message—that people with mental illnesses are still human and trying to deal with their own problems of friends, family, and romance—is thoughtfully handled. Lily and Micah use poetry and art to express and explore their mental health, and Stewart presents it in a superb manner that allows readers to process and explore their thoughts and feelings. Certain aspects may be triggering for some, but those who can handle the subject matter are likely to find value in it. VERDICT An excellent choice for library collections and book discussions.-Reviewed by Amanda Borgia


Schneider Family Book Honor—Teen

 Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester Clarion. May 2022. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780358536864. (See review above.)


Mildred L. Batchelder Award

Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II by Lia Levi. illus. by Jess Mason. Harper. Mar. 2022. 144p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063065086.
Gr 3-7–Lia Levi tells the story of her childhood as a young Jewish girl living in Italy and Rome during World War II. Lia’s life begins to change when her mother tells her she can no longer attend her Italian school. Because of Mussolini’s new laws, Lia must now attend a Jewish school. While this change doesn’t affect Lia much, it is the first of many changes that worry her and cause her family to be separated. Lia’s father loses his job, and their family must move multiple times for him to find work that will support their family. When the war gets too close to home, Lia’s parents send her and her sisters to live at a convent in hopes of disguising them as Christian children. This unique story is both heartbreaking and sweet. Lia goes through many difficult situations, but, as a young girl would, she finds ways to be positive and have fun through this terrible time. The illustrations included add context for readers, along with interjections from Lia’s adult self that usually refers to the readers as “dear readers.” Levi’s story is perfect for young children who want to learn more about the Holocaust, but aren’t ready for the more horrific details. VERDICT An excellent addition to elementary memoir and World War II collections.-Reviewed by Lisa Buffi


Mildred L. Batchelder Honors

 Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War by Mónica Montañés. illus. by Eva Sánchez Gómez­. Eerdmans. Nov. 2022. 88p. tr. from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel . Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802855985.
Gr 4-6–In alternating first-person sections, siblings Paco and Socorro render the homefront events and touchstone moments of the Spanish Civil War. Their father is a Republican who has fled Spain, and both children are aware of the politics and the impact on their family; Socorro sings the propaganda songs of the Falange party to convince her mother to take her out of one school, and in another, Paco lies to his French teacher about his papa’s work. Paco is always famished and burdened by his new role as man of the family, and Socorro is never hungry, in deep grief over what her family and the world is facing. Eight years later, the family joins their father in Venezuela and begins a new life. Luminous illustrations make wartime events appear like well-choreographed ballet, in soft colors, with iridescent linework creating domestic tableaux. Fully one-third of the book is given over to the publisher’s note, end notes, glossary, and further reading; young readers will need to acquaint themselves with the details of the Spanish Civil War before entering the fictions of this tale. While compelling and poetically told, the work exists as two sections: the plight of the siblings, where readers don’t know much more than the children do, and the daunting historical back matter.VERDICT This solid, well-rounded work on an important era in Spain’s history will need some book-talking, but it admirably invites readers into an ordinary household to show the how small and large events take a toll on the lives of children.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih 

Dragonfly Eyes by Cao Wenxuan. tr. by Helen Wang. Candlewick.

João by a Thread by Roger Mello. illus. by Roger Mello. tr. by Daniel Hahn. Elsewhere Editions.


Odyssey Award Audiobook—Children's

Stuntboy, in the Meantime produced by Taryn Beato for Simon & Schuster Audio. Written by Jason Reynolds and narrated by Guy Lockard, Nile Bullock and Angel Pean with a full cast.  


Odyssey Award Audiobook—YA

The Honeys produced by Melissa Ellard for Scholastic Audio. Written by Ryan La Sala and narrated by Pete Cross. An SLJ Best Book.


Odyssey Honor Audiobooks 

The Three Billy Goats Gruff produced by Melissa Ellard and Paul Gagne for Weston Woods Studios and Scholastic Audio, retold and narrated by Mac Barnett.

Demon in the Wood Graphic Novel produced by Steve Wagner and Michelle Altman for Macmillan Young Listeners, an imprint of Macmillan Audio, written by Leigh Bardugo, adaptation by Garet Scott and narrated by Ben Barnes and a full cast.

Inheritance: A Visual Poem produced by Caitlin Garing for Quill Books, an imprint of HarperAudio, and written and narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo. An SLJ Best Book.

The First Helping (Lunch Lady Books 1 & 2) produced by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Lauren Klein; Executive Producer Nick Martorelli for Listening Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, written Jarrett J. Krosoczka and narrated by Kate Flannery, the author and a full cast.  


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