SLJ Reviews of the 2024 Caldecott Medal Winner & Honor Books | Youth Media Awards

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Caldecott Medal and Honors winners.

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Caldecott Medal and Honors winners.

Randolph Caldecott Medal

Big by Vashti Harrison. Little, Brown. May 2023. 60p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780316353229.
PreS-Gr 2–A nameless Black girl, mostly depicted in a pink tutu with her hair in Afro puffs, is bright, clever, talented, and helpful. When she was little, being told she was “a big girl” was a compliment. Actually, being a big girl “was good…until it wasn’t.” Humiliations on the playground and at dance class lead to offhand insults from teachers and mockery from peers. Their words hit hard and won’t let go. As her body image worsens, she grows larger on the page, clearly uncomfortable with the space she takes up. Her previously pink ballerina costume is painted “husky gray” by her dance teacher. She grows so big she takes up the entire page spread, and that is when she breaks. As her tears flood around her, all the words that have been said about her float to the top. She gathers close the pink words—creative, graceful, BIG—and leaves the gray words—MOOSE, COW, too big. She gives those gray words back, telling their speakers how they hurt her. As she shrinks back to her true size, a girl offers to help her change, and she responds, “I like the way I am.” Adorned in optimistic pink again, she dances off, her positive words trailing behind her. This book resonates with a potential emotional impact that is immense. The girl is the only character in full color; her peers and teachers are shaded characters against a pale pink background, a stylization that reinforces her isolation. Never offered comfort by anyone else, she takes charge of her emotional well-being. VERDICT This inspiring and highly relatable title could be used with readers of any age to discuss topics of body image and self-love. Recommended.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Lovsin 

Randolph Caldecott Medal Honors

In Every Life by Marla Frazee (text) & illus. by Marla Frazee. S. & S./Beach Lane. Feb. 2023. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781665912488.
PreS-Gr 1–This book is a meditation on gratitude, full of intricate symbolism. Frazee explains in a note that she was inspired by a “call-and-response version of a Jewish baby-naming blessing” she heard at a Christian church decades ago. The text is made up of seven lines, all but the last composed of seven words each. Seven is a significant number in Judaism, and structuring the text in this way is a subtle acknowledgement of that faith tradition. Each of the seven lines is presented on a spread with a series of small illustrations, vignettes that represent each idea. Following each is a wordless spread featuring a sprawling landscape peopled by small figures. Each line has a thematic color, and the palettes of the wordless spreads combine the colors to link the concepts. The pages of the first line, “In every birth, blessed is the wonder,” are suffused with a soft pink. The following spread shows a family gazing at the sky, a baby pointing to the fluffy pink clouds that slowly bleed into yellow, the color of the second line: “In every smile, blessed is the light.” The overall mood is slow, steady, and soothing. The combination of the spiritual words and the prosaic moments alternating with grand panoramas bestows a magnitude to the minutiae of the everyday. The characters are diverse in every sense of the word, representing a myriad of families and lived experiences. While the book’s brevity is appropriate for a read-aloud, children will want to examine the illustrations closely. VERDICT Simultaneously simple and majestic, this benediction of a book is recommended for first purchase.-Reviewed by Elizabeth Lovsin

Jovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter by Aida Salazar (text) & illus. by Molly Mendoza. Scholastic. Mar. 2023. 48p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781338283419.
Gr 2-5–A gorgeous picture book about a groundbreaking woman who fought for gender equality and made a mark on Mexican history. Told by the subject’s great niece and based on her memoir, this biography centers around Jovita Valdovinos, a young woman who longed to wear pants and follow in her brothers’ and father’s footsteps as they revolted against the socialist Mexican government that took away citizens’ right to practice their religion freely. The daring and courageous teenager went against her family’s wishes, cut off her hair, wore pants, renamed herself Juan, and led fellow peasants in the Cristeros War (1926-29). This telling hits the perfect balance of lively and lyrical, giving readers the sense that this larger-than-life legend is worthy of awe and celebration. The empowering message that young people should cast gender-limiting stereotypes and barriers aside to do what’s right will feel revelatory for readers. Mendoza’s magnificent artwork was composed using digital brushes and color; bright, jewel-toned images seem to leap off the page, perfectly matching Valdovinos’s sweeping story. Readers will be able to feel the wind on their faces as she gallops on her horse and accomplishes great feats. Back matter includes a more detailed account of Valdovinos’s life, author and artist’s notes, and archival photos. VERDICT Purchase this outstanding picture book biography for all nonfiction collections.-Reviewed by Shelley M. Diaz

There Was a Party For Langston by Jason Reynolds (text) & illus. by Jerome Pumphrey & Jarrett Pumphrey. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. Oct. 2023. 56p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534439443.
PreS-Gr 3–Reynolds and the Pumphreys sharpen all their tools for this one, throwing word art like clouds into the sky and regaling readers with scene after scene of the finest guests—Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and so many more—who have come to Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for one reason: to celebrate the opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium in February 1991. And this is some party. There is music. There is food. There is the feeling that everyone who is anyone is on board. Reynolds explains in an author’s note that he was inspired to dig a little deeper by a black-and-white photograph of Baraka and Angelou doing the boogie at the event. He calls Hughes the king of letters, “whose ABC’s became drums,/ bumping jumping thumping/ like a heart the size of the whole wide world” and the pictures bump jump thump along with the text. Joy like jazz falls off the page into readers’ laps with every spread flashing back through time to Hughes’s Ohio childhood, Harlem, America, the world, interiors, exteriors, the party, the people, the famous Black faces, and more. “And all the books on the shelves were listening and looking at all the people, shimmying, full of dazzle./ Don’t nobody dance like a word maker./ And all the best word makers were there.” This book is an absolute textual and pictorial glory of people, places, word-making, song-singing, storytelling, history-making moments, and images that are unforgettable. VERDICT A beguiling, bedazzling collaboration that will send children to the shelves to learn more about all the names within, especially Hughes.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih 

The Truth About Dragons by Julie Leung (text) & illus. by Hanna Cha. Holt. Aug. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250820587.
Gr 1-2–Readers will lean in to hear of a mysterious journey into the deepest heart of two enchanted forests. Leung crafts a melodious tale of Eastern and Western cultural mythologies stirred together and overflowing in a warm celebration of love. Guided by his mother’s bedtime storytelling, a young child begins a search, with help from his two wise grandmothers, to learn of a revelation surrounding the realms of two types of dragons: the ones that breathe fearsome fires of red and those that rule the clear azure skies and tranquil rivers. These two blended worlds ultimately open his heart to a greater understanding of his own integrity. Luminescent watercolors sweep across pages worthy of a pause, even as the lyrical text carries readers along in their eagerness to know more. Nonetheless, most will pause to soak in luscious watercolor illustrations in jewel tones of ruby, sapphire, gold, and emerald. The remarkable wording infused into spreads of dynamic colors makes this enchanting story a true gift in the world of children’s literature. VERDICT A must-have book to place on every library shelf where literary pathways will open up young children’s minds as they discover their own hidden truths.-Reviewed by Lyn Smith

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