In January, without the cheering crowd and speeches, the children’s literature community virtually named the best books of the year, and there are some groundbreaking winners to announce.
For brevity’s sake, I will only spotlight the Caldecott, Newbery, and Coretta Scott King winners in this article but will highlight other awards next week. Please see below for a full list of winners.
The Caldecott award winner was one for the history books. The committee awarded the medal for the best picture book to We Are Water Protectors, illustrated by Michaela Goade. Ms. Goade is the first BIPOC woman and the first indigenous (Tlingit/Haida) illustrator to win this prestigious award. I mentioned We Are Water Protectors in my best picture books of 2020 article. It’s a much-needed book about the importance of protecting the earth’s water resources and a tribute to Native resilience. The vibrant and colorful illustrations spotlight a young protagonist determined to protect the land she grew up on from the threat of oil pipelines, drilling, and water pollution. A visually stunning, beautifully written call to community action and responsibility. (2nd Grade and up)
The Newbery award for most distinguished contribution to children’s literature went to Tae Keller for When You Trap a Tiger. This book first appeared on my radar in the spring of last year, and it blew me away. It’s the story of a young girl named Lily and her Korean Grandmother, Halmoni. Bi-racial Lily, her mom, and her sister move in with Halmoni to care for her as she ages. As Halmoni’s health deteriorates, Lily is desperate to save her. A magical tiger appears and shows Lily through Korean folktales and myths that healing doesn’t just mean being in good health. A devastatingly beautiful book about the power of storytelling. When You Trap a Tiger explores such topics as life, death, immigration, and what it means to find your home and tell your truth. The subtle touches of magical realism and a loving nod to Korean culture and folktales make this title extra special. (5th Grade and up)
This year’s Coretta Scott King award for a book that best demonstrates an appreciation of African American culture and human values written by an African American author was given to Jacqueline Woodson for Before the Ever After. This is Ms. Woodson’s third CSK award, and like her other books, this title is poignant, poetic, and profound. Through sparse verse, the reader experiences the pain and pride that the main character, 12-year-old ZJ Johnson, feels for his Father, ZJ Sr., a retired professional football player. The book chronicles ZJ and his family’s journey alongside his Father, who struggles with a progressive traumatic brain injury brought on by years of hard hits on the football field. This book’s strength lies in bringing awareness to the catastrophic consequences of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and in its secondary characters, ZJ’s loving family and their community of friends. (6th Grade and up)
For a list of all of the ALA Youth Media Award titles and corresponding honor books, please click here.