By Jennifer Bergen, Youth Services Manager
If you would like a list of good reads with a huge range of styles, topics and diverse characters, the children’s book award winners list is where it’s at! Every year, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, gives out the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott awards, as well as a long list of other medal winners, honor books, lifetime achievement awards, and even best audio books and videos.
After the recent controversy of the “all-white Oscars,” it’s great to see recognition for literature that is inclusive of different races, cultures and economic statuses, showing both challenges and opportunities. Let’s start with the top dog of children’s book awards, the Newbery Medal, given to the most distinguished American children’s book of the year. Started in 1922, the Newbery was “the first children’s book award in the world,” according to ALSC. This year, the Newbery committee deviated from the common path of recognizing a longer work for older children. Matt de la Pena’s picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, won with a mere 32 pages of sparse (but memorable) text.
In the story, young CJ boards a city bus with his Nana, and along the way he has many questions for her. “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” and, seeing some teens listening to music on devices, “Sure wish I had one of those.” But Nana’s responses help CJ see the world and the people around him, appreciating where he is right at that moment. De la Pena said in an interview with BookPage, “My favorite reaction is when I go to underprivileged schools and diverse students take ownership of the story. The book feels validating to them.” Colorful illustrations by Christian Robinson also won the book a Caldecott Honor for artistic merit, as well as a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.
Another Caldecott Honor book caught my eye when it came out this year. Trombone Shorty, written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews himself, with pictures by Bryan Coillier, is a fantastic picture book autobiography. Troy teaches himself to play the instrument he happened to find, a trombone, and then is discovered when Bo Diddley brings him onstage during the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Collier’s vibrant art emulates the sound of trombones, bands, music and joy, in the tradition of Treme, making the book an inspiration for any budding musicians. Collier also received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for the most outstanding African American illustrator of a book for children.
Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez won awards in two categories of the Pure Belpre Awards for best works portraying, affirming and celebrating the Latino cultural experience. This is a sweet story about a girl learning to communicate with her grandmother who had been living far away, where parrots lived in the palm trees. The two find it is slow going at first, with each trying to teach the other a few words in Spanish or English. Mia can see that Abuela misses her old home, so she asks her mother to buy a parrot from the pet store to cheer her up. The parrot, named Mango, learns both English and Spanish along with them and helps Abuela practice during the day while Mia is at school.
Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls won a Schneider Family Book Award for artistic expression of the disability experience with their picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. In Emmanuel’s Dream, young readers see Emmanuel’s struggle growing up in West Africa with only one leg. Most children with disabilities did not attend school or find jobs. But “Emmanuel hopped to school and back, two miles each way, on one leg, by himself.” He taught himself to ride a bicycle and even found a job in a big city. After receiving a bike from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Emmanuel trained and then he began riding all over Ghana, promoting the idea that disabled people can succeed. His story is one of amazing perseverance, and his activism helped change the way disabled people are treated in Ghana.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle, winner of the Pura Belpre Author Award and a Sibert Honor for nonfiction, is a poetic memoir of the author’s childhood in L.A. before and during the Cold War. Margarita’s mother was born in Cuba, a magical land Margarita visited and fell in love with as a young child. But later, there is only hate spewed about Cuba, from the government, teachers and her peers, as they practice hiding under desks during air-raid drills. Margarita’s poems cover so much territory — emotions and thoughts carried on the wing of her words as she traverses childhood and adolescence, as well as physically traveling the world and discovering the beauty of so many places.
Triple recognition for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hammer is well deserved. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, this nonfiction Civil Rights Movement book is unique. The text is written in Fannie Lou Hammer first person and set into poetry. The power of the words comes from the real experiences of her life, like realizing that the students she had inspired had been murdered by the KKK. “I cried like I lost my own sons.” The artwork accompanying each poem is a striking combination of paint and collage, winning a Caldecott Honor and the John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award. It also won a Sibert Honor for best nonfiction.
Many other outstanding books for children and young adults were recognized with awards this year. Take a look at the long list at www.ilovelibraries.org and check out some fantastic reads to start off the new year.