This week, the American Library Association announced their 2020 Youth Media Award winners. The ALA’s Awards are the United States’ most prestigious children’s book awards, including the Newbery (for writing) and Caldecott (for illustration). The announcement ceremony is usually held at ALA’s January conference and the awards are handed out at their June conference. It’s a really exciting morning for the children’s book industry, and even though it was done remotely this year, the thrill was still palpable. You can check out all the award winners here: ALA 2021 Youth Media Awards
This blog post is not about the award winners. Even though there are 22 ALA award categories, with a winner and several honors for each, there are so many books that did not get awarded this year. So many amazing books. A book does not have to be an award winner to be worthy of love and admiration. Also, kids couldn’t give a fig about book awards that librarians give out. They just want to read or be read aloud to.
So, I wanted to highlight books that I read in 2020 which stood out to me (and my kids). NB: some of these were published in 2019, but I did buy and read them last year, so they count!
Bob Shea and Zachariah Ohora pair up in this hilarious and heartwarming tale about telling the truth and having super-duper friends who will love and support you...even if you wet your pants. The writing is snappy and laugh-out-loud funny and the art is wacky and a bit irreverent. My kids ask for this one all the time, and I love reading it to them.
Who Wet My Pants? (picture book, ages 4 - 8)
Who loves hanging out with seagulls on the beach? Anyone? No one? Well, this smug seagull thinks he's the bees knees and he's not afraid to shout about it. He's got super snack swiping skills, until a little crab steals his mojo. Maddie Frost delivers this hilarious and unlikely friendship story with a bright, summer setting, perfect for pulling you out of the winter doldrums.
Smug Seagull (picture book, ages 4 - 8)
This picture book has become a great early reader for my 5 year old son. Frances Gilbert has written a bouncy, rhyming text with clear, simple language and a great refrain that's fun to shout. And with Allison Black's colorful illustrations of girls driving trucks, taxis, helicopters, and construction vehicles, the book delivers a bold statement for both girls and boys.
Go, Girls, Go! (picture book, ages 3 - 5)
A Kids Book About... series launched in 2019 and as soon as I saw the topics it covered, I knew it would be a hit. We have these three books at home, and I love them. The books all approach their sometimes difficult, sometimes abstract topics with clear explanations and clean, eye-catching design. The web site claims the books are for ages 5+ and that's totally right--I actually read them for myself, too. Buy them from the web site here.
Since we're on the topic of difficult but important topics done extremely well, may I present A Doll for Grandma: A Story About Alzheimer's Disease. Paulette Bochnig Sharkey weaves a beautiful relationship between a young girl and her grandmother, which turns incredibly emotional when Grandma shows signs of Alzheimer's. Samantha Woo's illustrations are bright and sweet, and really heighten the pathos of this book. No, I'm not crying--you're crying.
A Doll for Grandma (picture book, ages 4 - 8)
Boy, do I hate it when my kids tell me they're bored. And boy, do I love books that show kids it's OK to be bored! National Regular Average Ordinary Day, by Lisa Katzenberger, is a laugh-out-loud story abut a kid who gets so bored of his regular life that he celebrates every "national day" there is, like National Underwear Day and National Waffle Day. That is, until one day there is no holiday to celebrate! Barbara Bakos's illustrations are spot-on and help highlight the humor in this story. Hope this one will make you chuckle, too.
National Regular Average Ordinary Day (picture book, ages 3 - 7)
I recommend this middle grade novel to everyone I meet! While it would not be eligible for the ALA awards since the author is British, the book has garnered well-deserved praise in the UK. The story is told in accessible language and tone for children ages 8+. It's about a 5th grade class that gets a new student halfway through the year: a Syrian refugee named Ahmet. The narrator is another kid in the class who is determined to make Ahmet feel welcome and happy at all costs. It's a heartwarming and exciting story which features a caper-style adventure at the end. Exploring difficult and sad themes with delicacy, the author Onjali Q. Raúf began a masterful literary career with this debut novel.
The Boy at the Back of the Class (middle grade novel, ages 8 - 12) Buy from your indie bookstore here.
OK, so this book is kind of a cheat for this list because the original edition was published in 2019 and it won a couple of ALA Youth Media awards and honors. But I read it in 2020 and it was so good I had to post it here. You know when you read a book and you want to be friends with the characters? No - where you want to BE the characters? That was this book 100%. Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan have co-written a YA novel that totally soars. Best friends Jasmine and Chelsea are dynamic young women and fierce feminists with a mission: to educate the teachers and peers at their NYC high school about women's rights. It's filled with so much good drama, and I won't spoil it for you. Just go pick up this book. Watch Us Rise (young adult novel, ages 13+) Buy from your indie bookstore here.
So many children's books are worthy and deserving of awards. When a book finds a place on our bookshelves, it is read, loved, and displayed with pride. That is just as good as any old award, any day.