On the Eve of the Youth Media Awards…

Good evening.

I woke up today in the mood to write a quick blog post. Tomorrow (click here) at 8am CT, we’ll celebrate another round of excellent children’s literature & so I’ve been thinking about what touched me/left an impression over the last year. I know a little bit about the rigor and dedication that goes into serving on Caldecott Committee. After a year of reading and an entire weekend of debate (and snacks) in Philly, my 2020 committee chose THE UNDEFEATED for the gold & BEAR CAME ALONG, GOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY & DOUBLE BASS BLUES for honors.

2020 Caldecott Committee in Philly, January 27th, 2020 ❤ I’m in the back row, 3rd from left

I’ve been thinking about this year’s committee all year, especially since they’ve served in a way unlike ever before, virtually. I want to thank them for their hard work and passion for children’s literature & I can’t wait to see what they choose as the most “distinguished” “picture book for children.”

Now, I have to tell y’all my reading has been…not great over the last year or so. But based on the books I did get to read in 2020, I really loved these, so here we go:

My 2021 Caldecott GOLD Prediction:

Image Credit: Macmillan, Carole Lindstrom/Michaela Goade

WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade
I’ve been a huge fan of Michaela’s watercolors for a while now (since SHANYAAK’UTLAAX: SALMON BOY) and when this book came out in the beginning of 2020, it made me feel good! I think it’s safe to say it’s a frontrunner for the gold (click here) in many peoples’ eyes, and for good reason, Lindstrom and Goade craft a universal yet personal story of the importance of our place on this earth & our connection to water. We come from water, we are water and we must work to protect her. It’s a proud assertion of Indigenous knowledge and advocacy. Goade is truly a master of watercolor. Rich blues, purples and greens fill the pages. We, the reader, swim in her colors & the bleed of the colors is gorgeous. The scenes of people gathered together to drum, pray and protect are deeply moving, but Goade’s artistry shines brightest in the water, plant and animal kin-scenes. WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS is a uniquely beautiful & important picture book. If Goade wins the gold tomorrow, that would make her the first woman of color (Indigenous – Tlingit & tribally enrolled with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) to win it. 🙂

3 Honor Predictions:


MY BEST FRIEND by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki entranced me with the very first page; a little girl shyly looks around a green metal pole, towards her best friend. Fogliano’s poetry is so very lovely and I love how Tamaki plays with perspective, focuses the palette on just a few key earthy colors and creates a visual narrative SO FULL of youthful emotion and energy. Her use of white space is brilliant. When I closed this book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It made me reflect on my own quest for friendship as a child and I kept thinking, “oh how rich and clever that experience was!” A treat.

A THOUSAND GLASS FLOWERS by Evan Turk is a beautifully creative look at Marietta Barovier, a little known glass artisan from 15th Century Italy. I review it in detail here, on the blog Calling Caldecott. Please take a look!

THE BEAR AND THE MOON by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien is such a sweet book. Chien’s use of rich, evocative colors leads readers on a journey alongside the bear. The bright red balloon focuses the eye and becomes a character in its own right. I wasn’t expecting to feel so deeply for little bear, but I did. I really did. This book made me feel connected to the earth (and the moon), much like WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS.

Other 2020 picture books I loved ❤:

A PLACE INSIDE OF ME by Zetta Elliott and Noa Denmon is an intimate look into a Black boy’s emotions as he processes another murder of a Black human being in his world. This book is not only a study of Black boyhood, it’s a study of community and how the two can be intrinsically linked. Elliot’s poem will help young readers sort through their wide array of emotions and will encourage them to be open about them. I love the colors that Denmon uses; she focuses on rich salmon pinks, blue grays and deep maroons. I also love how she uses a strong, healthy vine in the back ground of her spreads which brings things back to nature. A truly reflective work.

OVERGROUND RAILROAD by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome taught me a part of Black History that I didn’t know about, the system of trains that Black families used to escape a second form of chattel-slavery, sharecropping. Not only is this book excellent narrative non-fiction, it is very emotional. I instantly connected with this Black family. James Ransome’s illustrations are a gorgeous mix of paper collage, watercolors and pencil. He shifts our gaze from a pink, wide open expanse of North Carolina-sky to the cramped quarters of the train to the inky black blue, twinkling sky of New York, full of possibility. I love how the Ransomes weave Frederick Douglass’ story into the little girl and her family’s story.

WHEN YOU BREATHE by Diana Farid and Billy Renkl is a pretty breath of fresh air. I was taken aback by how clearly and beautifully it teaches science by connecting it back to nature. The visual of our lungs as an upside down, blooming tree is one I won’t forget. I love Renkl’s linework, deep colors, collage and magical imagery. Children will easily understand how their lungs, breath and entire bodies exist within & connect to the universe.

In just a few pages and words, Katheryn Russell-Brown and Eric Velasquez give us such a robust depiction of the determination and MIGHT of Shirley Chisholm. Velasquez uses a more muted watercolor palette than in past books and I love the look. He really captures Chisholm’s spirit. I’m a big fan of Katheryn Russell-Brown, by the way. LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE (click here) is one of my favorite picture books of all time, so I’m so pleased that she’s given us another excellent non-fiction picture book about another amazing Black woman in history!

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING by Kao Kalia Yang and Khao Le is a beautiful and emotional look at a Hmong family’s love and connection while dealing with poverty. The story centers young Kalia’s relationship with her powerful grandmother. I love stories that explore intergenerational relationships. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING is also a colorful dive into Hmong culture, and Le’s mixed media & Photoshop illustrations are richly layered and detailed. The image of Grandmother’s beautiful feet, with light veins of dirt healed within them is one that will stay with me.

Well…those are my thoughts! Thanks for reading along with me, friends & once again, thanks sooo much to the committees doing the work to pick excellent literature for children.

Happy 2021, happy reading and stay safe!


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