2020 An Post Irish Book Award Winners

The 2020 An Post Irish Book Award winners were announced in an online ceremony on Wednesday, November 25th. The awards are given for several different categories with three that are specifically for youth and teens. Here are the winners in those categories:


The Great Irish Farm Book by Darragh McCullough, illustrated by Sally Caulwell



Break the Mould by Sinéad Burke, illustrated by Natalie Byrne


Savage Her Reply

Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Kirkus Best Picture Books & Middle-Grade Books of the Year 2020

Best Books of 2020

Kirkus has announced their picks for the best 100 picture books and the best middle-grade books of the year.

The books are grouped into categories for easier browsing in both lists. You can also see their entire picture book list and middle grade list alphabetically by author, which makes collection development simpler. Lots of great titles here!

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Cover image for The Black Kids

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (9781534462724)

Set in Los Angeles in 1982 during the Rodney King riots, this teen novel deals directly with racism and class. Ashley lives in a wealthy part of LA, attends a private school, and has only white friends who she has known since childhood. They spend lots of time around the pool drinking, flirting and planning their prom. As the protests engulf LA though, race becomes a part of everyone’s focus, something that Ashley has tried to ignore, including all the comments one of her friends keeps making. Ashley finds herself becoming closer with LaShawn, a Black kid at school who is a star athlete and whose home is threatened by the protests. He has gotten into Stanford while Ashley has been placed on the waitlist. Ashley makes a comment about his new shoes to her white friends and suddenly becomes a rumor, leading to LaShawn punching another student and potentially losing his place at Stanford. Ashley must figure out how to make things right and also what side she is on.

Reed takes a historical moment in time that continues to resonate today. Remarkably, this is a debut novel. Written with such assurance and clarity, the book allows Ashley to find her own way, something that is often not clear as she continues to make mistakes based on her friends and her class. Reed keeps from becoming didactic at all, instead giving us the perfect character to learn alongside, to hope realizes what is truly happening, and to empathize with and get really angry at.

This book doesn’t duck away from anything. Reed takes on micro and macroaggressions around race and class. She explores how wealth does not protect Black Americans from being targeted, treated differently in our justice system, or stopped by police at gun point. She shows readers this with such power and straightforward honesty that it is impossible to rationalize it away.

Beautifully written, this historical novel is powerful and gripping. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster.

The Blue Table by Chris Raschka

Cover image for The Blue Table

The Blue Table by Chris Raschka (9780062937766)

A blue table tells the story of a family coming together again and again around it. It starts with the blue table having a flower in a vase and a child having a glass of milk. One parent joins the child with some coffee. Another parent joins in and books, newspapers and crayons appear as they share cinnamon rolls. They get going after the table is cleared. Then items from the garden appear: carrots and potatoes. Items from the store and the farm: onions, butter, corn and a turkey! They make an apple pie from scratch and gather flowers for a larger vase. Then a leaf is added to the table, making it longer. A tablecloth and more plates are placed on the blue table, until more family gather together, holding hands to celebrate with one another.

This picture book is focused and simple, giving readers just a view of the blue table itself and never seeing the humans that use the table until we see their hands towards the end of the book. The use of different sorts of cups and plates to show the ages of the family members is clever, along with their books, newspapers and crayons. The extension of the table to be ready for a shared feast is marvelous and offers a touch of surprise for the reader.

Focused on a table that brings a family together both every day and then on special occasions, this book is a celebration of the simple things. The child’s art work in the early pages can be seen at the end as placecards for the loved ones around the table. The art is free flowing and joyous, the blue table and the various objects full of bright colors.

Just right to share around any holiday that gathers people around a table together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Cover image for Before the Ever After

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399545436)

ZJ’s father is a famous football star, a father who is everyone’s favorite person, who spends time with ZJ creating music together. He is like a father to ZJ’s friends too, someone that they can talk to and turn to. But something is changing. His father is getting headaches, becoming angry all the time and having trouble remembering things. ZJ must navigate life without really having his beloved father around, as they learn that it is the many tackles that his father sustained that have damaged his brain. Poignantly, sometimes his father returns to who he used to be, but that just reminds ZJ of what he has lost.

Told in Woodson’s dynamic verse, this book is stunningly written with a focus on ZJ himself and his present situation but also flashbacks to his father before he started having symptoms. The book shows a Black family filled with rich love and real attention to each child. The loss is made palpable on the page, the impotent rage at what is happening and the extended family of friends and other football players who care but can’t truly understand what is happening.

Dealing with the impact of head injuries on the lives of professional athletes and their families, this book is firmly modern and important. Woodson keeps the focus on ZJ’s personal experience, making the book deeply personal so that the true loss can be felt more deeply. She explores the emotions directly, not turning away from the ache and pain.

Another magnificent verse novel from a master of the form. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Cover image for I Am the Storm

I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell (9780593222751)

This picture book focuses on four types of storms that children may encounter where they live: tornado, blizzard, hurricane, and wild fires. The family with a tornado nearby has a party in their basement together with cards and books by flashlight. When the storm had passed, they cleared up afterwards. When the blizzard came to another family, they bundled up and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace. After the storm, they shoveled the snow and made a snowman. When the wildfires came, that family left the area and went camping. They could still see the smoke. When the fires were out, they swept up ashes and washed windows. When the hurricane came, that family moved away from the coast to stay with cousins and then returned home when the storm was over.

This picture book is a glimpse of the power and impact of nature and its storms. It also shows how preparations can help keep everyone safe during a storm, no matter what kind it is. The book ends with deep empathy for how scared children can be during storms and a way for children to see themselves in nature and even the storms that pass and bring calm behind them. The text is simple and reads aloud well, inviting readers to see storms and fires as events that need respect for their power but don’t have to have children living in fear.

The illustrators use a wide-ranging color palette to evoke the different kinds of storms. With black and purple storm clouds, the eerie orange color of a tornado arrives. The icy blue of winter blizzards illuminates the entire house. The hurricane too arrives with purple swirling with black. After each storm, there is a lightness to the illustrations, a sense of new space in the images.

As climate change makes storms and fires more severe, this is a timely book to share. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.

2021 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry

The National Council of Teachers of English have announced the recipients of the 2021 Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry. The books selected are for ages 3-13 and represent the best of the year for children’s poetry and verse novels, in two separate lists. The poetry books defined broadly, including picture books written in verse. Here are the recipients:


Amphibian Acrobats by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Robert Meganck

Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illus. by Michele

By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music. Carole Boston Weatherford.
Illus. by Bryan Collier

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time. Naomi Shihab Nye.

Construction People. Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illus. by Ellen Shi.

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Irene Latham and
Charles Waters. Illus. by Mehrdokht Amini

Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration, and Cake. Marilyn Singer. Illus. by
Marjorie Priceman

Green on Green. Dianne White. Illus. by Felicita Sala

I Wish. Toon Tellegen. Illus. by Ingrid Godon. Trans. by David Colmer

I’m Feeling Blue, Too! Marjorie Maddox. Illus. by Philip Huber

In the Woods. David Elliott. Illus. by Rob Dunlavey

Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War. Marίa José Ferrada. Illus. by Ana Penyas

A New Green Day. Antoinette Portis

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History. Ed. by Lindsay H. Metcalf,
Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley. Illus. by Jeanette Bradley

On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring. Buffy Silverman

On the Horizon. Lois Lowry. Illus. by Kenard Pak

A Place Inside of Me. Zetta Elliott. Illus. by Noa Denmon

Snow Birds. Kirsten Hall. Illus. by Jenni Desmond.

Summer Feet. Sheree Fitch. Illus. by Carolyn Fisher

This Poem Is a Nest. Irene Latham. Illus. by Johanna Wright

When You Breathe. Diana Farid. Illus. by Billy Renkl

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice. Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olivia
Gatwood. Illus. by Theodore Taylor III

The World Below the Brine. Walt Whitman. Illus. by James Christopher Carroll

Write! Write! Write! Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Illus. by Ryan O’Rourke


All He Knew. Helen Frost

Becoming Muhammad Ali. James Patterson and Kwame Alexander. Illus by Dawud Anyabwile

Before the Ever After. Jacqueline Woodson

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer: The Kids under the Stairs. K. A. Holt

Closer to Nowhere. Ellen Hopkins

Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown. Ann E. Burg

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math. Jeannine Atkins

Land of the Cranes. Aida Salazar

Love Love. Sung J. Woo

The Places We Sleep. Caroline Brooks DuBois

When You Know What I Know. Sonja K. Solter

Wishes, Dares, and How to Stand Up to a Bully. Darlene Beck-Jacobson

2021 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has announced the winner, honor books and recommended books for the 2021 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award which recognizes excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children. Here are the winner and selected books:


Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Frank Morrison


All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne

If You Take Away the Otter by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The Teachers March!: How Selma’s teachers Changed History by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer


All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Baron, illustrated by Nicole Xu

Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow

Drawing on Walls by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Josh Cochran

Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Laura Freeman

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rocco

Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall

The Lion Queens of India by Jan Reynolds

We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kinderstransport by Deborah Hopkinson

The Brave by James Bird

Cover image for The Brave

The Brave by James Bird (9781250247759)

Collin’s compulsive need to count the letters in everything others say to him and say the number aloud makes it far too easy for bullies to target him at school. It also bothers his father. So when Collin is kicked out of another school, his father decides to send him to live with his mother, who he has never met. She is Ojibwe and lives on a reservation in Minnesota. Collin and his dog head across the county where he finds himself accepted and shown real displays of love for the first time in his life. Collin meets Orenda, the girl next door, who believes that she is transforming into a butterfly and works with Collin to find ways to battle his counting of letters. She lives in her treehouse, a space where Collins spends most of his time as he steadily falls in love with Orenda. But she is not sharing her own difficulties openly with Collin, who must figure out how to support her whether he understands or not.

Bird has drawn on his own Ojibwe heritage to write this debut novel. The book is a deep and rich mix of content that includes finding your real home, falling in love for the first time, and handling grief and loss. It is also about dealing with an OCD-like response, handling bullying, and discovering deeply who you really are inside and what you believe in. All of this is enriched by the Ojibwe culture that Collin experiences for the first time, allowing the reader to do the same by his side.

Bird’s writing is clear and strong. This novel creates a space for the character of Collin to really become himself, while experiencing some of the most important experiences in anyone’s life: love, grief and transformation. Collin himself is a marvelous character who is willing to dive right in and learn, open to new experiences and cultures.

This debut novel is full of courage and honesty. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from library copy.