2021 Teens’ Top Ten Nominees

YALSA has announced the nominees for the 2021 Teens’ Top Ten. The Top Ten is a list chosen by teens where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year. Nominations come from members of teen book groups in 15 school and public libraries across the nation. Here are this year’s nominees:

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Jackson

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

Atomic Women by Roseanne Montillo

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph

The Bone Thief by Breeana Shields

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Dangerous Secrets by Mari Mancusi

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Gulledge

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Flamer by Mike Curato

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Lost Book of the White by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokudo-Hall

One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

Watercress by Andrea Wang

Cover image.

Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (9780823446247)

Riding in their old car along a rural Ohio road, a young girl’s parents come to a stop when her mother spots something growing in the ditch. It’s watercress, so the entire family gets out and starts to harvest it into a paper bag. The girl finds it embarrassing to be in the ditch gathering free food, while her parents are remembering their time in China. The water in the ditch is cold and muddy, the watercress has snails among its roots. The girl finds herself partially hoping that the bottom of the paper bag falls through and this can just be over. That night, the family has the watercress for dinner, but the girl refuses to even try it. She wants food from the grocery store, not free food from a ditch that reminds her of furniture taken from the side of the road and hand-me-down clothes. Then her mother shares a story from China about her younger brother who died from not having enough to eat. The girl is inspired by her family’s history and ashamed of how she has been acting, so she tastes the watercress for the first time, a taste that builds new memories.

The writing in this picture book is exceptional. With delicate poetic words, Wang creates layers in her story. She weaves both the experience of shame for the young girl and the melancholy memories of China for her parents together into a story of generations in a Chinese-American family. From the previously unshared stories of her parents time in China to learning not to be ashamed of the way they live, this book will resonate for so many children.

Caldecott Honor winner, Chin pulls together images of China and Ohio in this book. By putting tall cornstalks against tall bamboo, the images are gateways to one another. The use of yellow to light the pages, works both in sunshine in Ohio and the sepia of memory in China. It is all so beautifully done, so well designed.

One of the best picture books of the year, this book reaches across generations and finds hope. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Holiday House.