The Children’s Book Prize for Social Justice is the juvenile version of the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. In its inaugural year, the award is given by The Children’s Book Council and Goddard Riverside in New York. The prize is given to nonfiction books for young readers that “represent urban life and themes of community, compassion, and equality.” The winner will be announced on October 29th. Here is the shortlist:
This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.
Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.
Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.
Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Betita’s father has always told her that they are descendants of the Aztecs who came from Atzlan, which is now the southwestern United States. They are cranes who have returned home. Living in Los Angeles, Betita goes to school while her parents work long hours. But then one day, her father is taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. Betita and her mother make the long car ride to the border to see him, but find themselves arrested and put into a detention camp. Forced to sleep on the concrete floor, eat moldy food, and succumb to the monotony and cruelty of the camp, Betita almost loses herself. But she rises, inspired by the women and children around her, to insist that they have rights even when she has no one with her anymore.
Salazar uses verse to tell the story of Betita and her family. The early part of the book is almost dreamy as the family creates their new life in Los Angeles together. But the book turns and twists into a razor-like call for dignity and legal help for those both deported and those held in camps. The conditions of the camp are horrible, the indignity and casual cruelty heaped upon them is almost soul crushing. It’s difficult to read and even more difficult to accept that this is the United States doing these things to children and families.
Salazar gives her young heroine a voice in the book, a playfulness and creativity that lets her create her own toys, form connections with other children. She also has the ability to write and to lead others to write their own stories too. That powerful ability is what allows the characters to rise above and insist upon being seen.
An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
This picture book takes on the subject of white privilege in a way that makes the subject accessible to children. The book tells the story of a white child seeing news about a police shooting on the television while their mother tries to distract them and tells them that they are safe. But that is not what the child is concerned with, they want to know why they are treated differently in stores than black children and how this happened. The book grapples with what white children and adults can do to combat racism and get involved in social justice. It pushes children to speak out, even to their own family who are expressing racist ideas. It talks about the concept of “not seeing race” and then clearly explains why that is not true.
Higginbotham writes books about difficult subjects for children. She has taken on divorce, sex and death in the past. Still, this new one may be the most fraught subject yet. The way that she tackles the subject clearly puts the onus on white people to figure this all out, since it is a problem that they are responsible for. The book has just enough history to clarify that this is a long-standing problem and is systemic. Yet it is not willing to rest there, calling for action, clarity around the subject and a responsibility to step up.
The book is hand made and the illustrations and design of the overall book embrace that. The text is hand-lettered on brown paper, creating a book that is approachable and immensely personal. The illustrations, like the text, demonstrate the racism in our society and beautifully never put people of color in the position of having to teach or correct white people in the book. That is the job of white people, including children.
A strong primer on being white in America, examining our privilege and getting involved in tackling racism in our communities. Appropriate for ages 6-9.