2022: The Year in Words and Pictures

This year’s ALA Youth Media Award winners represent a range of experiences, expertise, interests, and topics. There are previous, beloved winners and there are newcomers to the stage — notably Doug Salati for the Caldecott Medal and Amina Luqman-Dawson for both the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Author awards. Three of the Caldecott honorees were recognized for the first time (the fourth being Michaela Goade, who won the medal in 2021); for Newbery honorees it was two of three (the third being 2021-twice-honored Christina Soontornvat). There were several welcome multiple awards. It was a year in worthy, wonderful words and pictures indeed.

This is the Newbery’s hundred-and-first year, and its new century kicked off with something that, shamefully, hasn’t happened in almost five decades. In our May/June 2022 special issue celebrating the centennial of the Newbery Award, Nicholl Denice Montgomery reminded readers that “there [had] only been two Black women to win the Newbery Medal in its one hundred years”: Virginia Hamilton for M.C. Higgins, the Great (in 1975) and Mildred D. Taylor for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (in 1977). Finally, in 2023, and after forty-six years, there is now a third: debut author Luqman-Dawson for Freewater. Freewater also won the Coretta Scott King Author Award, only the third time the CSK and Newbery medalists have overlapped.

Additionally (according to Little, Brown), Freewater’s editor, Alexandra Hightower, is the first Black editor of a Newbery winner. (See Lisa Yoskowitz’s profile of her on page 34.) And all of the honorees — Andrea Beatriz Arango (for Iveliz Explains It All), Soontornvat (for The Last Mapmaker), and Lisa Yee (for Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, also the Asian/Pacific American Award Children’s Literature winner) — are women of color, which is the very first time that the entire Newbery slate was non-white women. As we know from the Lee & Low Diversity Baseline surveys, the publishing industry remains overwhelmingly white. Mentorship programs such as those from We Need Diverse Books and Latinx in Publishing, as well as increased transparency around hiring and labor practices (thank you, HarperCollins Union!), are a few examples of long-needed, concrete steps to counteract systemic racism in our industry. We’re hearing from more — and we need to hear from even more — underrepresented voices and perspectives. Here’s hoping more editors of color will have the chance to nurture projects they’re passionate about — and win more big awards.

Freewater wasn’t the only book to garner an impressive number of accolades. More to the point, it wasn’t the only diverse book to do so. Sabaa Tahir’s All My Rage won the Printz Award, the National Book Award, and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry; Tahir is the first Pakistani American and Muslim American winner. Ain’t Burned All the Bright, written by Jason Reynolds (the 2023 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner), illustrated by Jason Griffin — which addressed the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism in a format that transcends categorization — received a Caldecott Honor and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Picture Book.

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement, written by Angela Joy and illustrated by debut artist Janelle Washington, received Caldecott and Sibert honors, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, and WNDB’s Walter Award in the younger readers category, among others. Sacha Lamb’s When the Angels Left the Old Country — another debut — was a Printz Honor Book and won both the Stonewall and Sydney Taylor Book awards in the YA categories, along with being a National Jewish Book Award finalist. The Sydney Taylor Picture Book Award and a Sibert Honor went to The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs, written by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal.

Sonora Reyes received a number of accolades for their debut novel, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School; it was a National Book Award finalist, a Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Honor Book, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and a Walter Award Honor Book, among others. Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester, about a swimmer dealing with hip dysplasia, was a Pura Belpré Young Adult Author honoree and Schneider Family Book Award Teen honoree. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson (Michif/Métis and white) was a Morris Award finalist and Stonewall Young Adult honoree. Graphic memoir Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice, written by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile, received both the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator awards; was the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults winner; and was a National Book Award finalist.

* * *

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards went to a mix of newcomers and more established book creators, and (aside from Author winner Freewater) the awards recognized books in a variety of forms beyond the traditional novel. Of the CSK Author honorees, two are unconventionally formatted life stories: Victory. Stand! and Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi (“a biography that’s as unique in form and content as the groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy author herself,” to quote Michelle H. Martin’s starred Horn Book review). The third is a picture book with a theme necessary yet uncommonly touched upon for its age group: The Talk, written by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, which provides an accessible story around the issues of race relations and police brutality. The CSK/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent winner was Jas Hammonds for We Deserve Monuments, a YA novel that (as Eboni Njoku put it in her Horn Book review) “addresses issues of race and sexuality head-on, along with questions of who should be memorialized.”

The CSK Illustrator Award went to Frank Morrison for Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. This is Morrison’s fifth time being recognized by CSK (starting with the CSK/John Steptoe Illustrator Award for New Talent in 2005). Interestingly, this is the third year in a row (plus in 2017, 2016, 2009, and 2007) that Weatherford — who won the 2022 CSK Author Award and a 2009 Author Honor — has written the book that won the CSK Illustrator Award, with 2022 going to the much-missed Floyd Cooper; and 2021, again, to Morrison, for R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul.

April Harrison, 2020 CSK/John Steptoe Illustrator Award for New Talent winner (for What Is Given from the Heart, written by the late, beloved author Patricia C. McKissack), was an Illustrator honoree this year for Me and the Boss: A Story About Mending and Love, written by Michelle Edwards, an affecting picture book about sibling dynamics, crafts and handiwork, and community. The other two CSK Illustrator Honor Books were done in comic-panel format, one being Victory. Stand! and the other the middle-grade graphic novel Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas.

The Pura Belpré Awards also recognized graphic novels: Frizzy, written by Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra, as the Author Award winner; and Kat Fajardo’s Srta. Quinces (color by Mariana Azzi) as an Illustrator honoree. Harmony Becker’s graphic novel Himawari House was the winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature. And the Sibert Medal went to Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration, written by Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki, and with an organically incorporated mix of original art and photographs by the book’s subjects.

* * *

This year’s Caldecott Medalist, Hot Dog illustrator (and author) Doug Salati, used formatting, paneling, and coloring to brilliant effect in his highly sensory (and highly relatable) story of a hot day in the city and an empathetic friendship between a small dog and its owner. On Calling Caldecott, Martha Parravano called Hot Dog “a possibly perfect picture book in terms of the interplay of text and art; the expert use of the picture-book form (the way the panels shift from the claustrophobic vertical panels of the city to the expansive horizontal panels of the island escape); and the enormous child appeal in both story and art.” This tale’s lighthearted radiation of joy stands out among some of the more serious recent Caldecott winners, but like other recent winners, it’s a book about making connections (in 2022 winner Watercress between a child’s present and past; in 2021 winner We Are Water Protectors between people and the land). Hot Dog’s focus might be on a smaller scale, but the empathy that the story will evoke in readers is just as powerful.

Regarding the honorees, and again quoting Martha’s Calling Caldecott post: “What a stimulating lineup of picture books…From the genre-defying and innovative Ain’t Burned All the Bright to the charming whimsy of Knight Owl to the gorgeous immersiveness in nature, tradition, and family of Berry Song to the starkly powerful Choosing Brave.” We will note that one of our favorites, The World Belonged to Us, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, winner of Calling Caldecott’s honorary Robin Smith Picture Book Prize, didn’t make the Caldecott cut. Neither did Antoinette Portis’s nonfiction picture book for the youngest readers, A Seed Grows (though happily it was a Geisel and Sibert honoree), or our Calling Caldecott Mock winner Farmhouse by two-time Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall. See page 68 for more deserving books that didn’t win at ALA on our annual “Mind the Gap” list.

* * *

Awards, of course, are subjective, and not everyone’s favorite book will end up with a shiny sticker. But we know this to be objectively true: all children deserve access to diverse books. Unfortunately book banning is not new, but it is currently on everyone’s mind and in many people’s day-to-day experiences. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom documented “1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021.”

Almost to a person, the contributors to our May/June special issue on Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future addressed the topic; and in this issue, it has come up more than once. As we know, the vast majority of books being challenged and banned are by and about people from underrepresented groups. And as Luqman-Dawson says in her Newbery speech (beginning on page 26), this alarming trend “tilts discussion away from our [nation’s] historical shortcomings and forces us to fight for the bare minimum, the right to exist — to merely have our books on a library shelf or in a classroom.”

So while the news is great that the ALA Youth Media Awards are trending toward inclusivity (see Linda Sue Park’s article “From Trend to Norm: How the Last Twenty Years of the Newbery Can Guide Us” in our May/June 2022 Newbery Centennial special issue and Ramona Caponegro and Rob Bittner’s “Caldecott at Eighty-Five: A Decade in Review” in this issue on page 50), we must remain vigilant about making sure that everyone is able to actually read the celebrated titles. A common theme among last year’s ALA winners of the importance of passing stories down prompted us to note in the July/August 2022 issue’s “The Year in Words and Pictures—and Stories” that “letting people learn from one another is part of why we share stories…stories and storytelling have power.”

On May 16, PEN America and Penguin Random House, along with some authors and parents of students, filed a lawsuit against the Escambia County (FL) School District on First and Fourteenth amendment grounds — a historic event. We hope that next year we’ll continue to celebrate even more stories written and illustrated and edited (and designed! and sold! and marketed!) from even more perspectives…and just as importantly, we hope that those stories will reach any reader who wants to hear them.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2023.

Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Horn Book Magazine Customer Service

Full subscription information is here.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.