Reviews of the 2021 Caldecott Medal Winners


We Are Water Protectors
by Carole Lindstrom; illus. by Michaela Goade
Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.    g
3/20    978-1-250-20355-7    $17.99

The book opens with a young Indigenous girl collecting water with her grandmother, who tells her that “water is the first medicine.” Vibrant blues, greens, and purples depict the river as it flows in the background of the beautifully composed spread. The river then flows onto the next spread, encircling a mother and her unborn child. The water “nourished us inside our mother’s body. As it nourishes us here on Mother Earth.” With every page-turn, the river continues to flow; it becomes the young girl’s hair as she leads members of her community to where the “black snake” threatens to take over their land and water. The refrain “We stand / With our songs / And our drums / We are still here,” which punctuates and strengthens the main text, is printed in italics and can easily be read as the voice of the ­community come together. The book closes with members of multiple Native communities united at Standing Rock to stop the “black snake.” Back matter includes more information about water protection and Standing Rock; a glossary of Ojibwe, Tlingit, and Lakota words; an illustrator’s note; and an “Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge.” NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Me & Mama
by Cozbi A. Cabrera; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Millner/Simon    40 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-5344-5421-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5422-4    $10.99

In the early morning, a young unnamed Black girl tiptoes through the house and past various sleeping family members, to be greeted by the smell of cinnamon and her mother’s good-morning song. Even though the day is rainy, it’s a wonderful time to “be everywhere Mama is.” Throughout her day, the child makes clever observations about the similarities and differences between herself and her mother. While she has less toothpaste on her toothbrush, both she and Mama know to brush “round my teeth with little circles.” As they prepare to go outside to take a nature walk, it’s noted that “Mama’s rain boots are / bigger than mine. / And they’re red” — however, both pairs make an excellent splash in puddles. The girl is also keen to acknowledge how she and her mother care for each other — after her hair is combed, she returns the favor, accentuating her mom’s thick curls with “the purply pink barrette…She calls it fuchsia.” At the end of her day (“Our day is done earlier than / Mama and Papa’s / It’s just that way when you’re growing”), mother and daughter read stories to each other. Drifting off to sleep, the young girl is content to dream, knowing “there’ll be me and Mama.” Celebrating the beautiful dark brown skin of the duo, and surrounded by various hues of blue, Cabrera’s color-saturated illustrations, a mix of single pages and double-page spreads, add to the gentle charm of the conversational text. Large and small pairs of everyday objects appear on the endpapers, bolstering the celebration of the mother/daughter relationship. EBONI NJOKU

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart
by Zetta Elliott; illus. by Noa Denmon
Primary, Intermediate    Farrar    32 pp.    g
7/20    978-0-374-30741-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-38863-8    $9.99

In this powerfully lyrical poem, Elliott articulates what resides “deep down inside” of the African American, skateboard-loving, first-person protagonist: joy, sorrow, fear, anger, hunger, pride, peace, and more. While the protagonist speaks, Denmon’s illustrations, primarily in blue, pale yellow, and mauve, depict the tween boy doing skateboard tricks (showing the bottom of his board that’s covered in peace and justice stickers) and spending time with friends, while muted backgrounds depict life in his urban neighborhood. This book delivers positivity, despite the inclusion of police brutality, a Black Lives Matter protest, and a vigil for the dead — all of which affirm the child’s realities. At school, when he presents his work to his classmates, great figures such as Mae Jemison, Jackie Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. appear on the opposite mural-like page, inspiring him as he takes pride in the past. On a page with no white space, a group of multigenerational Black individuals with different skin tones, facial features, hairstyles, and expressions faces the reader. The boy declares them “triumphant & beautiful,” as faintly visible images of African women peer from the background, carrying baskets of food on their heads — referencing the ancestry of those in the foreground. A well-crafted, twenty-first-century love poem by two truth-telling Black women artists and activists. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Cat Man of Aleppo
by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha; illus. by Yuko Shimizu
Primary, Intermediate    Putnam    32 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-9848-1378-7    $17.99

In 2012, civil war comes to Aleppo, then the largest city in Syria. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel is an ambulance driver who remains behind while many of his neighbors flee. Soon his area is filled with abandoned cats, whose “lonely, confused faces remind Alaa of the loved ones he has lost.” He begins feeding them (and, as cat lovers know, stray cats return to their food source). News of Alaa’s actions circulates on social media, and he becomes known as the “Cat Man of Aleppo”; an outpouring of donations allows him to create a cat sanctuary. This gentle book emphasizes that in the midst of chaos, caring for the forgotten and discarded, no matter how small, affirms the preciousness of all life. In an author’s note, Shamsi-Basha explains that during wartime, animals, too, “suffer, and caring for them illuminates what it means to be human.” Shimizu’s ink, watercolor, and digital illustrations capture scenes of human despair and physical wreckage along with images of cats perching (and napping) in burnt-out cars and on heaps of rubble. Other images showing the “hope and love [that] fill people’s hearts,” along with the playground Alaa builds and the wells he helps dig in the city, reflect optimism and solace. An introductory note by Alaa, printed in English and Arabic, along with appended author and illustrator notes and art references, provide additional context. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

From the March/April 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Outside In
by Deborah Underwood; illus. by Cindy Derby
Primary    Houghton    40 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-328-86682-0    $17.99

The intersection of outside and inside is creatively explored in this reflection on nature and its gentle persistence and ever-presence. The story begins in nature, as a young girl explores an impressionistic forest. “Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us.” After a few page-turns, the girl is riding in a car, with contemplative text observing, “Now sometimes even when we’re outside…we’re inside. We forget Outside is there.” But the outside always makes itself known in subtle and miraculous ways. Airy and translucent jewel-hued watercolors create a luminous canvas for powdered graphite details that delineate how the Outside sneaks In. From the sunlight that “flashes through the window” to the “warm bread and berries” on the kitchen table to the “wooden chairs, once trees,” the natural world organically weaves its way into the girl’s home, creating daily rhythms (“Outside shows us there is a time to rest and a time to start fresh”) and routines (“a spider seeking shelter, a boxelder bug in the bath”). Visible brushstrokes and splashes create texture, reflecting the outside’s raw, sensory, and uninhibited beauty — a beauty that (on the last spread) summons the girl out of her house and into the golden outdoors, reminding readers of the majesty that is always there, waiting just outside. EMMIE STUART

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2021.

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Penelope Librarian

It is striking that the Caldecott winner WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS did not get a Hornbook star, and out of the Caldecott honour books, there was only one Hornbook star (for ME AND MAMA). Has this ever happened before, where Hornbook starred so few of the prize-winning Caldecott books?

Posted : Jan 26, 2021 04:45



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