Reviews of the 2023 Caldecott Medal Winners


Hot Dog
by Doug Salati; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Knopf    40 pp.    g
5/22    978-0-593-30843-1    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-30844-8    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-30845-5    $10.99

It’s a hot time in the city. A small, low-slung pup greets the morning from the window of a narrow NYC ­brownstone. But as the dog’s day unfolds, it all becomes too much. “City summer / steamy sidewalks… / crowds close in… / too loud / too close / too much!” Fortunately, the dog’s devoted owner understands. She breaks off her round of errands mid-crosswalk, picks up her dog, and takes a taxi, then a train, and finally a ferry to an island, “wild and long and low,” where the pair enjoys an idyllic beach day. The dog runs and runs, chases waves, delivers shells and stones to its owner, digs holes; the woman relaxes under an umbrella. Restored, they return to the city in the evening, now able to cherish its many pleasures — ­skateboarders in the park, street pretzels, a fruit stand. “What a day for a dog!” Minimal, impressionistic free-verse text beautifully sets scenes and conveys character and emotion, expertly matched by the illustrations. Claustrophobic vertical panels, angular lines, and hot oranges, reds, and yellows (of the city) give way to expansive, sometimes full-spread horizontal panels and cool blues and greens (of the island escape). In the end, back home in the woman’s small walk-up apartment, our doggo settles down for the night, “ready to leap / into a deep / ocean / sleep.” Entirely delightful; a breath of fresh air from start to finish. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Knight Owl
by Christopher Denise; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Ottaviano/Little, Brown    48 pp.
3/22    9780316310628    $17.99
e-book ed.  9780316515825    $9.99

Young Owl has what seems like an impossible dream for a wee bird: to be a real knight. But when knights start mysteriously disappearing, Owl is accepted into knight school and graduates with honors. Assigned to patrol the castle walls at night (“Night Knight Watch”), he meets a dragon, who threatens to eat him. But Owl outsmarts the dragon (by offering him pizza to eat instead of his own scrawny self, “all feathers and fluff”); and, bonding over everything they have in common (e.g., they both hatched from eggs), the two become friends. The heartwarming story is accompanied by art that varies from intimate and humorous to sweeping and atmospheric. One double-page spread, in a palette of dark blues and grays, depicts a nervous Owl peeping over a parapet as a huge shadow is projected onto the castle wall; another, all golds and bronzes, shows Owl in a crowd scene, dwarfed by a host of (human) knights. Entertaining, kid-pleasing wordplay (involving the homonyms who and whooo) adds to the book’s charm. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the Guide/Reviews Database.


Berry SongBerry Song
by Michaela Goade; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.    g
7/22    978-0-316-49417-5    $18.99

In Goade’s (Caldecott Medalist for We Are Water Protectors, rev. 7/20) latest picture book, set “on an island at the edge of a wide, wild, sea,” a Tlingit grandmother teaches her granddaughter “how to live on the land.” First, they gather what they need from the water. Then they enter the forest to pick berries; the berries’ names serve as an evolving refrain, and the land is also frequently and reverently referenced. As they pick, they sing to the flora, the fauna, and the ancestors: “We take care of the land…As the land takes care of us.” Once they have collected what they need, they head home. After their subsequent feast, they say “Gunalchéesh,” giving thanks for the food. The story ends with the girl passing on the song and her grandmother’s knowledge to her younger sister. Goade’s lush, brightly colored art vividly portrays the landscape. In many of the images, the child and her grandmother are shown intertwined with the forest, with which they are deeply connected. In one scene, the grandmother and granddaughter are the same green as the forest, and their hair and faces are covered by leaves. In another image, we see a totem pole faintly outlined within a tree. An author’s note tells more about Goade’s childhood; her life in Sheet’ká, or Sitka, Alaska; and the song in the book. Endpapers name the berries in both English and Tlingit. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
by Angela Joy; illus. by Janelle Washington
Primary, Intermediate    Roaring Brook    64 pp.    g
8/22    978-1-250-22095-0    $19.99

This powerful picture-book biography reverently portrays the life of Mamie Till-Mobley (1921–2003), whose defiant act of bravery following the 1955 murder of her son, Emmett, brought a spiritual essence to — and helped ignite — the civil rights movement. Joy’s (Black Is a Rainbow Color, rev. 1/20) lyrical free-verse narrative opens on August 31, 1955, when “the sheriff set out to dig a grave…to hide the crime in the mud of Mississippi…But Mamie did the harder thing. She said, ‘No. You send my son home.’” The text then goes back to Mamie’s childhood outside of Chicago, where the family moved from Mississippi during the Great Migration. She excelled in school, graduating at the top of her class, and later married Louis Till. They had a baby, Emmett, whose bout with polio left him with a stutter. One summer, relatives invited Emmett to spend time with them in Mississippi. Mamie said no, fearful of the Jim Crow South. Although she finally agreed, still, “Sometimes a mother gets a feeling, an ache deep down in her soul — a warning.” The heart of the story is what happens following Emmett’s brutal murder. Mamie’s resolve not to let her son be forgotten leads her to a crusade of social justice and advocacy — not only for Emmett but for “sons and daughters still living.” Washington’s dramatic paper-cut art, featuring bold black-and-white silhouettes and figures on brown backgrounds with blue, brown, and red tissue-paper accents, perfectly captures the courage and dignity of the subject. Rich back matter includes author and illustrator notes, a playlist, a timeline, and a bibliography. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Ain’t Burned All the Bright
by Jason Reynolds; illus. by Jason Griffin
Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    384 pp.    g
1/22    978-1-5344-3946-7    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-3947-4    $10.99

Reynolds’s introspective narrative poem, with a young man at home during quarantine as its speaker, shares the stage with Griffin’s emotive collagelike illustrations done in Moleskine notebooks and reproduced on the pages to make it look like a real teen’s journal. The first-person text is presented in three parts, or “breaths.” In “Breath One,” the narrator says he’s “sitting here wondering why / my mother won’t change the channel // And why won’t the news change the story / And why the story won’t change into something new.” Along with concerns about the world outside, he thinks about his father coughing behind closed doors, his sister talking about protests, and his brother lost in video games. When the wonderings get to be too much, the narrator reminds himself to breathe “in through the nose // out through the mouth.” By the end of “Breath Three,” the narrator realizes that his “oxygen mask” for living through this uncertain time is the people he loves and the moments they share. The poem and images create an authentic-sounding adolescent narrator trying to grapple with the confusion and fear of the double pandemic (COVID-19 and systemic racism) he is facing. The book ends with a conversation between the two Jasons about their collaborative process for creating this work during the pandemic. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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