Reviews of the 2024 CSK Author Award Winners


Nigeria JonesNigeria Jones
by Ibi Zoboi
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    384 pp.
5/23    9780062888846    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780062888860    $12.99

Sixteen-year-old Nigeria is expected to lead the youth of the Movement (which is “like a small African West Philly village in the big, white state of Pennsylvania”) and model what it means to be a revolutionary. She is the daughter of Kofi Sankofa, “the Black nationalist, revolutionary freedom fighter, and founder of the Movement.” Since her mother’s departure a year ago, Nigeria has begun to question her own role. Now, though she has always been homeschooled, she learns that her mother attempted to enroll her in a Quaker school before she disappeared. Nigeria wants to fulfill her mother’s wishes, but her father refuses to give his consent because it goes against his desire to “divest from oppressive systems,” so she must break free of his plans for her. At the same time, she’s experiencing strong attraction (and more) to two very different boys. This book (whose chapter titles and epigraphs recall and remix U.S. founding documents) calls for deep discussions about the roles of Black women in the Black freedom struggle as well as the role of young people in these movements. It could be paired with Magoon’s nonfiction work Revolution in Our Time (rev. 9/21) and Martin’s Freedom!: The Story of the Black Panther Party to expand understanding of the real-life revolutionaries, such as those in the Black Panther Party, who inspire Kofi Sankofa. An opportunity for teen readers to begin grappling with their own ideas of what the revolution looks like. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

by Vashti Harrison; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    64 pp.
5/23    9780316353229    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780316566223    $12.99

As Harrison writes in her author’s note, “In childhood, big is good. Big is impressive, aspirational. But somewhere along the way, the world begins to tell us something different: That big is bad. That being big is undesirable.” Words matter, as a beautiful little Black girl learns. The girl, a dancer who wears a leotard and tutu throughout the book, “grew and learned and laughed…and grew and grew and grew. And it was good…until it wasn’t.” When she accidentally gets stuck in the baby swing on the school playground, her classmates and even her teacher hurl hurtful words and laughter, which begin to affect the youngster’s self-esteem and self-perception. The text is spare but pointed; Harrison’s emotionally powerful, pink-hued illustrations focus on her protagonist’s inner experience. The girl looks like a giant in school and at dance class, “exposed, judged, yet invisible.” The openness of the illustrations gives way to more cramped and overwhelming compositions as the girl, now in blue-gray, feels increasingly hemmed in by others’ judgments — a visible statement about the impact of fatphobia and the adultification of Black children. This girl’s story ends triumphantly; she takes her teacher’s and classmates’ hateful words and hands them back, saying, “These are yours. They hurt me.” This book offers readers an opportunity to remember that we all deserve love and respect — no matter what size we are. MONIQUE HARRIS

From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling BeeHow Do You Spell Unfair?: MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Frank Morrison
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
4/23    9781536215540    $18.99

As a young Black girl growing up in 1930s Akron, Ohio, MacNolia Cox had an affinity for words — long and complicated words in particular. Known to read the dictionary for fun, the scholar handily won her school’s spelling bee, a written test, and an oral competition, which put her in the running for the citywide contest. Competing there against fifty other children, MacNolia emerged victorious as the first African American to win — a feat that made her even more beloved and famous in her community and eligible to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, prejudice and discrimination tainted her experience. On the train, MacNolia and her mother were forced to move to a segregated car once they reached the state of Maryland; the official hotel was for whites only; and she and the other Black competitor were made to sit at a different table during the bee itself. However, showing the same acumen and resolve as in Akron, she continued to advance in the competition, making it to the top five. Cox is remembered for her perseverance under pressure, and both the affecting text (with its spelling-centered refrain: “Can you spell dedication?”; “Can you spell excited?”) and brilliantly hued oil- and spray-paint illustrations portray her with dignity while reflecting the intensity of the times. An epilogue reinforces how every victory encourages others; a bibliography is appended. EBONI NJOKU

From the March/April 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Kin: Rooted in HopeKin: Rooted in Hope
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    208 pp.
9/23    9781665913621    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781665913645    $10.99

From a single photograph and sparse information to a fully realized lineage of excellence, an African American author, with dramatic illustrations by her son, traces their family’s roots. Carole Boston Weatherford (Standing in the Need of Prayer, rev. 9/22) deftly weaves a myriad of locations, entities, and mindsets into her imaginative and moving chronicle. Personification poems introduce various locations she visited, such as the Chesapeake Bay (“Surely as I spill into the Atlantic, the current / of greed swept me into the triangular trade”) and Wye House plantation in Maryland (“I witness more cruelty than I care to recall / the sin of slavery haunts my every hall”). Most powerful are the poems that give her ancestors a voice. From brief mentions in enslavers’ ledgers and other historical documents, Weatherford gives life to kin such as “Nanny / Nancy / Nan Copper, House Servant (born c. 1763)” and Isaac Copper, an elder who taught younger enslaved people Bible verses — among them, Frederick Douglass. Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s (illustrator of Call Me Miss Hamilton, rev. 3/22) scratchboard and digital black-and-white renderings match the poems’ intensity, with the compositions’ points of view being as dynamic and varied as the styles of verse. Fans of Bryan’s Freedom over Me (rev. 11/16) and Nelson’s Heart and Soul (rev. 11/11) will appreciate this extensively researched and deeply felt genealogical exploration. Appended with an author’s note, an illustrator’s note (unseen), and a comprehensive bibliography. EBONI NJOKU

From the September/October 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2024 CSK Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2024.

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