Reviews of the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Picture Book Award Winner and Honor Books

Picture Book Winner

When You Can Swim
by Jack Wong; illus. by the author
Primary    Orchard/Scholastic    48 pp.
5/23    9781338830965    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781338830989    $18.99

With poetic text and gorgeous, inclusive illustrations, Wong invites readers to learn how to swim — to conquer fear of the water, and also to reclaim aquatic spaces for Brown, Black, and differently abled bodies. We first meet a young Asian girl suited up in a rainbow-striped one-piece with goggles perched atop her head; a female caregiver tells her of all the wonderful things that can happen “when you can swim.” Then the book segues to scenes of such wonderful things: we see varied groups of people of all colors and ages and sizes in ponds, lakes, and oceans, and splashing under waterfalls. The culmination is a four-spread sequence showing a woman and child setting out from shore with bright orange swim buoys, heading to a little island that looks “close enough” but “proves farther at halfway.” Yet: “rising, floating, daring, conquering, we’ll make it.” Pastel and watercolor illustrations play with perspective, showing the world through swimmers’ eyes: looking at the trees while floating on their backs, diving into tea-colored waters. The ­afterword delves into the author’s journey to discover and reclaim swimming as a welcoming pastime for all. This isn’t just a book about swimming but also “about our ideas of the world”; it’s a manifesto that “this belongs to you, too.” JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

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


Honor Books

Remember Remember
by Joy Harjo; illus. by Michaela Goade
Primary    Random House Studio/Random    40 pp.
3/23    9780593484845    $18.99
Library ed.  9780593484838    $21.99
e-book ed.  9780593484821    $10.99

Generation-spanning Native creators deliver a lustrous celebration of generational memory. U.S. Poet Laureate Harjo (Mvskoke) wrote the poem that is this book’s text in 1983; Caldecott ­Medalist Goade’s (Tlingit) illustrations bring it to a child audience forty years later. “Remember the sky you were born under,” urges Harjo, along with sun, moon, and stars. “Remember your birth, how your mother / struggled to give you form and breath. / You are evidence of her life, / and her mother’s, and hers.” Thus is the child reader explicitly linked to their human heritage, but Harjo’s web of belonging extends beyond literal family to the earth, its flora and fauna, and its peoples. Goade (We Are Water Protectors, rev. 7/20; Berry Song, rev. 7/22) begins with creation, as white Raven delivers light in the form of swooshes of color. Her imagery is drawn from her own heritage, the unmistakable iconography of Pacific Northwest Coast art informing figures both terrestrial and celestial. (Her illustrator’s note expands thoughtfully on her inclusion of these elements.) One of the many striking spreads depicts a child and an adult picking berries. The child’s hand rests on the ground, and roots spread out in cross section below; across the gutter, a stylized hand provides a visual representation of growth and continuity, with motifs of fish skeletons and shells nourishing the soil and plants sprouting, etc. The teeming images thrillingly catch young viewers up as they swirl, circles emphasizing the cyclical nature of life. “Remember,” closes the text, and children will. VICKY SMITH

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


Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Frank Morrison
Primary, Intermediate     Crown    32 pp.     g
9/22     978-0-593-30634-5     $18.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-30635-2    $21.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-30636-9    $10.99

This is a moving walk through African American history, via Weatherford’s expansion of the lyrics of a well-known Negro spiritual and Morrison’s powerful, imagistic art. In his distinctive illustrations, Morrison employs innovative perspectives and unusual visual compositions to encourage readers to make connections between historical events, while ­Weatherford’s poetry, per the author’s note, “integrat[es] historical and contemporary events that summoned courage and faith.” The book’s first, wordless double-page spread looks down on the bare back of an enslaved man emerging from the bowels of a slave ship, facing a white enslaver who holds a whip. From there, the book represents significant historical and contemporary Black heroes such as Nat Turner, Ruby Bridges, Florence Joyner, and Colin Kaepernick; it also portrays important eras such as the Harlem ­Renaissance, the civil rights movement, the Great Migration, and the Black Lives Matter movement. A richly illustrated, informative picture book that will leave readers humming and spark a desire to learn more. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

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


The 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on June 20th, 2023. For reviews of the other winning titles and more, click on the tag BGHB23.

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