Reviews of 2022 Mind the Gap Award winners

Not all deserving books bring home ALA awards. Our annual Mind the Gap Awards pay tribute to our favorite books that didn’t win. Here’s how we reviewed our 2022 winners.


by Mượn Thị Văn; illus. by Victo Ngai
Primary    Orchard/Scholastic    40 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-338-30589-0    $18.99

A little girl living in an unsafe place watches her grandfather out the window. “The night wished it was quieter,” reads the text. With a page-turn: “The bag wished it was deeper,” as other family members swiftly pack food. Wishes made by the light, the clock, the path, the boat, the sea, and the sun follow, and it gradually becomes clear that the girl’s family is fleeing their home to undertake a perilous journey to a new place. The collaboration between text and illustration is impressive; Văn’s lyrical and poetic writing gently propels the story forward, while Ngai’s honest and detailed pictures depict the heartbreaking reality of separation and extend the tale beyond its words. The final wish, which is also the only wish made in the voice of the girl (“And I wished…I didn’t have to wish…anymore”), is slowly revealed through four double-page spreads that display the final moments of the family’s harrowing journey. The changing color palette throughout, including on the front and back endpapers, serves as a powerful, aesthetic representation of the changes that occur over the course of the story — from dark night to brightening sky, from danger to safety, from fear to hope, and most important of all, from the end of one journey to the beginning of another. Back matter includes author and artist notes and reveals the personal connection that Văn has with the story. WEILEEN WANG

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Billy Miller Makes a Wish
by Kevin Henkes
Primary, Intermediate    Greenwillow    192 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-06-304279-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-304281-0    $8.99

When Billy Miller fell on his head at the beginning of The Year of Billy Miller (rev. 9/13), he worried about forgetting things and whether he was smart enough for second grade. In this welcome sequel, school is over for the year and Billy is a “second-and-a-half grader” now worrying about his eighth birthday wish. Fearing a long, boring summer, he’d wished for excitement. But “excitement” comes in the form of an ambulance arriving at his neighbor’s house, and when Mr. Tooley dies, Billy thinks maybe his wish was responsible. Then there’s a bat in the basement, a chimney fire, and his younger sister, Sal, tattooing her legs with his special birthday markers. And why is his mother so tired all the time? Billy must also put up with Sal, who is almost four, and he doesn’t always find her as amusing as readers will. In fact, he wonders “how long big brothers had to suffer because of their little sisters.” Henkes is a master of characterization, deftly using dabs of telling details to build his characters (Sal, for instance, with her collection of whale-shaped erasers she calls the Drip Sisters, the “symphony cards” she makes for Mr. Tooley’s family, the birthday present she wrapped all by herself that looks like “a big ball of crumpled tissue paper”). But when Mama and Papa share exciting news at the end of the story, Billy changes his mind about that wish he had regretted. “Now he wouldn’t change it for anything.” DEAN SCHNEIDER

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Someone Builds the Dream
by Lisa Wheeler; illus. by Loren Long
Primary    Dial    48 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-9848-1433-3    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1434-0    $10.99

Written in aptly propulsive verse and illustrated with aptly muscular art, this is a paean to people who work with their hands. To make a house, an architect is needed. “But… / Someone works to guide the saws, / plane the logs, lead the team. / Someone needs to pound the nails. / Someone has to build the dream.” The book follows the hands-on labor as first a house is built, then a bridge, decorative fountain, windmill farm, amusement park, and finally a book — the one we are reading, in fact. Visually, Long paces the story beautifully. Spreads depicting the cerebral work of an architect, engineer, artist, and others show the person (usually) in isolation, with a large amount of white space surrounding, even confining, their office, classroom, or studio. The subsequent scenes of their ideas being implemented are full-bleed, full-color spreads full of hustle-and-bustle, with hosts of people (of differing races, genders, and abilities) wielding tools, checking blueprints, and operating machinery. Compositions are controlled but busy; colors are bold. The overall feel is one of concentrated activity, industriousness, and progress, very reminiscent of WPA murals of the 1930s. The framing of the book is effective and child-scaled: a neglected piece of land we saw at the beginning is by story’s end transformed into a small, attractive park, echoing the book’s projects in microcosm (i.e., workers have constructed not a house but a gazebo; not an amusement park but a playground). Closing text exhorts children to appreciate all the “someones” behind built/made things — but they won’t need much of a push after reading this inspirational, inclusive, and engaging book. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Milo Imagines the World
by Matt de la Peña; illus. by Christian Robinson
Primary    Putnam    40 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-399-54908-3    $18.99
Spanish ed.  978-0-593-35462-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-54909-0    $10.99

Harold and the Purple Crayon meets twenty-first-century urban realism in this picture book by the Last Stop on Market Street (rev. 1/15) author-illustrator team (simultaneously published in Spanish as Milo imagina el mundo). Milo, a diminutive brown-skinned boy with round glasses and a lime-green hat, boards a subway train with his big sister. While she plays games on her phone, Milo studies people and imagines lives for them through his notebook and colored pencils. Robinson’s art alternates between color-saturated, double-page-spread scenes of train activity and Milo’s sketches. Milo sees a boy wearing a suit and draws him as a prince arriving at his castle; for a wedding-gown-clad passenger, Milo draws her imagined ceremony. He then reimagines and re-illustrates many of his scenes, intentionally looking at his subjects in a different way. Milo and his sister finally reach their destination: a detention center, where they visit their incarcerated mother (the boy on the subway who was wearing a suit is visiting someone, too). As in Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Visiting Day (rev. 11/02), the joy and parent-child love shine through, and the climax comes with Milo’s sharing of a special drawing he has created for his mother. This poignant, thought-provoking story speaks volumes for how art can shift one’s perspectives and enable an imaginative alternative to what is…or seems to be. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Message: The Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Text Message
by Michael Emberley; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Dlouhy/Atheneum    48 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-5344-5290-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5291-6    $10.99

What is going on in our brains, on our phones, and in the world when we send or receive a text message? Emberley’s skillfully crafted picture book answers this not-so-simple question in a delightful mix of illustrations, diagrams, and captions with a clear through-line narration that makes the complicated science behind our electronic interactions comprehensible. Readers follow along when a late-night text message awakens a child from their sleep, as a series of physiological events (“cells inside the eyes detect the photons, then translate the photon’s message into an electronic signal, which travels through soft threads of hollow nerves…straight into the brain”) results in a reply that must travel halfway around the world. Emberley illustrates every step in the process as the message travels through the air (“as a unique, invisible, electromagnetic radio wave”), through wires (both copper and glass), underground, and below the ocean before finding its way to the recipient’s — as we learn, the child’s mom’s — screen. Detailed illustrations feature numerous labels, and offset captions further illuminate the scientific and technological explanations, allowing the narrative to focus on the larger actions as the message’s digital signal races on. Readers will never again think the same way about the basic act of sending a text message. Back matter provides additional technical details, including an explanation of when and under what conditions satellites become involved in the process. A list of resources for further reading is included. ERIC CARPENTER

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Time for Kenny
by Brian Pinkney; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Greenwillow    40 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-06-073528-9    $17.99

Four brief stories take us through young Kenny’s day as he gets dressed, has an encounter with a monster-like vacuum cleaner, learns “no hands!” soccer skills, and resists bedtime. Pinkney’s text is both spare and engagingly lively — and the clean font and page design and use of repetition make this an excellent choice for both emerging readers and preschoolers (think Watanabe’s How Do I Put It On?). Each chapter is introduced by a page of full color containing a brief introductory sentence or two (“Kenny doesn’t like the vacuum cleaner. It sleeps in the closet”; “Kenny’s bedtime is in five minutes. But Kenny is not tired”), nicely delineating the four sections. The situations are all ones to which young readers will relate — and they will cheer as Kenny emerges victorious each time (“Is Kenny dressed? Yes!”). The illustrations — in Pinkney’s signature swirly art, full of movement and energy — capture Kenny’s personality and emotions. They also portray, understatedly but definitely, the warmth of this family’s relationships: he and Daddy laugh together in a post-vacuum-cleaner tickling session; his sister high-fives him after his soccer lesson; his mother reads him a book at bedtime. Pinkney keeps a tight focus on Kenny, his family, and a few signature objects (particularly his yellow toy school bus and beloved stuffed animal Kitty), helping viewers to likewise focus as they spend the day with this delightful Black boy. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

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


Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey
by Erin Entrada Kelly; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Greenwillow    160 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-06-297042-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-297044-2    $8.99

Kelly (Newbery medalist for Hello, Universe, rev. 3/17, and honoree for We Dream of Space, rev. 5/20) reaches out to a younger audience in an approachable chapter book about thoughtful worrier Marisol. Marisol has what everyone describes as the perfect climbing tree in her Louisiana backyard, but the list of things she fears is long, and the magnolia tree she’s named Peppina (after a Mary Pickford character — she’s a silent movie buff) is at the top of the list. She can’t imagine giving a book report without quaking, or visiting her extended family in the Philippines — much less what it would feel like to be brave enough to climb the tree. The story covers several days during summer vacation when Marisol decides that she will, like her idol Pickford, face up to frightening things and climb Peppina. Kelly’s writing has the unhurried pace of an unscheduled summer day (Marisol and her best friend Jada spy on Marisol’s brother Oz, act out silent movies, and ride bikes around the neighborhood). The story’s tension is built from the skillful accumulation of small moments and the strong character development. Frequent delightfully quirky line drawings by the author add humor and personality. Give this to readers of Dominguez’s Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (rev. 5/18) and Henkes’s Billy Miller books (rev. 9/13 and 3/21). MAEVE VISSER KNOTH

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Beatryce Prophecy
by Kate DiCamillo; illus. by Sophie Blackall
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    256 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-5362-1361-4    $19.99

As this rich and absorbing novel opens, Brother Edik finds a sick girl in the barn of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing, curled up with the “demon goat” Answelica. The child recovers from her fever but has lost her memory, remembering only her name, Beatryce. Brother Edik and the other monks hide Beatryce and her talents as well: the ability to read and write, a “beautiful and agile mind,” and a “dangerous will.” Beatryce, it is revealed, is the girl named in a prophecy, destined to “unseat a king and bring about a great change.” As Brother Edik tells her, “It is dangerous for you to be who you are…And so you must pretend to be someone you are not.” The king and his counselor are on her trail, so she agrees to disguise herself, to have her hair shorn and wear a monk’s robe. Soon, however, she must enter the world and, with Brother Edik, ­Answelica, and the orphan boy Jack Dory, begins a journey to take charge of her own destiny. The king’s machinations are effectively delineated in bold font in brief sections to remind readers that evil is afoot. The pairing of two-time Newbery Medalist DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux, rev. 9/03; Flora & Ulysses, rev. 9/13) and two-time Caldecott Medalist Blackall (Finding Winnie, rev. 9/15; Hello Lighthouse, rev. 3/18) is a magical alchemy. Blackall’s ­black-and-white pencil drawings and ornamented initials convey a medieval setting, while DiCamillo’s elegant, honed prose weaves a beautiful tapestry of true friends, a feisty goat, and a road to a castle where destiny will unfold. DEAN SCHNEIDER

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Legend of Auntie Po
by Shing Yin Khor; illus. by the author
Middle School    Kokila/Penguin    304 pp.    g
6/21    978-0-525-55488-2    $22.99
Paper ed.  978-0-525-55489-9    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-55490-5    $8.99

In this graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Mei Hao shares her homemade pies and homespun tales about the eponymous Auntie Po (a Chinese Paul Bunyan–type figure of Mei’s own creation) with her white best friend Beatrice Andersen and many other eager listeners at Mr. Andersen’s 1885 Sierra Nevada logging camp. Mei works hard to help her father cook for the camp’s lumberjacks, plus separate meals for the Chinese workers, who aren’t given board or allowed to eat with the others. But she dreams of a day when she and Bee can open a hybrid bookstore–pie shop together, even as she realizes that dream — and her unrequited love for Bee — may well be impossible. While Khor’s pencils are digital, the rawness and unpredictability of their hand-painted watercolors complement Mei’s fluctuating emotions and the harsh life at the camp, where incidents of racism and logging accidents can occur, both devastating. Khor frequently uses the whole page for their illustrations and works outside of panels, techniques that aptly enhance the historical and mythic scope of the ­narrative and that ultimately affirm Mei as the author of her own ­destiny. A multifaceted addition to the historical graphic novel genre, this unique bildungsroman successfully presents many formidable topics with intentional and comprehensive grace. NIKI MARION

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Rock from the Sky
by Jon Klassen; illus. by the author
Primary    Candlewick    96 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-5362-1562-5    $18.99

In this collection of five connected short stories, clocking in at over ninety pages and composed solely of dialogue, Klassen introduces readers to a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake — all in hats, of course. And because this is a deeply strange set of stories, there is also an alien creature and the book title’s meteor. As with I Want My Hat Back (rev. 11/11), font colors are assigned to each character, providing clues as to who is speaking. The first story is all about a close call; the second, saving face; the third, a fantastical creature from the future (a gigantic eyeball on six towering legs that can shoot fire from its pupil); the fourth, a failed attempt to appreciate beauty; and the fifth, hurt feelings. Klassen masterfully builds suspense, particularly in the first story: readers know that a massive rock is falling from the sky, while characters continually change (precarious) position on the page. (No worries: no animals were harmed in the making of this book, though the same can’t be said for an orange flower and, eventually, the alien visitor.) Throughout, Klassen’s characteristically deadpan humor refuses to patronize readers; he lets them in on the joke, as always, by putting them one step ahead of the protagonists. Smart, funny, and offbeat, this is quintessential Klassen. JULIE DANIELSON

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


by Helen Yoon; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-5362-0731-6    $17.99

As the book opens, a nondescript-looking man walks away from his home office, having just affixed an “off-limits” sign to its door. Around the corner (and from the edge of the title page) peeks a pigtailed girl, and we follow her as she opens the door to view her father’s neatly ­organized office, all drab grays and browns. “I’m just looking. There’s nothing wrong with just looking…and I don’t think anyone would miss one piece of tape. Just one little teeny-tiny piece.” We can guess what happens next. The girl begins taping up everything in sight, adding paper clips and binder clips…and then — dramatic pause — she finds the Post-it Notes. “Hello!” From here the pages become a whirlwind of exuberant color and swirled patterns and pure unadulterated joy. The office now festooned to the max, the girl comes down to earth from her creative jag and realizes that she’s in a lot of trouble. “Uh-oh.” She sneaks back to her bedroom and opens the door to find — “Daddy!” — that the chaos there matches that of the office, with toys in a huge pile and her father wearing a tutu and dress-up wings. All ends happily with a colorful father-daughter tea party, dullness and drabness banished. Yoon (Ball & Balloon, rev. 9/19) uses the drama of the page-turn beautifully, typography is employed creatively, and the book is perfectly paced. The girl’s bliss as her office-supply art creation grows shines through in both text and mixed-media art, and her curiosity and mischievousness are so very relatable. Open the door to this spectacular book and go right in. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


A Sitting in St. James
by Rita Williams-Garcia
High School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    480 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-06-236729-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-236732-7    $10.99

Williams-Garcia, whose YA titles include the 1995 classic Like Sisters on the Homefront and Jumped (rev. 3/09), offers an unusual angle on the subject of slavery with this sobering depiction of life on a nearly bankrupt sugar plantation in Louisiana just prior to the Civil War. Here the lives of the white Guilbert family members and their enslaved “holdings” are intimately interwoven in a series of threads that span generations and reveal the social and political boundaries within which the intriguing cast of characters exist and survive. The eighty-year-old Guilbert matriarch, Madame Sylvie, insists on sitting for a portrait the family can’t afford in her efforts to retain a connection to the past. Her son and nemesis Lucien, the manager of the plantation, desperately schemes to avoid foreclosure. His son, essentially engaged to the daughter of a wealthy planter, is in love with a fellow West Point cadet. A family friend spends the summer because her mother hopes the Guilberts will cure her of her unconventional and unladylike ways. Among the enslaved young people on the plantation who are subjected to cruelty as an everyday way of life are Madame Sylvie’s personal servant Thisbe and Lucien’s “quadroon” daughter Rosalie, who is ostracized by her grandmother but viewed by her father as the family’s ticket to solvency. In this sweeping, richly researched, and powerfully delivered tale of privilege and exploitation — often a difficult read — Williams-Garcia’s storytelling is magnificent; her voice honest and authentic. Appended with an author’s note and a bibliography. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The One Thing You’d Save
by Linda Sue Park; illus. by Robert Sae-Heng
Intermediate, Middle School    Clarion    72 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-328-51513-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-52601-8    $9.99

Ms. Chang has asked her students to think about what one thing they would save — beyond their families and pets — if their homes were on fire. “Your Most Important Thing. Any size. A grand piano? Fine.” What follows is a series of poems, inspired by an ancient form of traditional Korean poetry called sijo, that capture the voices of the kids in the class as they ponder and discuss, argue, defend their choices, and sometimes change their minds. Their most important possessions range from the obvious (“My dad’s wallet. Duh”) and humorous (cool sneakers — “I put those babies on my feet, it’s like, see ya later, fire”) to the empathetic (grabbing a mother’s insulin kit) and the aspirational (a bedroom rug to help folks in the building “Stop, Drop, and Roll”). Ms. Chang reminds the kids what to do in a real emergency, and that they all must “Protect, Affect, Respect One Another!” in class, but she also joins in the conversation and is deeply moved by their astute suggestions and profound revelations. Sae-Heng’s lovely graphic-style grayscale drawings grace every page and reflect an inclusive, modern urban landscape and school setting. This is an ode to learning with a savvy and caring educator who knows how to build community and empathy by having students share their stories and who joins in their exercises (and is even convinced to change her mind). LUANN TOTH

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake
by Barbara Lehman; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Clarion/HarperCollins    64 pp.    g
11/21    978-0-358-31510-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-31663-3    $13.99

Lehman’s (The Red Book, rev. 9/04) latest is an inventive retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” — wordless save for signage and with thought/speech bubbles containing only images (and occasional punctuation). The endpapers having clued us in that we are in the realm of fairy tale and nursery rhyme, the story begins. Wolfie the cat gazes hopefully at the cake that baker Big Red and his child Little Red are making, only to be sadly disappointed when Big Red puts the finished cake into a basket for Grandmother. As Little Red (carefully nongendered) makes the journey through town — past a host of nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale characters and punnily named shops — to Grandmother’s house, Wolfie surreptitiously follows, humorously hiding in plain sight whenever Little Red pauses to chat with, say, Jack and Jill (whose speech bubble contains an image of a pail) or Little Boy Blue (a trumpet). Eventually Wolfie sprints ahead, dons a disguise, and crawls into Grandmother’s bed. Little Red and Grandmother are onto Wolfie, however, and all ends well with the trio happily sharing cake. Throughout, Lehman offers entrancing details for keen-eyed viewers to notice (so many, in fact, that there’s a key at the back). But the wealth of detail never distracts from the story’s trajectory, thanks in part to the consistency of Little Red’s speech bubbles (picturing Grandmother) and Wolfie’s thought bubbles (cake) — until near the end, when they hug goodbye and the bubbles all contain red hearts. Another triumph from a master of wordless picture books. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Big Bath House
by Kyo Maclear; illus. by Gracey Zhang
Primary    Random    40 pp.    g
11/21    978-0-593-18195-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-18196-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-18197-3    $10.99

A young girl visiting her grandmother in Japan narrates this not-so-traditional bath-time book about a very traditional and ancient Japanese custom. The narrator and her beloved baachan, along with a gaggle of aunties, take a walk to the neighborhood bath house, where they meet up with some smiling young cousins. After removing shoes and clothes, they sit on low stools by water faucets, scrub themselves clean with soap, and rinse off before gently easing themselves into the steaming hot bath with a communal “Ahhhhh.” The narrator guides readers through the potentially unfamiliar rituals by clearly describing what will happen; the future tense (“The wooden sandals will be lined up and waiting”) also reads like a comforting reminder of what will take place the next time she gets to visit her grandmother. The text mirrors the mood — quick rhymes describe the excitement of arriving and the fun of soaping up, then longer sentences slow down and quiet as the group walks home in the dark. Zhang’s buoyant illustrations in ink, gouache, and watercolors match the water-focused story with transparent, watery hues anchored by strong black outlining. Young audiences will giggle at all the naked bodies in the book, while adults will appreciate the body-positive descriptions: “You’ll all dip your bodies, / your newly sprouting, / gangly bodies, / your saggy, shapely, / jiggly bodies, / your cozy, creased, / ancient bodies. / Beautiful bodies.” In an appended note, Canadian author Maclear (It Began with a Page, rev. 11/19) describes the childhood summers she spent in Japan, she and her grandmother sharing not a common language but “rituals, a sweet tooth, and a love of bathing.” JENNIFER M. BRABANDER

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Mind the Gap 2022 is from the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles click the tag ALA 2022.

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