Reviews of the 2021 CSK Author Award Winners


Before the Ever After 
by Jacqueline Woodson
Intermediate    Paulsen/Penguin    176 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-399-54543-6    $17.99

In her latest novel in verse, Woodson (Locomotion, rev. 3/03; Brown Girl Dreaming, rev. 9/14) explores the impact of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on football players and their families from the perspective of ZJ, son of tight end Zachariah “44” Johnson. The novel opens in 1999 and flashes forward in time to what ZJ calls the “ever after,” then fills in what happened in between. In life before the ever after, ZJ and his friends watched his daddy on TV on Sundays. He remembers listening to music and making up songs with his father. But then slowly things change. Daddy isn’t playing as much. His hands shake. His head hurts. He can’t remember things. On the eve of the new millennium, ZJ’s world changes completely when his dad yells at him and his friends, not remembering who they are. Then the headaches and forgetfulness become more frequent. Doctor visits and tests are a new way of life, with very few answers. In lyrical verse, Woodson conveys the confusion and loss that many families feel as they try to figure out what is wrong with their loved one. Each of the poems ably captures the voice of the story’s preteen boy protagonist; readers can feel the sense of love and loss that ZJ is experiencing as his dad slips away. Even though that loss is difficult, Woodson reminds readers that life’s challenges are more easily faced with the support of friends and family. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

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


Honor Books

King and the Dragonflies
by Kacen Callender
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    263 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-338-12933-5    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-12935-9    $10.99

In their second middle-grade novel (Hurricane Child, rev. 5/18), set in contemporary small-town Louisiana, Callender masterfully balances resonant themes of grief, love, family, friendship, racism, sexuality, and coming-of-age. Twelve-year-old King copes with the sudden death of his beloved older brother, Khalid, who used to talk in his sleep while dreaming about visiting another universe. King believes his brother has "left his body behind like a second skin" and become a dragonfly. He tries to keep Khalid close by remembering the dreaming Khalid's philosophical musings ("There's no such thing as happiness. No such thing as sadness, or anger, or anything else...There's just you...That star inside you"). Meanwhile, King is keeping secrets: his friend Sandy has run away from an abusive father (the town's sheriff), and King is sheltering him; Sandy is gay, and so, King gradually accepts, is he. Both boys know they are facing homophobia, which will be even more oppressive for King because it's compounded by racial prejudice (King is African American; Sandy is white). Callender's portrayal of tween angst and awakening — including King's authentically devised evolution — anchors this deeply affecting, memorable novel. Well-rounded supporting characters are believable and relatable in a story line that addresses serious issues with unreserved honesty and heightened sensitivity. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box
by Evette Dionne
Middle School, High School    Viking    176 pp.    g
4/20    978-0-45148-154-2    $19.99

In her preface, “Not the History You Learned in School,” Dionne sets the historical scene with the 2016 presidential campaign. Having observed multiple people placing their “I Voted” stickers at the gravesite of Susan B. Anthony, Dionne points out that “Black women also fought, were beaten or jailed, and faced serious, sometimes violent, opposition to gain the right to vote — even after 1920. Where were their stickers?” Beginning from the suffrage movement in the 1830s, with its members squabbling over whether the voting rights of Black men or (in particular, white) women should take precedence, Black women have always found themselves in precarious positions. Dionne’s meticulous research provides insight into how Black women maneuvered this intersectionality, addressing their specific needs as to both women’s rights and “improving the lives of African Americans.” Throughout the arduous fight for the end of slavery and for women’s suffrage, there were Black women who rose to prominence and spoke out against the injustices — as much as possible, as they were also under intense scrutiny to become “respectable” wives and mothers, to never present themselves in a manner that could be deemed “too loud, too bold, too aggressive, or too angry.” Dionne chronicles and champions each heroine who pushed through prejudice to contribute to the overall suffrage movement, as well as their contributions to their immediate communities. Continuing through the present day, the author ends with a cautionary note of the work still to be done to ensure the right to vote for all American citizens, and a reminder: “preserving the right to vote still matters — forever and always.” Archival photographs appear throughout; interspersed sidebars fill the pages (almost distractingly so) with extended biographies of suffragists and key historical moments. See also How Women Won the Vote and Finish the Fight, reviewed in this issue. EBONI NJOKU

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


All the Days Past, All the Days to Come
by Mildred D. Taylor
High School    Viking    484 pp.    g
1/20    978-0-399-25730-8    $18.99

REVIEW TO COME; read profile of 2020 Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement winner Mildred D. Taylor from the July/August 2020 Horn Book Magazine.





Read reviews of the 2021 CSK Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2021.

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