Reviews of the 2021 CSK Illustrator Award Winners


R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul 
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Frank Morrison 
Primary, Intermediate    Atheneum    48 pp.    g 
8/20    978-1-5344-5228-2    $18.99 
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5229-9    $10.99 

This impressionistic picture-book biography of Aretha Franklin (1942–2018) consists of a series of rhyming couplets following the iconic singer through her life. Weatherford employs a clever and resonant device: each poem has a one-word title that is spelled out just as it is in Franklin’s most famous song, “Respect.” So, “B-L-E-S-S-E-D” introduces a very young Aretha, the pastor’s daughter, as she “says a little prayer each night”; “D-E-B-U-T” sees the fourteen-year-old cutting her first gospel album; ­“G-R-O-O-V-E” shows her “rocking R&B”; ­“P-R-O-U-D” finds her singing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Naturally, the book culminates in a poem titled “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”: “The Queen of Soul blessed us with a golden legacy. / But she would probably call it, ‘the gift that God gave me…’” The book’s trim size is roughly that of a record album, and illustrator Morrison takes full advantage of its expanse. Rich oil paintings place the singer in a variety of ­venues, from recording studio to civil rights protest to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The arresting title page, referencing the song “Freeway of Love,” shows a pink Cadillac about to drop the pedal and go, go, go. Appended with an author’s note giving specifics about Franklin’s life and with a discography of her biggest hits. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 


Honor Books

Me & Mama  
by Cozbi A. Cabrera; illus. by the author  
Preschool, Primary    Millner/Simon    40 pp.    g  
8/20    978-1-5344-5421-7    $17.99  
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5422-4    $10.99  

In the early morning, a young unnamed Black girl tiptoes through the house and past various sleeping family members, to be greeted by the smell of cinnamon and her mother’s good-morning song. Even though the day is rainy, it’s a wonderful time to “be everywhere Mama is.” Throughout her day, the child makes clever observations about the similarities and differences between herself and her mother. While she has less toothpaste on her toothbrush, both she and Mama know to brush “round my teeth with little circles.” As they prepare to go outside to take a nature walk, it’s noted that “Mama’s rain boots are / bigger than mine. / And they’re red” — however, both pairs make an excellent splash in puddles. The girl is also keen to acknowledge how she and her mother care for each other — after her hair is combed, she returns the favor, accentuating her mom’s thick curls with “the purply pink barrette…She calls it fuchsia.” At the end of her day (“Our day is done earlier than / Mama and Papa’s / It’s just that way when you’re growing”), mother and daughter read stories to each other. Drifting off to sleep, the young girl is content to dream, knowing “there’ll be me and Mama.” Celebrating the beautiful dark brown skin of the duo, and surrounded by various hues of blue, Cabrera’s color-saturated illustrations, a mix of single pages and double-page spreads, add to the gentle charm of the conversational text. Large and small pairs of everyday objects appear on the endpapers, bolstering the celebration of the mother/daughter relationship. EBONI NJOKU  

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


Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks 
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera 
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g 
4/20    978-1-4197-3411-3    $17.99 

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) grew up on the South Side of Chicago “with little money to spare,” but her childhood home was rich in volumes of poetry, which her father read aloud and which she memorized. She began writing poems at the age of seven; at eleven, dreaming of an “ecstatically exquisite” future, she sent some of her best writing out and was published in a local newspaper and then a national magazine. Years of setbacks followed — including the Great Depression, many rejections from publications, and struggles to pay the bills — but only increased her devotion to her work. She wrote about the people she knew and observed in her Bronzeville ­neighborhood — “the nonstop busyness, the hard-luck grittiness.” She was a wife and mother before she got her first book of poems published, and poetry still didn’t pay the bills. But Brooks ­dancing with her son in an ­electricity-less apartment upon being informed she had won the Pulitzer Prize is a quietly joyful conclusion to her search for her future. Cabrera’s strong, carefully composed acrylic illustrations beautifully evoke both the joy and the hardship in Brooks’s everyday life and in the life of the community that inspired her. Slade’s attention to detail, vigorous prose, and judicious use of the poet’s own words make this biography, and its subject, stand out. Appended with an author’s note, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and source notes. AUTUMN ALLEN 

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 


Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration
by Samara Cole Doyon; illus. by Kaylani Juanita
Primary    Tilbury      32 pp.    g 
1/20    9780884487975    $16.95








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

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