Reviews of the 2021 Sibert Award Winners


Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera
by Candace Fleming; illus. by Eric Rohmann
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.
2/20    978-0-8234-4285-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-4304-8    $11.99

A worker bee breaks out of her honeycomb cell and begins a task-filled life in her colony. The “teeming, trembling flurry” of bees within the close confines of the dark hive is impressively portrayed in Rohmann’s honey-toned illustrations through extreme close-ups and varying perspectives on bee bodies. For the first twenty-four days of her life, the bee remains in the hive, tidying up, nursing larvae, grooming the queen, and performing other vital tasks, all while developing her own strength. With each stage of growth, the text builds anticipation through repetition: will the next stage be “Flying? / Not yet.” Partway through the book, on day twenty-five, the bee finally emerges above a sunlit meadow on a four-page foldout; she flies into the next stage of existence as a pollinator. After ten days of nectar collection (during which she produces “one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey”), the bee dies, and a new bee emerges from a cell. As with the author-illustrator pair’s Giant Squid (rev. 9/16), the art and text together convey a holistic view of environment and organism, with excellent pacing through the complete bee life cycle. A diagram of bee anatomy is appended, and a “Helping Out Honeybees” note discussing the importance of honeybees to human food production and threats to their existence, with a reading list and websites, concludes the book. DANIELLE J. FORD

From the March/April 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure
by John Rocco; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Crown    264 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-525-64741-6    $29.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-64742-3    $32.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-64743-0    $17.99

In seven parts arranged chronologically, Rocco delivers a strikingly beautiful and highly informative account of the United States’s audacious effort to send human beings to the moon. Tackling both historical and scientific concepts, the book examines everything from the space race to the mechanics of an F-1 rocket engine, with equal clarity. A plethora of full-color pencil, watercolor, and digital illustrations supports the conversational (and mostly present-tense) text. Frequent side panels feature biographical information about historical figures (often emphasizing the contributions of women, people of color, and production workers) as well as instructions for straightforward experiments for readers to try. Through skillful scaffolding, scientific concepts build in complexity throughout the book (e.g., Newton’s Laws of Motion lead to Draper’s Inertial Guidance System). Many formidable engineering challenges are presented through a clearly defined problem/solution format. From delicate portraits to intricate schematics to fiery liftoffs, Rocco creates a strong visual continuity throughout. The final chapter is a thrilling minute-by-minute account of the Apollo 11 mission, greatly enhanced by the previous information. A thoughtful epilogue praises the collaborative spirit of the Apollo missions and challenges readers with the following: “What new grand idea will bring together hundreds of thousands of individuals to achieve a common goal?” Extensive back matter includes a fact sheet on piloted Apollo missions, research/art notes, sources, further reading, commonly used acronyms, a map of Apollo lunar landings, and an index. PATRICK GALL

From the November/December 2020 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.


All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
by Christina Soontornvat
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    288 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-5362-0945-7    $24.99

An author of picture books, easy readers, and middle-grade novels, Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark, rev. 5/20) here presents a compelling work of nonfiction. On June 23, 2018, in Mae Sai, Thailand, twelve members of a youth soccer team and their coach decided to explore a nearby cave after practice. After venturing several miles in, they found themselves trapped by floods caused by unseasonably early monsoon rains. As Thailand marshaled international resources, the world watched the drama unfold. The rescue — all thirteen survived — would be nothing short of miraculous. In lucid prose written in third-person-present tense for a heightened sense of immediacy, Soontornvat gives readers a journalistic account of the difficulty and complexity of the rescue effort. Using interviews and other primary sources, she keeps a tight focus on the unfolding story, with its inherent edge-of-your-seat, heart-in-your-throat drama, adroitly juggling a parade of characters, clearly laying out the technical and engineering challenges, and judiciously parsing out expository information in the occasional sidebar. The rescue effort brought out the best in humanity, and inspiring messages of teamwork, cooperation, sacrifice (the death of a Thai diver is covered in a chapter called “A Tragic Loss”), loyalty, faith, and hope abound in these pages. Liberally illustrated throughout with full-color illustrations and maps; an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. (See Marc Aronson’s Rising Water, rev. 5/19, for another account of the same events.) JONATHAN HUNT

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


For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2021.

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