Reviews of the 2022 Caldecott Medal Winners


by Andrea Wang; illus. by Jason Chin
Primary    Porter/Holiday    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-8234-4624-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-5054-1    $11.99

Transcending space and time, memories bring a Chinese American family together. A girl in cutoffs and a T-shirt is embarrassed when her parents stop the car to pick wild watercress growing by the side of the road; she doesn’t understand why her family has to be so different from everyone else. At dinner, she refuses to even taste the watercress. But when her mother shares the story of her family’s difficult past in China, the girl learns to view the food on her table with new appreciation and understanding. Together, the girl and her family make “a new memory of watercress,” ending the story on an optimistic note. Chin’s expressive watercolors create their own narratives to complement the different layers of Wang’s story. On one double-page spread, the illustration delivers devastating information only implied by the text. Another spread visually connects the family’s present and past: as readers’ eyes move from left to right across the gutter, they experience two completely different spaces and times — cornstalk morphs into bamboo, and the scene changes from Ohio to China, present to past. Chin’s smooth visual transition cleverly disturbs and dissolves the barrier created by the gutter and bridges the two worlds. Inspired by Wang’s own memories as the child of Chinese immigrants (as revealed in the closing author’s note), this quietly affecting book encourages honesty, communication, and sharing of family history. WEILEEN WANG

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


Honor Books

Have You Ever Seen a Flower?
by Shawn Harris; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Chronicle    48 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-4521-8270-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4521-8292-6    $11.99

The child in Harris’s pencil illustrations first appears as a bright patch of color within a grayscale cityscape and then emerges into a rainbow world of blooms. The pictures have a rich visual texture, vibrant color, and a naive style, which together imply a child as ostensible artist. This effect is well aligned with the playfully inquisitive text, with rhythm and repetition akin to books by Margaret Wise Brown and Ruth Krauss: “Have you ever seen a flower? I mean really…seen a flower? I mean way down in the clover with your face down in a flower?” The text’s direct address invites viewers and readers not just to see a flower alongside the child but to engage in a multisensory experience of communing with nature. Have you ever seen a book quite like this? Not likely. MEGAN DOWD LAMBERT

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


Mel Fell
by Corey R. Tabor; illus. by the author
Primary    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-06-287801-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-308952-5    $12.99

This playful and innovatively designed book tells the story of a small bird who is eager to fly. When Mama leaves the tree one day, Mel jumps, and readers follow her freefall, beak pointed straight at the ground — a moment made even more dramatic by the vertical orientation of this book. As she falls, she passes other tree-dwellers who try to catch her — squirrels, owls, a spider, and more (all their dialogue is captured in speech bubbles). When she splashes into the water below, readers are instructed, via smaller font, to turn the book clockwise, and then once again to follow her path back up (“She flew!”) with a fish in her beak. She passes the same creatures on her flight up, all of whom cheer her on, the spider even weaving a “yay” for Mel in its web. There’s a good deal of humor in this lighthearted story; a slug keeps promising to help but never makes it far, and a fly is liberated (“I’m free!”) from the spider’s web when Mel falls through it. Tabor’s relaxed, loose-lined illustrations capture the energy of the fall as well as Mel’s endearing, determined personality. A short closing note from the author states that Mel is a kingfisher, and that kingfishers are unlikely to catch fish the first time they fly — but that “Mel is a very special bird.” Indeed. JULIE DANIELSON

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


Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Floyd Cooper
Primary, Intermediate    Carolrhoda    32 pp.    g
2/21    978-1-5415-8120-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-7284-1738-7    $27.99

In 1921, over the course of sixteen hours, the Black community of Greenwood, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was all but destroyed, with most of its residents left homeless, injured, or dead. In picture-book form, Weatherford and Cooper skillfully present this history to young people. Great care is taken to describe the Greenwood community as it once was: known as “Black Wall Street” and home to Black professionals and working-class folk alike, “where some say Black children got a better education than whites.” Small details add to the authenticity of the narrative, such as Miss Mabel’s Little Rose Beauty Salon, where “maids who worked for white families got coiffed on their day off and strutted in style.” Far from romanticizing history, Weatherford is equally descriptive in explaining how a false accusation of assault brought simmering racial tensions to a violent end, with a white mob “looting and burning homes and businesses that Blacks had saved and sacrificed to build.” Many survivors left the area, and those who stayed “did not speak of the terror.” Not until 1997 was the little-known incident investigated and discovered to be not a “riot” but a massacre — ­abetted by both police and city officials. ­Cooper’s illustrations (“oil and erasure”) are the perfect partner to this history, the sepia-toned images resembling historical photographs. The portraits of Black residents are particularly moving, seeming to break the fourth wall to implore the reader to remember their story. The author’s and illustrator’s notes provide additional information, including their individual connections to the topic. EBONI NJOKU

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


Wonder Walkers
by Micha Archer; illus. by the author
Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-593-10964-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-10966-3    $10.99

Two children sit inside a house near a shore, peering out the window. “Wonder walk?” asks one child. “Sure,” the other responds. At the page-turn, the children are outdoors, and the wondering begins. As they explore, they pose a series of questions about what they see in nature, questions invoking metaphors and personification: “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” “Is fog the river’s blanket?” “Are trees the sky’s legs?” No answers are required; the wonderment alone sustains them. Archer’s (Daniel’s Good Day, rev. 7/19) collage illustrations, using tissue paper and patterned papers, burst forth with vibrant colors, beguiling textures, and boundless energy. The double-page spreads employ little white space (there’s too much of the outdoors to revel in) yet are never too busy; Archer knows just where to direct viewers’ eyes. A sense of movement propels the narrative: clouds float; fog blankets the river; ocean waves lap against the shore; and the wind swirls around the children’s faces. Beautifully rendered — and wonderful in every way. JULIE DANIELSON

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


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