Reviews of the 2022 Sibert Award Winners


The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art
by Cynthia Levinson; illus. by Evan Turk
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-4197-4130-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-320-3    $15.54

Ben Shahn (1898–1969) was known as “the people’s painter” because his art told real stories about real people. Levinson and Turk here team up to tell Shahn’s own story, from his Jewish family’s emigration from Lithuania to the U.S. when he was a child, to his teenage years (lithographer by day, art student by night), to his fame as an artist who would “portray stories of people clamoring for their rights. Civil rights activists. Workers demanding fair pay. Political protesters. Advocates for peace.” From an early age Ben was passionate about calling out injustice — after his father was imprisoned for speaking out in favor of worker’s rights, Ben “marched up to the sentry at the end of the street and shouted, ‘Down with the Czar!’” He also loved to create art and used his work to tell stories, despite his teachers’ insistence that “pictures should be beautiful — not real life.” Through the years, Ben ignored this dictum and made a name for himself with his social realist art, which brought him a wide audience. Levinson skillfully shows the artist’s relatable qualities, such as when young Ben refuses to name names after a classroom prank (“I’m not going to tell who did it…and I’m not going to pay for something I didn’t do”). Her celebratory text is well complemented by Turk’s strong and distinctively bold, colorful mixed-media art. Turk uses forced perspective to show Ben standing up to injustice despite his diminutive size, while hands feature in nearly every spread — fists raised in resistance, palms opened upwards in plea, fingers clasped together in farewell — further heightening emotional impact. A Yiddish glossary and pronunciation guide, author and illustrator notes, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and source notes round out this excellent picture-book biography. SAM BLOOM

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


Honor Books

The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem
by Colleen Paeff; illus. by Nancy Carpenter
Primary, Intermediate    McElderry    40 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-5344-4929-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-4930-5    $10.99

“In the summer of 1858, London’s River Thames STANK.” Why? “The river was full of poop.” Increased population in the early 1800s had led to an excess of human waste being disposed of in the city’s sewers, which were meant only to carry rainwater to the river. After three cholera outbreaks mistakenly linked to bad smells, and then a heat wave that caused the river to emit a “Great Stink” throughout London, the city’s chief sewer engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, devised and built a system using “gigantic sewer pipes along both sides of the Thames” to carry the waste far from the city before being pumped back into the river. A fourth, contained cholera outbreak proved what really caused the epidemics (bad drinking water), and Bazalgette was later knighted for saving lives. Paeff clearly explains the causes and effects of “poop pollution,” citing how human error exacerbated the stinky problem for a long time — even noting Bazalgette’s own shortcomings. She also describes how his sewers worked and cites figures — such as “there’s enough poop flowing into the Thames to fill one hundred thirty-six Olympic-size swimming pools” — to help young readers understand the scope of the situation. Carpenter’s playful, detailed watercolor-and-ink illustrations skillfully depict the situations above- and belowground as people hold their noses at the bad smell, fully dressed skeletons (representing dead people) walk the streets during the outbreaks, and Bazalgette energetically explores sewer pipes. An afterword about “Poop Pollution Today” worldwide, a timeline, an author’s note, further reading, and a bibliography are appended. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

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


Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown
by Steve Sheinkin
Middle School, High School    Roaring Brook    352 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-250-14901-5    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-14902-2    $10.99

Sheinkin returns to the milieu of his award-winning Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (rev. 11/12) for this equally compelling sequel. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States and Russia emerge as global superpowers, each vying for ideological, technological, and territorial dominance. Cold War tensions eventually climax with the Cuban ­Missile Crisis, bringing the rivals perilously close to nuclear war. Castro, Eisenhower, ­Kennedy, and Khrushchev play significant roles in shaping world events leading up to it: the partitioning of Germany, the Berlin Wall, and the metaphorical Iron Curtain; the development of the hydrogen bomb and the subsequent arms race; the equally competitive space race; and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. But Sheinkin also introduces a colorful parade of lesser-known characters who step forward for their fifteen minutes of fame — scientists and spies; U-2 pilots and submarine captains; secretaries, cyclists, and mobsters. Deftly weaving these anecdotes into the larger tapestry of history and politics, Sheinkin crafts an epic narrative with a large cast of characters, far-flung settings, multiple plot strands, and rising suspense, further evidence that one of our best nonfiction writers is also one of our best ­storytellers. Black-and-white photographs are ­strategically placed at the beginning and end of chapters, while generous source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

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


We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know
by Traci Sorell; illus. by Frané Lessac
Primary, Intermediate    Charlesbridge    40 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-62354-192-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-973-6    $9.99

In this informational picture book by the team behind We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (rev. 11/18), a diverse group of students and families are headed to (the fictional) Native Nations Community School for Indigenous People’s Day presentations. Each spread depicts a different student’s report on a subject significant to Native people’s experience since the late 1800s. Topics include assimilation, allotment, termination, language revival, and more; although these are dense and complex areas, Sorell makes them comprehensible for readers through the book’s unique format. Each classmate’s “presentation” includes a brief summary or definition (“Assimilation: Most U.S. leaders did not respect our ways and thought it would be better for us to adopt their beliefs and practices”) with a handful of supporting details. Every presentation concludes with the line: “We are still here!” Warm gouache illustrations help support the historical context while personalizing the contemporary setting. This book provides information that is omitted from most curricula (“Most people do not know what happened to Native Nations and our citizens after treaty making stopped in 1871”) in an easy-to-understand manner. Above all, the message is reinforced for all readers: Native people are still here. Appended with a glossary, a timeline, sources, and an author’s note. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

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


Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Primary    Charlesbridge    40 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-58089-716-7    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-888-7    $9.99

Kids know a thing or two about hibernation, but most will find a new concept in estivation — when creatures sleep during summer to avoid extreme heat or to conserve energy when their food sources are scarce. Parallels between these two animal behaviors are drawn right from the book’s cover, where the word hibernate is crossed out over an image of a desert hedgehog sleeping soundly in a den, estivating when the sun is hottest. The book catalogs a wide range of estivation behaviors, from pixie frogs that cocoon themselves for a whole season to ladybugs that cuddle together in swarms of hundreds for their long summer sleep. Stewart’s main text, a brief introduction to the concept, makes a great read-aloud, with text in smaller type providing additional details about each of the creatures we meet. Brannen’s lush, textured watercolors show the estivating animals against detailed backgrounds that give an idea of their different native habitats. Sketches made to look as if they’re ripped out of an observational notebook show the same creatures awake and provide additional scientific details. The back matter is strong, with information on each animal featured in the book, a comparison between estivation and hibernation, additional reading and sources, and author and illustrator notes. LAURA KOENIG

From the July/August 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.


For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2022.

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