Reviews of the 2023 CSK Author Award Winners


by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Intermediate, Middle School    Little, Brown    416 pp.    g
2/22    978-0-316-05661-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316-05674-8    $9.99

Many accounts of the Underground Railroad mention that enslaved Blacks would stick close to swamps as they made their way North, as the topography proved problematic for slave catchers. A lesser-known fact is that from the 1700s through the Civil War, hundreds of African Americans remained in the swamp and established thriving communities. One such area, the Great Dismal Swamp, serves as the inspiration for Luqman-Dawson’s engrossing, ­multi-­perspective debut novel. Twelve-year-old Homer is on the run with his seven-year-old sister, their mother having turned back to save his friend, Anna. Homer has no idea how to survive in the swamp; the answer arrives in ­Suleman, a Black man with knowledge of both the swamp and the surrounding plantations. Suleman leads them to Freewater, an established community with a whole generation of children who have only known freedom. Homer makes the hard choice to go back to his old plantation (accompanied by his new friends) to free his mother, but she and Anna have their own plans for freedom, supported by an unexpected source: Nora, the youngest daughter of the plantation owner. When they all converge on the night of a ­wedding, sacrifices from each of them bring the story to an explosive and cathartic conclusion. Every chapter begins with a character’s name and records their journey, successfully developing a multidimensional cast. The author’s note contains a brief history of these communities formed by both ­Indigenous and self-emancipated Black people. EBONI NJOKU

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for JusticeVictory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice
by Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes; illus. by Dawud Anyabwile
Middle School    Norton    208 pp.    g
9/22    978-1-324-00390-8    $22.95
Paper ed.  978-1-324-05215-9    $17.95

Smith’s graphic memoir (co-authored with multi-awardee Barnes) provides context for the iconic 1968 image of two Black Olympians, gold medalist Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, standing on the medal podium, heads bowed and fists raised. Smith’s ­sharecropper parents had moved the family from Texas to California’s Central Valley as part of the Great Migration’s second wave when he was a child. It was here that sixth grader Tommie beat his nimble-footed older sister Sally (along with the fastest boy in the seventh grade) in a race that “changed everything.” His athletic talents earned him a scholarship to San Jose State, where he arrived “oblivious to the extent” of the civil rights movement. But as a Black student on an overwhelmingly white campus during the tumultuous 1960s, Smith’s growing awareness of — and involvement in — the fight for racial equality led him to speak out. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Smith won gold in the 200 meters; along with Carlos, he staged a protest whose reverberations are still felt today. Anyabwile conveys great emotion in his fluid black-and-white art, which pairs well with the conversational first-person text. The climactic race acts as a narrative through line alongside Smith’s life story. The book closes by making direct connections between Smith’s actions and modern-day protests by athletes (such as Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick), with a final shot of a triumphant older Smith, standing under an illuminated set of Olympic rings, with fist defiantly raised. “I hold no regrets…if I could hoist that fist up to the heavens one more time…I’d do it again.” SAM BLOOM

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The Talk
by Alicia D. Williams; illus. by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu
Primary    Dlouhy/Atheneum    40 pp.
10/22    9781534495296    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781534495302    $10.99

In this effective and affecting introduction to race relations and police brutality in America, Jay is a young boy who loves racing up and down the block with his friends. He also loves his family: his grandpa, who tells him about all the amazing runners of the past, like Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens; his nana, who pinches his cheeks (even though he pretends not to enjoy it); his father, who lets him “drive” in their parking space; and his mother, who continually checks his height against his bedroom wall. Mom and Nana seem concerned when he grows a few inches, though, and Grandpa and Dad begin to add instructions to his innocent activities. Jay is advised to keep his hands out of his pockets; not to gather with peers in groups of more than four; to be cautious while he’s in a car. These instructions finally lead to Jay’s family sitting him down for “the talk.” They tell Jay that while his actions may be scrutinized unfairly by others because of his skin color, he will always have a community of family and friends that love him and that it’s not his fault. Jay’s innocence is a constant throughout the story, with the digital illustrations providing much of the context. As Jay’s mother frets over his height, we see her glance at a television news story involving a person of color and the police. A trip to the store with friends is monitored with suspicion by a frowning white couple. Jay’s commitment to remaining a happy child is a welcome element in this exploration of an all-too-relatable experience with no easy answers. EBONI NJOKU

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler
by Ibi Zoboi
Intermediate, Middle School    Dutton    128 pp.    g
1/22    978-0-399-18738-4    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-18739-1    $9.99

A biography that’s as unique in form and content as the groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy author herself. Zoboi (The People Remember, rev. 11/21) came to this project from a lifetime love of Butler’s work and from having met her on several occasions. The word constellation in the subtitle is used both literally — referring to the otherworldly stories about which Butler dreamed and then wrote — and figuratively, for she was a lonely “rogue planet,” with others revolving around her but rarely ­getting to really know her. Focusing mainly on her early life, Zoboi tells the author’s story in several literary modes: original poems in many forms (haiku, concrete, and acrostic, among others); excerpted quotes from interviews; and descriptive passages that offer further explanations of these biographical snapshots. This variety is narratively enthralling and reflects Butler’s openness to telling stories in many different ways. The volume also offers superb historical context for Butler’s life, from the Great Migration to the U.S.’s fascination with UFOs, the baby boom, ­McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and more. Zoboi occasionally includes relevant visuals — a photograph of Octavia and her mother, Butler’s handwritten childhood notes, the cover of a Dick and Jane basal reader — that will provide readers a clearer sense of the historical details. Informational and inspirational, this innovative work will draw committed Butler fans and entice those unfamiliar with her work to seek it out. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2023 CSK Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2023.

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