Usually I include biographies with nonfiction, but there were enough great ones this year for them to get their own list. This is the final list for 2021. I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks before starting up with the 2022 books.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Evan Turk
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ben Shahn’s art focused on social justice. If there is any justice, Evan Turk will get a Caldecott medal or honor for this amazing book.
Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2021 has been a year of tough losses in the children’s literature world, including the legendary Gary Paulsen. His courage at surviving a horrifying childhood and adolescence shines throughout this unusual memoir.
Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust by Peter Sis
Published by Norton Young Readers
Peter Sis’s folk art-style illustrations are deceptively simple until you look closer at all each one of them contains. A moving story told with spare prose that might be up for a Caldecott.
Nina: The Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books
It was a toss-up for me which Christian Robinson book to put on my Caldecott list: Milo Imagines the World, or this stunning biography which incorporates scenes from the civil rights movement into the illustrations portraying Nina Simone’s life.
Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin
Published by Candlewick Press
And here’s one that could be a Newbery contender: Eugene Yelchin’s memoir about growing up in the Soviet Union that seamlessly blends humor with the fear and poverty he experienced as a child.