The Year We Learned to Fly/El año en que aprendimos a volar by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

The Year We Learned to Fly - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline, López,  Rafael. Children Kindle eBooks @
El año en que aprendimos a volar (Spanish Edition) - Kindle edition by  Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael, Canetti, Yanitzia. Children Kindle  eBooks @
The Year We Learned to Fly: Woodson, Jacqueline, López, Rafael:  9780399545535: Books

Summary:  From the team that brought you The Day You Begin comes this picture book about a brother and sister going through a difficult year.  There’s boredom in the spring when the weather keeps them inside, sibling fights in the summer, loneliness in autumn, and finally, a move away from the familiar neighborhood in winter.  Each season, their grandmother reminds them, “Lift your arms, close your eyes, take a deep breath.”  When they do, the two children are able to fly, looking down on their city and letting go of their difficult feelings.  In their new house, other kids are initially unfriendly, but when they see the two who can fly, they close their eyes, take a deep breath, and join them.  Includes an author’s note acknowledging Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: Black American Folktales as her inspiration for this story.  Available in English and Spanish. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I probably shouldn’t start predicting the 2023 Caldecott the day before the 2022 awards will be announced, but I do love Rafael López’s beautiful illustrations that perfectly complement the intriguing, poetic text by Jacqueline Woodson.

Cons:  Don’t hurry through the story; there’s a lot to unpack in both the text and the illustrations.

I have a discussion guide for this book on Teachers Pay Teachers that includes discussion questions, vocabulary, and connections.

Five (or six) favorite nonfiction

Always one of my favorite categories!

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker and This Very Tree by Sean Rubin

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Henry Holt and Co.

Survivor Tree: Colleen, Marcie, Becker, Aaron: 9780316487672:  Books
This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth: Rubin, Sean:  9781250788504: Books

Both of these books may be considered for a Caldecott, and both movingly tell the story of the Survivor Tree in this year that we observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I couldn’t choose just one!

Rescuing Titanic: A True Story of Quiet Bravery in the North Atlantic by Flora Delargy

Published by Wide-Eyed Editions Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North  Atlantic (Hidden Histories): 9780711262782: Delargy, Flora: Books

I’m as surprised as you are to see this book on one of my favorites lists after I vowed to never read another Titanic book. But this one is more about the Carpathia, the ship that sped to the rescue and that is often just a footnote in the Titanic story. The “quiet bravery” of the subtitle is the emphasis and makes for an inspirational read.

Revolution In Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Published by Candlewick Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to  the People: 9781536214185: Magoon, Kekla: Books

Already a National Book Award finalist, this history of the Black Panther Party is likely to win other awards in a few weeks. I loved how Kekla Magoon never shied away from all aspects of this history, yet also conveyed the vision of the people who were part of the movement and tied it to the work of Black Lives Matter.

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village by Jackie McCann, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village: McCann,  Jackie, Cushley, Aaron: 9780593310700: Books

I love this kind of visual information that makes abstract concepts easier to understand and raises awareness about global issues we may not think much about. An invaluable resource for social studies classes at many levels.

Escape at 10,000 Feet by Tom Sullivan

Published by Balzer + Bray

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing  Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1): Sullivan, Tom, Sullivan, Tom:  9780062991515: Books

Who doesn’t love a good unsolved mystery? The world has wondered what happened to D. B. Cooper since he parachuted into oblivion in 1971. This graphic presentation is well-researched, with various theories presented and debunked. It’s book 1 in the Unsolved Case Files series that now includes Jailbreak at Alcatraz.

Five favorite biographies

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

The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art: Levinson,  Cynthia, Turk, Evan: 9781419741302: Books

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

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood: Paulsen, Gary:  9780374314156: Books

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

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued:  Sís, Peter: 9781324015741: Books

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

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone - Kindle edition by Todd, Traci N., Robinson,  Christian. Children Kindle eBooks @

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

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain: Yelchin,  Eugene, Yelchin, Eugene: 9781536215526: Books

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.

Five small press favorites

Although I’ve always reviewed books published by small independent presses, this year I made a conscious decision to try and do one every week. This led me to some happy discoveries of unusual and interesting books.

Hear My Voice/Escucha Mi Voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Published by Workman Publishing Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children  Detained at the Southern Border of the United States (English and Spanish  Edition): 9781523513482: Binford, Warren, Bochenek, Michael Garcia: Books

This book is part of the effort by Warren Binford and Project Amplify to shine a light on the horrific conditions of the Clint Border Patrol Station and the children being held there. The children’s stories are told in their own words, with illustrations by 17 Latinx artists.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kara Kramer

Published by Enchanted Lion

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent: Burgess, Matthew,  Kramer, Kara: 9781592703166: Books

I enjoyed learning about Corita Kent’s life and art, which includes the Boston Gas tanks and the 1985 USPS Love stamp. But mostly I loved her word “plork”, meaning a combination of play and work, which so perfectly captured her spirit.

Nobody Owns the Moon by Tobhy Riddle

Published by Berbay Publishing

Nobody Owns the Moon: Riddle, Tohby: 9780994384195: Books

Sell your soul or save it? Clive Prendergast and his friend Humphrey had me thinking about the meaning of life long after I had closed this book.

The Capybaras by Alfred Soderguit

Published by Greystone Kids

The Capybaras: Soderguit, Alfredo, Soderguit, Alfredo: 9781771647823:  Books

The capybaras and chickens form an unlikely alliance against the humans in this slightly subversive book that will have you questioning the meaning of such concepts as “safe” and “dangerous”.

Escape: One Day We Had to Run by Ming & Wah, illustrated by Carmen Vela

Published by Lantana Publishing

Escape: One Day We Had to Run . . .: Chen, Ming, Chen, Wah, Vela, Carmen:  9781911373810: Books

Escape, cling, defy, swim: each verb is accompanied by an illustration and a compelling true story of escape that make this a difficult book to put down.