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.

Five favorite early chapter books

The competition in this category was fierce, and I struggled to narrow the list to these five.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Published by Candlewick

Too Small Tola: Atinuke, Iwu, Onyinye: 9781536211276: Books

Three charming stories about Tola, the youngest in a family living in Lagos, Nigeria, who works hard to prove that she can keep up with her older siblings.

Billy Miller Makes a Wish by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow

Billy Miller Makes a Wish: Henkes, Kevin, Henkes, Kevin: 9780063042797: Books

Billy makes a birthday wish that something exciting will happen, then feels guilty when his wish comes true in unexpected ways. It’s just the sort of thing that might happen when you’re eight. I liked this sequel even better than the Newbery Honor original, The Year of Billy Miller.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old (Twig and Turtle, book 4) by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Paula Franco

Published by Pixel +Ink

Twig and Turtle 4: Make New Friends, But Keep the Old: Jacobson, Jennifer  Richard: 9781645950547: Books

I missed this series’ 2020 debut, but I’m glad I discovered Twig and Turtle this year and vicariously enjoyed their family’s experiences with tiny house living.

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by Anne Schwartz Books

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School: Jenkins, Emily, Oswald, Pete:  9780525644712: Books

I like to think of a parent somewhere turning off the computer, putting aside the newspaper, and reading another chapter of this book to their seven-year-old so they can find out how Harry deals with his fear of guinea pigs, his worries about making friends, and the other everyday problems of first grade.

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Grow Love (A Ryan Hart Novel, 2): Watson, Renee: 9781432889494: Books

The first book about Ryan Hart, Ways to Make Sunshine, appeared on my end-of-the-year early chapter books list last year, and this one was every bit as good, with stories about Ryan’s summer between fourth and fifth grades. Her family faces some tough times, but good friends and a close-knit community help make it a happy summer for Ryan.

Five favorite graphic novels

Graphic novels continue to be extremely popular at my library. Here are a few of my favorites from this year.

Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez

Published by Roaring Brook Press Big Apple Diaries: 9781250774279: Bermudez, Alyssa, Bermudez,  Alyssa: Books

Alyssa Bermudez used her real diaries from seventh and eighth grade to write this memoir about her life in New York City from 2000 to 2002. The events of 9/11 as well as family difficulties forced her to grow up quickly during those years.

A Shot in the Arm by Don Brown

Published by Harry N. Abrams

A Shot in the Arm!: Big Ideas that Changed the World #3: Brown, Don:  9781419750014: Books

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu narrates this timely history of vaccination, including her own role in bringing the smallpox vaccine to England. The narrative ends in November 2020, just before the Covid vaccine was released, concluding “The world holds its breath…and hopes.”

The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor

Published by Kokila

The Legend of Auntie Po - National Book Foundation

This National Book Award finalist covered topics that included 19th-century logging camp history, LGBTQ issues, anti-Asian racism, white privilege, and folklore. This could just as easily have been on my Newbery contenders list and may also be considered for the Printz award.

Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Pawcasso: Lai, Remy, Lai, Remy: 9781250774491: Books

Awww! Pawcasso is so cute! Can you blame Jo for pretending he’s her dog, even if it gets her into some trouble and almost costs her her new friends?

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Published by Graphix

Allergic: A Graphic Novel: Lloyd, Megan Wagner, Nutter, Michelle Mee:  9781338568905: Books

And then there’s Maggie, whose excitement about getting a new dog for her tenth birthday is quickly dampened when she discovers her allergies to anything with fur or feathers.

Five favorite chapter books

A few more chapter books that I enjoyed this year. These could also be Newbery contenders–one never knows.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

A Place to Hang the Moon: Albus, Kate: 9780823447053: Books

I stand by my assertion that this funny, touching novel set in WWII Britain should only be read with a cup of tea beside a cozy fire.

Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Fahmida Azim

Published by Kokila Samira Surfs: 9781984816191: Guidroz, Rukhsanna, Azim, Fahmida:  Books

I knew almost nothing about Burma’s Rohingya refugees before reading this powerful novel in verse about Samira’s determination to pursue her surfing dreams.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer Holm

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

The Lion of Mars: Holm, Jennifer L.: 9780593121818: Books

There’s some heavy stuff on this list, but Jennifer Holm provided us with some fun this year, imagining what it would be like to be an 11-year-old living on Mars.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

Published by Balzer + Bray

Ophie's Ghosts: Ireland, Justina: 9780062915894: Books

There were some good ghost stories this year (see my Newbery predicitions). This one was also excellent historical fiction with a surprising murder mystery.

Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Treasure of the World: Sullivan, Tara: 9780525516965: Books

In keeping with the “books as mirrors and windows” school of thought, I wish that this story about a Bolivian mining village and Samira Surfs had gotten more attention and maybe some Newbery consideration (maybe they have, but I haven’t seen them on any lists).

Five (or six) favorite picture books

Most of these are also part of my mock Caldecott slideshow, so don’t count them out to win some awards!

The Lost Package by Richard Ho, illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Published by Roaring Brook Press

The Lost Package: Ho, Richard, Lanan, Jessica: 9781250231352:  Books

There’s not a lot of text, so the illustrations really tell the story. I love how light and reflection is portrayed in many of the pictures, as well as the inner workings of the post office.

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Published by Orchard Books

Mel Fell: Tabor, Corey R., Tabor, Corey R.: 9780062878014: Books

I’ve been reading this book to a lot of classes, and kids (and teachers) love it. The unique design and the animals Mel sees going down and on her way back up make it a hit. The slug always gets a laugh.

Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Loren Long

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Someone Builds the Dream: Wheeler, Lisa, Long, Loren: 9781984814333:  Books

This book celebrates workers in a year when we needed that more than ever. The gorgeous illustrations were inspired by Depression-era WPA murals.

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca and Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

Published by Atheneum and Roaring Brook Press

Keeping the City Going - Kindle edition by Floca, Brian, Floca, Brian.  Children Kindle eBooks @
Outside, Inside: Pham, LeUyen, Pham, LeUyen: 9781250798350:  Books

If the Caldecott committee decides to go with the most timely picture book, it could be one of these pandemic-inspired choices.

Sunrise Summer by Matthew Swanson, illustrated by Robbi Behr

Published by Imprint

Sunrise Summer: Swanson, Matthew, Behr, Robbi: 9781250080585:  Books

I loved this slightly quirky book that puts a new spin on “what I did over my summer vacation”.

Five Newbery predictions

I am grateful that there were so many diverse voices speaking in middle grade fiction this year. Here are a few of them that I’d love to see get a Newbery medal or honor.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books Starfish: 9781984814500: Fipps, Lisa: Books

There aren’t a lot of middle grade books addressing body image, and this novel in verse did a fantastic job of showing Ellie’s journey from shame to empowerment.

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson

Published by Scholastic

Playing the Cards You're Dealt: Johnson, Varian: 9781338348538:  Books

I know I need to finally let go of the fact that Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance didn’t win a Newbery three years ago, and I think giving this book some recognition would go a long way toward making that happen.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani Larocca

Published by Quill Tree Books Red, White, and Whole: 9780063047426: LaRocca, Rajani: Books

I avoided this book for awhile because I thought it sounded like too much of a downer. It does deal with grief, but more than that, it is about love, connection, and embracing who you are.

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff

Published by Dial Books

Too Bright to See: Lukoff, Kyle: 9780593111154: Books

Seems like I read more ghost stories than usual this year. In this powerful novel, a ghost helps the main character realize his true identity as a transgender boy.

Root Magic by Eden Royce

Published by Walden Pond Press

Root Magic: Royce, Eden: 9780062899576: Books

There are more than just ghosts in this amazing book that spans several genres: horror, historical fiction, realistic fiction, and fantasy.

Five Caldecott predictions

A common thread I notice about these books is that each one stayed with me long after I read it. None of them has a long story, and some are almost wordless, but the illustrations were powerful enough to convey a message that resonates.

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers Milo Imagines the World (Audible Audio Edition): Matt de la  Peña, Dion Graham, Listening Library: Books

Milo’s drawings show his changing perceptions of the people around him on the subway. Both he and the reader are in for some surprises as people–and their lives–turn out to be much different than our first impressions of them.

Bright Star by Yuyi Morales

Published by Neal Porter Books

Bright Star: Morales, Yuyi: 9780823443284: Books

Portraits of animals and children show the borderlands between Mexico and the United States, the environmental destruction of the current policies, and the hope for a brighter future. Yuyi Morales is overdue for a Caldecott.

Wishes by Muợn Thị Văn, illustrated by Victo Ngai

Published by Orchard Books

Wishes: Van, Muon Thi, Ngai, Victo: 9781338305890: Books

The book amazed me, with its list of wishes (“The night wished it was darker. The bag wished it was deeper.”) and its lush, detailed illustrations that tell the story of a family escaping Vietnam in the 1980’s and connect it to today’s refugees.

Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Anne Schwartz Books

Dream Street - Kindle edition by Walker, Tricia Elam, Holmes, Ekua.  Children Kindle eBooks @

A celebration of the Boston street that cousins Tricia Elam Walker and Ekua Holmes grew up on, with unforgettable portraits of the residents and their dreams.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Published by Carolrhoda Books

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre: Weatherford, Carole Boston, Cooper,  Floyd: 9781541581203: Books

Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, Siebert: what award isn’t this masterpiece being considered for? The structure of the story is so well-done, and the illustrations are so haunting, with people that seem to be looking at you from the page. A posthumous Caldecott award for Floyd Cooper, who died over the summer, would be a fitting tribute.

Click here for my Mock Caldecott 2022 product on Teachers Pay Teachers with these books and 17 more.