ALA Youth Media Awards 2023

Cover image of Hot Dog
What a day for a dog!

Last year, I followed the ALA YMA on Twitter while preparing to teach seventh graders online research skills; the year before, I watched in my pajamas with my five-year-old on my lap. This year, I missed the beginning of the livestream, but the timing worked out so that a third grade class was in the library when the Caldecott awards were announced, and they were so excited!

As I watched not just the Caldecotts but all the other awards roll in, it struck me more than any previous year how many deserving books there are. Not that I disagree with the committees’ choices – plenty of books I cheered for, others I hadn’t read – but there are just so. many. good. books in any given year! And because I was on this year’s Heavy Medal committee (Mock Newbery) and ran a Mock Caldecott program at my school, I was more attuned than usual to award predictions.

So rather than recap today’s winners, I’m going to list a few middle grade and picture books I think could have gotten awards, and just happened not to, but are still wonderful and you should read them:

Middle grade:

  • A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  • Violet and Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
  • Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff
  • Where the Sky Lives by Margaret Dilloway
  • The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
  • The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
  • Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternak
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser

Picture Books

  • Mina by Matthew Forsythe
  • Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
  • Sweet Justice by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall, illustrated by Vera Brosgol
  • I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
  • Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer

Squirrels that turn out to be cats, magic doors that lead to a refuge and friendship, a Mars rover with human emotions, a choose-your-own-adventure fairytale, escaping frogs, an unsung civil rights hero, some beautiful collage, and more – there’s something for everyone, and awards are only a piece of it all. Congratulations to all authors and illustrators who put something out into the world in 2022; readers are grateful.

Mock Caldecott 2023

In my first year as an elementary school librarian, I had to do a Mock Caldecott. It was one of the programs I’d heard other elementary librarians (and some children’s librarians at public libraries) talk about for years and it always sounded like a fun way to get kids engaged and excited. Plus, it’s a good chance to focus on the (incredible) art, and consider things like trim size and shape, endpapers, use of the gutter, use of color, light and dark, and media. I always look to see if there’s an art note on the copyright page about what materials the illustrator used, and kids are sometimes surprised (especially the born-digital art).

Here’s how I ran our program, loosely based on Travis Jonker’s:

Intro/practice week (first week of January):

  • Introduce the Caldecott Award. What is it for? Who decides? Which books (illustrators) are eligible? Even the youngest students grasp the difference between an author’s job and an illustrator’s job, and learn that if there’s one name on the cover, it means that person did both jobs.
  • Read two past Caldecott books, and have a vote (by show of hands). Make the tally visible on the whiteboard. In kindergarten and first grade, we read Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005) and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (2013). In second and third grade, we read Beekle by Dan Santat (2015) and Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (2022).

Week One:

  • Now it’s onto this year’s Caldecott contenders! I requested several books from my public library, using my own reading from the past year as well as The Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog and Betsy Bird’s predictions on her Fuse8 blog at SLJ. Ideally, I’m looking for books with less text, because classes are only 40 minutes and we want to do book checkout too. I use the Whole Book Approach, which means I welcome students’ observations while we’re reading – which means it takes longer to read a book aloud.
  • Kindergarten and first grade read I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by real-life best friends Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal, and Like by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Second and third grade read The Blur by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat, and This Is Not A Story About A Kitten by Randall de Sève, illustrated by Carson Ellis. I note when illustrators have previously won a Medal or an Honor.

Cover images of I Don't Care and Like

Cover images of The Blur and This Story is Not About A Kitten

Week Two:

  • Kindergarten and first grade read Somewhere in the Bayou by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey, and Little Houses by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Second and third grade read Knight Owl by Christopher Denise and Hot Dog by Doug Salati. Actually, this week we mixed it up a little bit; one of the first grade classes read the second and third grade pair of books, and one of the other first grades read Hot Dog and Little Houses. Attention spans vary, and it seemed like the right call at the time.

Cover images of Hot Dog and Little Houses

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.40.44 PM

Week Three:

  • Here we started to run into a few scheduling snags, including a (planned) holiday and some (unplanned) weather-related time off (a full snow day, a delayed start, and an early dismissal). It’s winter in New England, after all. That’s okay! We’re not being super scientific or mathematical about this, though I am keeping track of the tallies and figuring out the total votes for each book each week, and noting the number of classes that read each book.
  • Kindergarten and first grade read Don’t Worry, Murray! by David Ezra Stein and Witch Hazel by Molly Idle. Second and third grade read Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall (who has already won twice!) and Snow Horses by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer. This final pair of books is absolutely gorgeous, and my second- and third-grade students are an observant bunch, so we’re pretty squeezed for time given that these two are more text-heavy than some of the others (and Farmhouse is all one long sentence!).

Screen Shot 2023-01-25 at 8.42.49 PM

Cover images of Farmhouse and Snow Horses

Now, are the titles we read my top picks for the 2023 Caldecott? Not necessarily, although I think a lot of them have a very strong chance and I’d be delighted to see them get a shiny gold or silver medal. A few contenders we’d read earlier in the year: Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat; Mina by Matthew Forsythe; Berry Song by Michaela Goade, John’s Turn by Mac Barnett, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. So, these are the ones that were fresh for my students, and that I could get from my public library in time.

Bulletin board of 2023 Mock Caldecott with images of book coversVisual supports: The award is for illustration, after all, so I wanted to create a visual environment to support our Mock Caldecott. Here are a few ways I did that:

  • A few years ago at a conference I got a poster with all of the Caldecott winners on it, plus that year’s honor books. I put that up on our whiteboard, and kids frequently pointed out books they’d read (even pre-readers could recognize the book covers). (Note: I would love an updated poster like this, and no one seems to make one! Let me know if you know of a source…)
  • On the easel whiteboard, I kept each week’s tally (photographing it regularly in case anyone erased it, accidentally or on purpose). Results were so different from class to class!
  • On my bulletin board, I printed out cover images of the Caldecott contenders we read, along with title, author, and illustrator info. This helped us remember what we’d read in past weeks, and make connections; for example, one third grader noticed that The Blur and Farmhouse took place over a long span of time, whereas This Is Not A Story About A Kitten and Snow Horses took place over the course of just one day/night.
  • I covered several tables with face-up Caldecott winner and honor books from past years and encouraged students to check those out – many did! (And some just wanted My Weird School or A-to-Z Mysteries or Wimpy Kid or the Biscuit books, and that’s fine too. But at least they saw them as choices, and picture book circulation increased! Though lots of students were baffled about why some books had “the sticker” and some didn’t.)

At the end of our program, I figured out all the tallies and reported our results to the 2023 Mock YMA blog. Knight Owl got the most votes, followed by Somewhere in the Bayou, The Blur, Don’t Worry Murray, Farmhouse, and Hot Dog. And today, it worked out that one of my third grade classes was in the library during the live Caldecott announcements, and they went wild for Knight Owl and Hot Dog. It was gratifying to see them throw their hands up and cheer for books they recognized (I was cheering too, of course!).

Did we predict the winner? Not exactly, but two out of five ain’t bad. Did we read some great picture books? Absolutely! Will I do it again next year? Yes! What will I do differently? Mainly, I’ll start requesting books from my public library ahead of time, really concentrating on the ones with less text, so we can focus on the illustrations without being rushed during our 40-minute periods. I could change the way we vote – I was thinking of some clear jars and colored pom-poms that kids could use as their votes after reading four or five books over the course of a few weeks, instead of having two books go head to head each week.

Overall, it was a fun program I hope to run again next year. Now, as we’re about to enter Black History Month, I’m thinking of doing something similar (minus the voting) with Coretta Scott King award and honor books. Heck, there are enough awards to focus on a different one each month of the school year…

2022 Reading Wrap-Up

It’s that time! To recap, here’s my reading wrap-up from 2021, and here’s my mid-year reading round-up from early July 2022; when I’ve listed titles below, I’ve focused on those I read between July and December. Without any ado at all, the numbers and the breakdown:

Total number of books: 558.

Partially read or started-didn’t-finish: 19. Like previous years, a mixed bag of fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, poetry, and books I started reading with the kiddo but she whisked away to finish on her own.

Picture books: 226

  • Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe WahlCover image of Mina
  • Sometimes I Grumblesquinch by Rachel Vail
  • A Spoonful of Frogs by Casey Lyall
  • Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast by David Ezra Stein
  • Puppy Bus by Drew Brockington
  • Except Antarctica by Todd Sturgell
  • How Old Is Mr. Tortoise? by Dev Petty
  • Out On A Limb by Jordan Morris
  • Mina by Matthew Forsythe
  • Don’t Eat Bees by Dev Petty
  • Tía Fortuna’s New Home by Ruth Behar
  • Watch Out for the Lion! by Brooke HartmanCover image of Like
  • Beatrice Likes the Dark by April Genevieve Tucholke
  • El Chupacapras by Adam Rubin
  • That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed
  • Gibberish by Young Vo
  • John’s Turn by Mac Barnett
  • Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
  • Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett
  • Books Aren’t for Eating by Carlie Sorosiak
  • Shoshi’s Shabbat by Caryn Yacowitz
  • Knitting for Dogs by Laurel Molk
  • Like by Annie Barrows

Early readers: 15

  • Cornbread & Poppy by Matthew CordellCover of Cornbread & Poppy
  • Ollie & Bea by Renee Treml
  • See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle
  • It’s A Sign by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey

Chapter books: 11

  • Crimson Twill: Witch in the City by Kallie George
  • Wednesday Wilson Fixes All Your Problems by Bree Galbraith
  • Twig & Turtle 6: No Hard Feelings by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Middle grade: 116

See the first half of the year’s titles in the 2022 mid-year round-up; I still stand by all of them! Between the MCBA award titles and Heavy Medal, there have been plenty of excellent middle grade titles to read this year. Here are a few of my favorites that I read between July and December:

  • Monster Club by Darren AronofskyCover image of A Rover's Story
  • The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Focused by Alyson Gerber
  • Tumble by Celia Pérez
  • The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
  • Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
  • A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
  • Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King
  • Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
  • Violet and Jobie in the Wild by Lynne Rae Perkins

YA: 38

  • When the World Was Ours by Liz Kesslerimustbetrayyou
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  • I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Family of Liars by E. Lockhart
  • The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
  • A Year to the Day by Robin Benway
  • Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
  • The Peach Rebellion by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • I Miss You, I Hate This by Sara Saedi
  • Seasparrow by Kristin Cashore
  • Whiteout by various authors

Graphic novels (overlap with other categories): 52

  • Garlic and the Vampire and Garlic and the Witch by Bree Paulsen
  • Witches of Brooklyn: S’more Magic by Sophie EscabasseCover image of Catherine's War
  • Bunnicula by James Howe
  • The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat
  • Lightfall (books 1 and 2) by Tim Probert
  • Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
  • Marshmallow and Jordan by Alina Chau
  • Catherine’s War by Julia Billet
  • Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
  • Ducks by Kate Beaton

Adult fiction: 41Cover image of Our Missing Hearts

Picking up where I left off in June 2022

  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch by Rivka Galchen
  • Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
  • Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese
  • Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks
  • Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Adult nonfiction: 30

  • How Old Am I? by Julie Pugeat
  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
  • Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals by Roanne Van Voorst
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Go Back to Where You Came From by Ali Wajahat
  • Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid
  • Use Scraps, Sew Blocks, Make 100 Quilts by Stuart Hillard
  • Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson
  • Deaf Utopia by Kyle DiMarco
  • What Can A Body Do by Sarah Hendren
  • Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackall

Children’s nonfiction: 36

  • Africa, Amazing Africa by AtinukeCover image of Pizza
  • Dragon Bones by Sarah Glenn Marsh
  • Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull
  • Orangutans Are Ticklish by Jill Davis
  • Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimentel
  • Flowers Are Pretty…Weird by Rosemary Mosco
  • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Martin Briggs
  • Pizza! A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli
  • How to Build A Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela Turner

Short stories/essays: 20

  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchettofficeofhistoricalcorrections
  • I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein
  • Mother Noise by Cindy House
  • She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson
  • The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
  • We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories by Claire Beams
  • The Office of Historical Corrections and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
  • Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith and others

Audiobooks: 17 (but actually many more if re-reads count)

  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhillogressorphans
  • A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin
  • Star Crossed by Barbara Dee
  • Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville
  • Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy
  • Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
  • A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks
  • Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender

Five-star ratings: 34. A pair of nonfiction books about food (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Once Upon A Time We Ate Animals), some excellent adult fiction (Our Missing Hearts, Sea of Tranquility, True Biz, The Marriage Portrait, and Hester), and plenty of middle grade fiction and picture books, mentioned above. (But you know, I think I have to mention that fantastic page turn in Mina yet again. “Oh, I see the problem…”)

Re-reads: Unknown number, mostly picture books and chapter books or middle grade audiobooks, like the Hamster Princess series by Ursula Vernon and the Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker. And we listened to The Ogress and the Orphans on a road trip after I’d read it in print (it’s great both ways).

WeNeedDiverseBooks: 155, or 27.7% of the total, which is higher than last year (good!) but I plan to do even better next year.

LibraryThing Charts and Graphs: It looks like there’s an option to filter by year, but it isn’t working right now. Let’s assume that, as in past years, I’ve read more female and nonbinary authors/illustrators than male, and more American, Canadian, U.K., and Australian creators than those from elsewhere.

And that’s a wrap for 2022! Hat tip to Betsy Bird’s “31 Days, 31 Lists” for highlighting kidlit titles I might have missed otherwise.