Children's literature had another a year in 2018, with books on topics as complex as gender identity and as light as monsters trying to adjust to classroom life making a splash with kids and parents alike. Book sales and buzz about the titles speak for themselves, but industry awards are another good way to see what's winning in kid's lit. The American Library Association Youth Media Awards 2019 spotlighted the standouts in the genre on January 28, and the winners demonstrate that diversity and inclusivity continue to reshape the world of kitlit.
Nearly all of the children's winners from the YMAs this year tackled diversity, whether it was through a focus on race, gender, country of origin, or a more allegorical look at the importance of being yourself. Romper's own list of book favorites from 2018 celebrated the trend towards inclusivity in the kids' book sphere as well, though the genre has a way to go, particularly in terms of gender representation.
Children's lit can't change everything, but there's definitely comfort to be taken in the knowledge that the next generation of kids are being exposed to different kinds of people and narratives from the moment they start reading. So check out the award winners, and get excited about the future.
The Newberry Medal: Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Meg Medina took home the ultimate award for a children's book this year for Merci Suárez Changes Gears (Candlewick Press). In the middle-grade book, Medina captures the perpetual and unsettling change that defines middle school for many, giving readers a story that treats tween drama and family issues with the same respect. With a focus on multicultural identity and intergenerational relationships, Medina shows her readers the importance of empathy and patience.
The Caldecott Medal: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall
The premiere award for an illustrator, this year's Caldecott Award went to Sophie Blackall for Hello Lighthouse (Little, Brown Young Readers), a story about the everyday life of a lighthouse keeper. The pages roar with stunning images of the ocean, as well as detailed portraiture of the keeper and his family, transporting readers back in time.
The Coretta Scott King Book Award For An Illustrator: The Stuff Of Stars, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
The Stuff Of Stars (Candlewick Press) by Newberry winner Marion Dane Bauer tells the story of our universe, from the big bang to the flood of life that soon came to fill our planet, and it is Ekua Holmes vivid and mesmerizing images that really set the book apart. Holmes employs hand-marbled paper and collages to show the complexities of the world, creating a dizzyingly beautiful set of images that will stick with the reader long after they finish the story.
The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal For Distinguished Informational Book: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
Award winner Joyce Sidman has triumped once again with The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a beautiful and biographical illustrated telling of the story of Maria Merian, one of the first people to study insects and record the metamorphosis of the butterfly. A great choice for any budding scientists or artists, the story will inspire and motivate little readers.
2019 John Steptoe Award for New Talent (Illustrator): Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
Mora's debut book, Thank You, Omu! (Little, Brown Young Readers) stood out because of the beautiful combination of art forms that fill up its pages. As the award announcement explains, "acrylic, marker, pastels, patterned paper, and old book clippings" form the collage of images that tell the story of Omu's stew, which she shares with everyone in her community until she has none left for herself. The story would be worth hearing even without the pictures, but they add to the grace and beauty of the tale.
Schneider Family Book Award For Children: Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes
In this tearjerker by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, Jessica and service dog Rescue discover together how to deal with a life they didn't expect for themselves. Rescue has been reassigned from being a seeing eye dog, and Jessica must learn how to operate in the world and find the strength to move forward without legs. Inspired by the authors' own experience after the Boston Marathon bombing, Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship (Candlewick) is a beautiful story of friendship and resilience that inspires hope in every reader.
The Stonewall Book Award For Outstanding LGBTQ+ Story: Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love
Romper has been singing Jessica Love's praises since her debut Julián Is a Mermaid (Candlewick) came out in April 2018, both for the story she tells and the beauty of the images she uses to urge the story along. In the book, Julián spots three women dressed up as mermaids on his way home from school one day, and he spends the rest of the story finding the courage to dress up like them despite concerns of what his abuela will think. Filled with heart, honesty, and told in a tone children can understand, Love's story makes us wonder why we haven't been telling these kinds of stories already.
The Geisel Award For Beginning Readers: Fox the Tiger by Corey R. Tabor
The Geisel Award celebrates an outstanding book for beginning readers, and this year's award went to Fox the Tiger (Balzer + Bray) by Corey R. Tabor. The articulate and surprisingly clever story of a fox who tries out being a tiger for a day only to discover he likes being a fox best of all pulses with energy and clarity that make a fitting companion for any young reader.
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Yuyi Morales took home the Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, the award for the Latino/Latina illustrator that "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience" as the award's informational page explains, for Dreamers (Neal Porter Books). The story is of Morales's own journey to America with her infant son, their struggle to get their footing, and their eventual discovery of the public library, where they started to truly feel at home. Mixed media images bring the story to life with ease and warmth, conveying the bravery of immigrants everywhere.