In years past, I would create book lists to predict the Caldecott and Newbery. To select books, I would read books from the library and bookstore and also research other bloggers who made similar lists.
This year is different. In this “new normal” Covid year, I am taking a different approach. I started hoarding picture books that were sent to me from publishers that I thought were exceptional, creating a small pile on my desk. So, this year, my list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope some of these books take win Caldecott recognition!
My Favorite Picture Books from 2021
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin
I will go to the mat for this picture book. If it doesn’t win the Caldecott, truly Andrea and Jason will have been robbed. Straight up, this is the best picture book that I have read, not just this past year, but in the past ten years. It’s a jewel of poetic words that grab your heart and luminous illustrations. It has won practically every book award on the planet so far, so it’s a front runner for most book pundits. But if it doesn’t win, I will be devastated. Never have I wanted a picture book to win more!
Inspired by A Different Pond, Andrea Wang shares her own story of shame about poverty and foraging for food with her family. When her mother finally explains what life was like in the old country during wartime famine, the young girl views the stir-fried watercress in a new light — it’s spicy, peppery, delicate, and slightly bitter, like her mother’s memories of home. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal
Told from the perspective of an indigenous child of the rain forest, the reader gets a glimpse into the delightful life of living harmoniously with nature. Zonia greets her animal friends and sees her world from their perspective. As she leaves to return home, she sees something new — her beloved rain forest destroyed by loggers. The forest needs her help and she is up to the challenge. As should we all. The rain forest is the “lungs” of our planet earth and we all need it to thrive. Juana Martinez-Neal takes our environmental crisis and makes it accessible to children. Her message is urgent but not too scary. She empowers her readers to learn more and become activists. Her illustrations on brown recycled paper pair beautifully with her powerful story. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Wishes by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Victo Ngai
This picture book is an example of how an economy of words can deliver an emotional tsunami. It’s all the more amazing because it’s a story that’s very tightly structured — each item has a wish. The wishes are for the fate of refugees escaping on a perilous journey out to sea. Muon Thi Van is a poet whose words feel like effortless poems. It’s like watching a master carve a sculpture from a block of marble. Victor Nagai’s illustrations heighten the drama of the story in a way that makes the book feel like a big-screen movie event. This is also an exceptional picture book. I also loved her first picture book, In a Village by the Sea. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Finding Home by Esteli Meza
This is another picture book with a refugee theme. Sadly, our world seems to have one humanitarian crisis after another, displacing large groups of people and putting them into dire situations. I really loved the artwork of this picture book that evokes a Latinx cultural heritage. Her story is ultimately one of hope and community. It’s a much-needed message. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
There are some years where wordless picture books feature prominently in picture book award lists and other years, where they do not. But I do love picture books that are tasked with the additional task of telling a story without words. This one feels really magical. The artwork tells the story of a real encounter of animals at a fairground, but it also conveys how this is also a moment when there is a sprinkle of magic in the air. From the vibrant colors to the way the story is laid out in panels mixed with full spreads, I thought this wordless picture book was special. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
I’m actually surprised that a Black illustrator wasn’t paired with Amanda Gorman such as Kadir nelson, Oge Mora, Bryan Collier, or Ekua Holmes. That’s a shame. But, on the other hand, her words inspire the readers to become activists, and using Loren Long suggests solidarity that crosses color lines. I can hear Amanda Gorman’s voice as I read the book and that’s a beautiful thing. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Sea Lions in the Parking Lot: Animals on the Move in a Time of Pandemic by Lenora Todaro, illustrated by Annika Siems
“Our time is the first in which humans’ effects on the planet are as strong as natural ones.”
This was a book that stuck in my head. It’s not just a story that captures the pandemic lockdown in an unforgettable way, but the way the stories are presented visually with full spread wordless illustrations convey just how much the world changed, yet the animals adapted. It also quietly shows how humans have created environments that are hostile to the natural world. [nonfiction picture book, ages 4 and up]
How about you? What picture books do you feel are Caldecott-worthy? Please add them to my list by leaving a comment! Thank you!
p.s. Related posts:
Are you looking for great books for your kids? I’ve indexed 300+ of my book lists: List of Lists: All My Book Lists. I hope this helps you find what you need!
Predicting the Caldecott & Newbery Book Lists
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.