2023 Cybils Finalists

Board Books

Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals
Katrina Tangen, illustrated by Giulia Orecchia
Barefoot Books
Nominated by: Abi

Full of rhyming riddles, die-cut cues, and lift-the-flap reveals, this board book introduces kids to biomimicry. They will love guessing which animals inspired inventions we use today like snowshoes or sonar!

Aimee Smith, Keep a Book Out

Mister Kitty Is Lost!
Greg Pizzoli
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Natalie Tate

Greg Pizzoli has created a small, silly book that includes cutouts kids love, colors, counting and the mystery of Mister Kitty! In Mister Kitty is Lost, there are interactive questions to pull kids in, a few friendly animal friends, and goofy surprises. It's such fun and has a wild ending that offers a big surprise. You just can't help but laugh at this instant classic for preschool readers.

Brooke Freebairn, The Brooke List

Beatriz Giménez de Ory, Paloma Valdivia
Barefoot Books
Publisher/ Author Submission

Sneak! is the latest book in the Slide-and-See series. A STEM series that uses layered images that slide to reveal a new image as you turn the page. In this book kids are introduced to camouflage and how animals in the wild use it. Your child will be absolutely fascinated by the animals and the incredible interactive illustrations.

Erin Murray, Box Canyon Classroom

Some Dogs
illustrated by Lydia Nichols
Gibbs Smith
Nominated by: ChristaS

In this adorable layered view board book, rhyming text and cute illustrations capture the unique personalities and wagging tails of dogs who are shaggy or sleek, big or small, thin or round. Young readers will love all the playful canines and learn that dogs recognize each other and accept each other no matter their differences. It doesn’t matter if their dog pal is tall or fat, big or small, sleek or shaggy. Dogs all have huge doggy hearts. The board quality is heavier than most board books making this a solid choice for shoppers and little readers’ hands. Each page is cut and layered on top of the next double fold and the book is taller and wider than other board books.

Thompson McLeod, Young Adult Books--What We're Reading Now

Some of These Are Snails
Carter Higgins
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: TheBrookeList

Even the best board book can get old after reading it to kiddos for the umpteenth time. Luckily for caregivers, Some of These Are Snails never has to be read the same way twice. This clever book is full of opportunities for reader and child to group illustrations in countless ways. You might decide to categorize things by shape or color or size. Maybe you'll decide to count the number of snails on each page. Maybe you’ll compare the length of worm wiggles. Higgins has crafted a book that stays fresh with each reading, provides caregiver-child interaction, and teaches kiddos to categorize. A brilliant concept executed with finesse.

Natalie Tate, Natalie's Book Recs

Natasha Wing, illustrated by Grace Habib
Abrams Appleseed
Nominated by: MR Fam

Squeak-a-Boo is a lift-the-flap board book that invites children to play peek-a-boo with different baby animals. The book has catchy rhymes, colorful illustrations, and utilizes a guessing-game format to make reading fun and interactive.

Sam Richardson, Little Cub Literacy

Whose Prints?
Kari Allen, illustrated by Kim Smith
Little Simon
Nominated by: Christopher Helton

Whose Prints? by Kari Allen and Kim Smith is a lovely frolic through wintery snow, guessing and identifying animal tracks. The illustrations are lovely, the cut-outs add fun, and it's always nice to see a book featuring a girl and her dad outdoors.

Tura Gillespie, Teaching Cultural Compassion

Easy Readers

Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories
Jarvis, illustrated by Jarvis
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Linda Baie

Bear and Bird are the best of friends. So best of friends in fact, that they would rather make the other happy than always tell the truth. Is it wrong to lie to your friends? What if your lie is to protect their feelings? Bear and Bird both have some learning and growing to do before they can answer that question, just like the young readers that will surely love this kind hearted duo. Join Bear and Bird as they picnic, sing, paint, and cuddle up! Told with wit and heart, and illustrated with soft, whimsical pictures, this collection of short stories beg to be read and reread.

Nicole Levesque, Bluestocking Thinking

Bug Catchers (Dirt and Bugsy)
Litwin, Megan, illustrated by Panczyszyn, Shauna Lynn
Penguin Young Readers
Nominated by: Claire Annette Noland

When the rain comes, bug catchers Dirt and Bugsy envision and build an insect shelter to temporarily protect their specimens. Including full-color illustrations on every page and diverse characters, this simple beginning reader employs repetition and rhyming to emphasize the hard work and fun inherent in their process.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy (Doggo and Pupper, 3)
Applegate, Katherine, illustrated by Alder, Charlie
Feiwel & Friends
Nominated by: Beth Mitcham

When Doggo and Pupper’s friend Cat gets a great new bed, she doesn't think it's so great. The adventure is on as Doggo and Pupper help her search everywhere for what makes her bed cozy. Navigating everyday problems from an animal perspective, this book includes features of graphic novels.This is a sweet story with high readability addressing the challenges inherent in changing one’s familiar environment.

Sarah Polumsky

Fergus and Zeke for President
Messner, Kate, illustrated by Ross, Heather
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Ashe

Fergus and Zeke are pet mice in an elementary school classroom, engaging in various activities with the children. This week, they are making a President’s Day project. While the kids start working on their projects, Zeke assumes the role of ‘President’ overseeing while assigning tasks to Fergus, deeming himself in charge. Meanwhile, the children's background conversations touch upon the possibilities for women and people of color to pursue political office, prompting the mice to explore the attributes of effective leadership and teamwork. The illustrations display a sense of amusement and silliness, accompanying the text well. The whimsicality along with discussions on leadership makes it an exceptional early reader book for children.

Kirsten Caldwell, Early Literacy Librarian

Nat the Cat Takes a Nap: Ready-to-Read Pre-Level 1
Lerner, Jarrett, illustrated by Lerner, Jarrett
Simon Spotlight
Nominated by: aquafortis

Nat the Cat is taking a nap but is rudely awakened by the narrator. As the narrator continues to get things wrong—for example, Pat the Rat is NOT Nat’s brother—young readers will delight in the back-and-forth metafictive interactions between Nat, the narrator, and even Pat the Rat (who would also like to take a nap). As Nat gets more and more irritated, readers will turn the page to see what happens next and ask to read this title again and again.

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Vivi Loves Science: Wind and Water (I Can Read Level 3)
Derting, Kimberly and Johannes, Shelli R., illustrated by Murray, Joelle
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Kirsten

While visiting her favorite beach, Vivi notices the effects of erosion on the sand dunes. With help from Ranger Earle, Vivi and her friend Graeme help clean up the beach. They work with their science teacher, Mrs. Costeau, to arrange a class experiment to demonstrate how wind and water can move sand. Facts and story are woven together as readers learn geology along with Vivi and Graeme. Full-color illustrations and a diverse cast of characters make this a winning advanced easy reader.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends: Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 1
Windness, Kaz, illustrated by Windness, Kaz
Simon Spotlight
Nominated by: Kate Talbot

WORM AND CATERPILLAR ARE FRIENDS (Written and illustrated by Kaz Widness, Simon Schuster Ready-to-Read Graphics) is a terrific offering for earliest readers to launch themselves into a lifetime love of books. The two characters are irresistible, their similarities and differences are openly discussed, and the underlying truth is shared directly- do we really need to be the same to be friends? An opening structure before the main text allows the twosome to introduce readers to the ways in which understanding graphic/comic/speech bubble text calls on unique skills, blending word/sound decoding from text narrative with image/meaning skills used in picture book reading. The brief back matter provides age/interest level science related to the story elements. This is an appealing example of STEM and SEL themes within a delightful story.

The ability of this format and these characters to elicit emotional concern and connection while providing controlled vocabulary, sentence length, and story elements is as awww-inducing as the storyline and relationships themselves.
This will become a new and strong favorite for young readers!

Sandy Brehl, Unpacking the Power of Picture Books

Early Chapter Books

Henry, Like Always: Book 1
Bailey, Jenn, illustrated by Song, Mika
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

Mika Song’s illustrations give Henry and his classmates characteristics that make them unique. Samuel, who seems like a student who needs movement and needs to express himself, shines in the parade illustration where he gets to showcase his joy and Henry finds his own place that is just right, even though a parade does not belong on Friday. Students will relate and empathize to Henry’s need for some consistency and develop a deeper understanding of classmates on the autism spectrum.

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Lola's First Day of the Dead (¡Hola, Lola!)
Novales, Keka, illustrated by Vázquez, Carolina
Picture Window Books
Nominated by: Kidsbookreviewer

Join Lola as she learns about her family’s heritage surrounding the holiday The Day of the Dead. Her Mom is sad during Halloween. She's missing her family and the holiday Day of The Dead that she loved to celebrate in Guatemala. Lola’s family is invited to a Day of the Dead party. Lola is excited—until she finds out about the traditional dish fiambre. While introducing readers to Lola’s culture and tradition, the story includes the relatable experience of eating new foods.

Sarah Polumsky

Maddie and Mabel Know They Can: Book 3 (Maddie and Mabel, 3)
Allen, Kari, illustrated by Mai-Wyss, Tatjana
Kind World Publishing
Nominated by: Carrie Kruck

Maddie and Mabel are sisters who have plenty of new ideas and love trying new things. From setting up a lemonade stand to learning how to ride a bike and patiently waiting for flowers to grow in their yard, their story unfolds with their curiosity and support for one another. The book’s illustrations are exquisite and vibrant, breathing life into every page. They tell a story on their own, going beyond the necessity for words. The text is concise yet provides a rich story with depth and heartwarming storytelling, perfect for readers of any age. This story is about childhood adventures, resilience, patience, and sibling bonds. Children will not want to miss the stories of Maddie and Mabel.

Kirsten Caldwell, Early Literacy Librarian

Saving Snakes (Naomi Nash)
Anderson, Jessica Lee, illustrated by Barajas, Alejandra
Picture Window Books
Nominated by: Lynna F.

Naomi Nash loves snakes even more than her exotic-animal veterinarian mother. When her entrepreneurial older brother suggests they team up with Naomi’s friend to offer snake-saving services to their Texas neighborhood, the trio have plenty of exciting encounters with snakes, as well as opportunities to educate their neighbors and correct common misconceptions about them. With full-color illustrations, a list of supplementary resources, and numerous snake facts, this installation in a four-book chapter book series will appeal to science-loving fluent readers.

Maggi Rohde, Books for Squids

The Magic Lunch Box (Ben Lee)
Kim (Ch, Hanna, illustrated by Paik, Emily
Stone Arch Books
Nominated by: Laura Mossa

Ben Lee: the Magic Lunch Box, is an early chapter book which is part of the Ben Lee series for readers aged approximately 6 to 9 years old. Both the author and illustrator self-identify as Korean, which provides important cultural representation to emergent readers. The story centers around the protagonist, Ben Lee, a young Korean child who finds himself and his family transplanted from culturally rich Koreatown in California to Michigan. Ben feels out of place; the Korean things he loved now make him stand out in an uncomfortable way. Ben experiences bullying and is embarrassed by his lunch and his favorite lunch box, which he throws away. In the end, Ben makes friends who also learn to appreciate Korean food. The book contains a glossary containing phonetic pronunciations, a list of Korean foods featured in the story, as well as a recipe to learn to cook Kimbap, Ben Lee’s favorite meal. The Magic Lunch Box is an engaging read that emphasizes the importance of being proud of your cultural identity.

Pam Margolis, An Unconventional Librarian

The Princess in Black and the Prince in Pink
Hale, Shannon and Hale, Dean, illustrated by Pham, Leuyen
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

The Princess is Black is back! This time Princess Magnolia is helping decorate for the Flower Festival Ball. She arrives to the festival ready to wow with a special secret decoration, sure to get everyone dancing. But when an angry Emu arrives to crash the party and the decorations, Princess Magnolia worries that she won’t have the decorations fixed in time for the ball. Suddenly a new friend appears, the Prince in Pink, and he has been waiting for just this moment to share his special and secret talents at decorating. Secret identities and teamwork make this story both exciting and inspiring. Who would you be if you had a secret identity?

Nicole Levesque, Bluestocking Thinking

Too Small Tola Gets Tough
Atinuke, illustrated by Iwu, Onyinye
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: literacyedprof

TOO SMALL TOLA GETS TOUGH (Author: Atinuke. Illustrator: Onyinwe Iwu. Publisher: Penguin Random House) is the third title in a unique early chapter booklet series set in Lagos, perhaps one of the largest urban areas in the world but rarely portrayed in typical American texts. In this title, Tola's loving family is portrayed realistically in both dialect and circumstances that provide a window into daily life that is not unusual for the time and place portrayed. In this case it is set in circumstances surrounding the outset of the Covid pandemic and lockdown.

The most unusual part of this early chapter book is not the rarity of material set in this locale, or this cultural portrait, but the fact that Tola is the central character. She’s a tiny girl with a huge heart, and engages with older siblings/family/characters who carry the storylines through several chapters. Those sequences portray challenges that are much older than young Tola would have faced. In fact, though, Tola provides a valuable presentation that proves her to be appealing and innovative. TOO SMALL TOKLA GETS TOUGH is broadening in the natural and authentic way in which the story is told and the events unfold.

Sandy Brehl, Unpacking the Power of Picture Books

Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

Conjure Island
Eden Royce
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Amber

Delphinia Baker is happy with her life, living with her grandmother and her dad who is deployed, moving often from military base to military base, but when her grandmother falls ill, Del finds herself in a place she never thought she’d be - at a magic school run by her great-grandmother. Del’s great-grandmother’s magic is based in the Gullah culture, and part of the story revolves around Del learning about this family connection and why she hasn’t been a part of this life before now. There is also a mystery that needs to be solved that’s part of the fun of this book. This not to be missed story is fast paced and has well developed characters to cheer for and wonder about.

Debbie Tanner, The Book Search

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom
Nina Varela
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Lucy K

Starting middle school in a new state is bad enough for any introvert - but what really has Juniper on edge is the recurrent dream she keeps having, set in an ancient-looking temple where a girl her own age turns to ivory. After the fall dance ends in horrible embarrassment, Juniper draws a picture of the girl and wishes she were there…and suddenly, she is! Galatea needs Juniper’s help to rescue her floating island in a world reminiscent of ancient Greece. She might not know much about modern-day Florida (suddenly swarming with supernatural beasts), but her people-sense allows Juniper to reach out to potential new friends. Amid the chases, swordplay, and hilariously awkward moments, Juniper and Galatea’s relationship develops into a sweet and understated first romance, even as they uncover an important truth behind myths in Galatea’s world.

Katy Kramp, A Library Mama

The Bellwoods Game
Celia Krampien
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

A ghost waits in the woods outside Bailee’s school to play its yearly game, shrouded in secrecy and rooted in a tragic death back in the 1980s…and this Halloween it’s Bailee’s turn to try to win, changing her outcast status at school and helping her family past the hard time they’ve been having. In the woods she and the other players find that the game is more terrifying than they’d imagined, and surviving becomes more important than winning against the creepy power that haunts Bellwoods. And if the kids lose, it’s lights out for the whole town. Middle school problems meet magical horror in this fast-paced, nail-biting story that has tricks, treats, and scares enough to fill any Halloween sack!

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library

The Demon Sword Asperides
Sarah Jean Horwitz
Algonquin Young Readers
Nominated by: Alexander Rakitzis

Reading The Demon Sword Asperides, I found myself rooting for the goals of so many of the characters: Asperides, his wielder Nack, Therin the prophet, and even the minor characters. Since their ambitions are mutually exclusive, this ratcheted the tension of this fast-moving adventure even higher. The characters navigate tough themes such as growing past parental expectations and disappointments, redeeming mistakes made through malice, carelessness, or ignorance, and achieving forgiveness and trust for friends who also have made mistakes (did I mention the necromancer?). These themes play out among exciting adventures in a colorfully realized world with rich, complex characters on all sides, making this rich and engrossing story a delight to read that keeps resonating afterwards.

Beth Micham, Library Chicken

The Grace of Wild Things
Heather Fawcett
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: marsenault13

Grace flees from her orphanage after several failed placements, determined to apprentice to a witch since she blames uncontrollable magic for these failures. With such a determined and imaginative protagonist it’s no wonder this book is spilling over with danger, friendship, quests, spells, and growth. Learning spells, confronting witches, and still managing all the pitfalls of friendships mean that Grace needs all her wits to handle challenges that the orphanage never prepared her for. If you’ve read Anne of Green Gables you have the extra pleasure of uncovering Easter eggs. And if you haven’t, you might have so much fun here that you will want to.

Beth Micham, Library Chicken

The House of the Lost on the Cape
Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito, Avery Fischer Udagawa (Translator)
Nominated by: Charlotte

Taking place just after the devastating Japanese tsunami of 2011, this found family novel brings together three characters: an orphaned girl, a woman who has fled an abusive relationship and an old grandmother who has no family left. Together, this family lives in an abandoned house on a cape, but there they find a magical danger that has been unleashed by the tsunami. They must work with their community, and the magical beings of the land and ocean to save their new home. Tackling topics of post-traumatic mutism, abusive relationships, and more, this novel still feels light and magical as the reader is taken away to a real Japanese setting with beautiful scenery. There may be moments of danger, but with the help of magical beings from Japanese lore the danger can be resolved without more harm coming to the village. A must read for fans of disasters, magical creatures, found families, and Studio Ghibli films.

Kristen Harvey, Mrs. Harvey's Library

The Rhythm of Time
Questlove and S. A. Cosby
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katy K.

Rap music, genius inventions, and time travel make for a truly fun combination in this fast-paced time travel adventure! All Rahim wanted was a cell phone that would let him listen to 20th century rap music. But the one his brilliant friend Kasia makes for him takes that too far–it sends him back in time to 1997. Rahim gets to sneak out with his dad to a rap concert and take down a bully, while Kasia is busy outwitting the feds, who are after her invention back home. But Rahim’s trip to the past messes up the timeline, and when he comes home wonderfully absurd temporal chaos is everywhere. Stress and excitement is beautifully balanced with friendship, family, and humor.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte's Library

Fiction Picture Books

Cori Doerrfeld
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Holland

Beneath by Cori Doerrfeld takes the reader on a journey of grief and loneliness to the result of noticing that others are hurting as well and feeling not so alone. Cori Doerrfeld does not disappoint her fans with the precious illustrations and a wonderful, but vague enough to be general, storyline.

Tura Gillespie, Teaching Cultural Compassion

Vashti Harrison
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: TheBrookeList

A growing child, a caring child is told, "What a big girl you are!" and "What a good girl you are!" and it is good...UNTIL...the words are the same but the tone changes. The girl is the tallest and biggest in her class. She feels singled out and wants to fade into the background. “You’re too big,” adults tell the girl. Their words sting like barbs and she begins to disappear within herself. When adults try to "fix" her, it hurts her feelings. The inspirational moment when the girl spreads her wings to make more room for herself in the world is captured beautifully on a double fold out spread that will take your breath away. Illustrations alone tell the story of the girl's journey to accept herself and insist that others accept her as she is. She will make more room for herself: for her imagination, her caring, her empathy, and her kindness. A wonderful picture book for any child, Big is a must read.

Thompson McLeod, Young Adult Books--What We're Reading Now

Mr. S: A First Day of School Book
Monica Arnaldo
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Jenna B

It’s the first day of Kindergarten and the class of 2B can’t wait to meet their new teacher. However, when they enter the classroom there is no teacher to be found, just an impressive sandwich and the name Mr. S written on the board. Could it really be that their new teacher Mr. S is Mr. Sandwich? This book will have you cracking up with its ridiculous stories. It is sure to be your child’s go-to back-to-school read for years to come.

Erin Murray, Box Canyon Classroom

Night in the City
Julie Downing
Neal Porter Books
Nominated by: Maria Marshall

Night in the City is an adventure into a busy world that comes alive when you go to sleep. Julie Downing teaches us empathy in a clever way, unfolding the wonder of night in the city, coupled with beautiful bedtime imagery. It is a soothing story with busy pages of families and workers as they go about their night-time lives: the nurses, the police, the dispatchers, the drivers, the bakers, the film makers.

Brooke Freebairn, The Brooke List

Papá's Magical Water-Jug Clock
Jesús Trejo, illustrated by Eliza Kinkz
Nominated by: Brighton

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock is a charming and humorous picture book by comedian Jesús Trejo, inspired by his own childhood experiences of helping his landscaper father. The story follows little Jesús as he tries to do a good job managing the water jug (which 'magically' signals it’s time to go home when empty), but ends up giving water to various thirsty animals along the way, emptying the jug far too soon. The book celebrates the bond between father and son, the value of hard work and resources, and the joy of finding magic in everyday life.

Sam Richardson, Little Cub Literacy

The Three Billy Goats Gruff
Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Orchard Books
Nominated by: Violet

You might think you already know this story, but you don't! Jon Klassen's illustrations and Mac Barnett's text seamlessly work together to add suspense, anticipation, and so many giggles to this fractured fairy tale. It is sure to have readers begging to cross the bridge over and over again.

Aimee Smith, Keep a Book Out

The Yellow Áo Dài
Hanh Bui, illustrated by Minnie Phan
Feiwel & Friends
Nominated by: stacybuckeye

In The Yellow Áo Dài by Hanh Bui and Minnie Phan, readers who are not of Vietnamese descent get to learn a little about Vietnamese culture while also relating to the relationship between mother and child. When Naliah accidentally tears her mother's dress, she has two options, confess or try to hide it - beautifully, her confession is received with grace and forgiveness.

Tura Gillespie, Teaching Cultural Compassion

Graphic Novels

Elementary/Middle Grade

A First Time for Everything
Dan Santat
First Second Books
Nominated by: Maria Marshall

In this humorous and heart-warming middle-grade graphic memoir, Dan Santat recounts the life-changing “firsts” of his middle school life: first time being ridiculed, first party, first school trip to Europe, first Fanta, and of course, first love. It is impossible not to get swept into Dan’s story, and to root for the awkward and quiet “good boy” as he navigates complicated relationships in a European setting: the illustrations are rich with action, expression and detail and the storytelling is masterfully paced and never predictable. Both kids and adults alike will find much to relate to and enjoy in this endearing, feel-good read about embracing life’s challenges, no matter how dire they may appear to be.

Maureen Tai, Stories That Stay With Us

Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call (Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club, 1)
Molly Knox Ostertag, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma
Nominated by: Rosemary Kiladitis

Olivia and Jess are best friends who love playing their 2-person Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Olivia is excited about middle school and the chance to widen her friend circle, but Jess? Not so much, especially when Olivia decides to expand their D&D campaign into a full-on school club. Not willing to share her game time and her best friend with anyone, Jess expresses her frustration through the game, and when it affects one of the new members of the club, Jess discovers that sometimes, you need to find room in your heart – and in your dungeon-raiding party – for new friends. Effortless storytelling, diverse and genderfluid characters, and tips and tricks on playing D&D pair with exciting fantasy illustration to make this graphic novel an outstanding pick.

Rosemary Kiladitis, Mom Read It

Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra
First Second Books
Nominated by: Aixa Perez-Prado

Frizzy by Claribel Ortega is an exploration of cultural expectations connected to hair and respectability. Marlene loves art and hanging out with her best friend. But she does not love having to go to the salon every week with her mother to get her curls straightened. Marlene pushes back against her mother’s and her family’s expectations for what her hair should look like and embraces the wisdom of her Tia Ruby. She learns not only to love her curls, but take care of them too. A fun coming-of-age story with amazing illustrations that encourages girls to embrace being themselves.

Richetta Tooley, Cocoa with Books

Lo and Behold: (A Graphic Novel) (Lo & Behold)
Wendy Mass, illustrated by Gabi Mendez
Random House Graphic
Nominated by: Ms. Yingling

Life loses its sparkle after Addie’s family goes through changes, but meeting Mateo opens a world of adventure. Using a virtual reality headset, Addie scales castle walls and faces quirky challenges. As her world changes, she dreams up a big idea, but unresolved issues stand in her way. Follow Addie as she rediscovers wonder, makes new friends, and finds the courage to make things right in this simple yet enchanting tale of resilience and imagination.

Jennifer Caynor, Readersaurus

Pedro Martín
Dial Books
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

Mexikid is Pedro Martin's retelling of his whole family (2 parents, 9 children) in an old RV with a tendency of breaking down, so they can bring his abuelito back to the United States. Abuelito is a superhero in Pedro's mind, being big and strong and having fought in the Mexican revolution. Readers will enjoy Pedro's humorous stories about his family members and aspects of the trip (like when the RV breaks down and Pedro's dad has to "MacGyver" it so they can keep going on the trip). There are also wonderful emotional moments as well. Hearing what it is like for a Mexican American and his Mexican family members to live in the United States and Mexico is a fresh perspective that does not get enough attention in today's culture. Readers will benefit from hearing this voice.

Anne Wilson, Picks by Anne

Saving Chupie
Amparo Ortiz, illustrated by Ronnie Vazquez
Nominated by: aquafortis

In Saving Chupie, join Violeta Rubio on her journey to save her Abuelita's restaurant in Puerto Rico. Her whole family doesn’t think they need Violeta around to help which allows Violeta to discover a mythical chupacabra, Chupie, who turns out to be a misunderstood companion. As she navigates challenges to keep Chupie safe, a looming threat adds urgency to her mission. This heartwarming adventure, inspired by Puerto Rican culture, showcases the power of love, friendship, and resilience in the face of adversity. The beautiful colors in the graphic novel only add to the expressive nature of the story and make it a must read.

Jennifer Caynor, Readersaurus

Things in the Basement
Ben Hatke
First Second Books
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Milo has to go to the basement to find his little sister's handmade sock, but just how far down does the basement go? At first, Milo is afraid to go because of all of the dark and the noises, but he gathers up his courage and travels down. And down.. and down.. and down... There's lots of fun onomatopoeias in the panels that are great for a read-aloud. The different layers of the basement have little dialogue bubbles until the last half (or even last third) of the book, but the panels have lots of detail to explore as the reader travels with Milo. Then, the adventure picks up with added party members as well as enemies. Things in the Basement is a fun read for any reader to explore.

Tamara Sipes, Bookish Things

Young Adult

Jasmine Walls, illustrated by Teo DuVall
Levine Querido
Nominated by: Charlotte

If you like historical fantasy with great art about witches and broom racing, then Brooms is for you! The illustrations are beautiful and the world-building of the magic system is fun. The plot leaves you wishing for more. The reader gets small glimpses into the lives of the women outside of the main racing scene, enough to know that they are a diverse group that are trying their best to make it and somehow manage to find each other to help discover who they are. This graphic novel could be a world explored several times and I would definitely pick up the series.

Tamara Sipes, Bookish Things

In Limbo
Deb JJ Lee
First Second Books
Nominated by: Kristen

Deb JJ Lee came to the United States from Seoul, Korea, when she was three 3 years. In Limbo is the perfect title to describe her experience of being in-between not American enough for Americans, and not Korean enough for Koreans. Her parents (her mom especially) have a vision of Deb that Deb feels she will never fulfill. She struggles to figure out who she is, at times felling badly enough to not want to live anymore. Readers will be able to identify with the feelings of confusion, what is important to Deb, and how she applies this knowledge to learn more about herself and the world.

Anne Wilson, Picks by Anne

Lost in Taiwan (A Graphic Novel)
Mark Crilley
Little, Brown Ink
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Can you lose your way in an unknown place and end up finding yourself? This is what happens to Paul, an angst-ridden, screen-addicted American high-schooler who gets lost in the town of Changbei, Taiwan, without his phone and without any Mandarin language skills. Luckily, Paul is saved by an unexpected new friend. Bubbly, scooter-riding Peijing takes Paul under her wing, showing him – and readers – a side of Taiwan that is rarely seen, and challenging Paul’s Western ethnocentricity when he refers to her culture as “exotic.” The stunning and masterfully rendered illustrations are thoughtful and detailed, bringing Paul and Peijing’s blossoming friendship to life. This gentle, coming-of-age graphic novel will appeal in particular to those keen to catch a glimpse of how the Taiwanese live, love, and pray.

Maureen Tai, Stories That Stay With Us

The Faint of Heart
Kerilynn Wilson
Greenwillow Books
Nominated by: Maria Marshall

What if you could get rid of all of your negative emotions? But would you do so if it meant that ALL of your emotions disappeared with the negative ones? June lives in a world where the Scientist has discovered how to remove sadness, anxiety and anger by removing people’s hearts. Many go along and elect to get the procedure done. But June resists. The colors, images and words work smoothly together to contribute to the telling of this science fiction tale. The Faint of Heart by Kerilynn Wilson is a moving debut that explores the question of dealing with big feelings.

Richetta Tooley, Cocoa with Books

The Librarian of Auschwitz: The Graphic Novel
Antonio Iturbe, illustrated by Loreto Aroca, Salva Rubio (Adapter), Lilit Thwaites (Translator)
Godwin Books
Nominated by: Becky L.

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a graphic rendition of the true sto­ry of Dita Kraus, a young Jew­ish woman who sur­vived Auschwitz. Dita is a book­ish child with lov­ing par­ents. This world of safety is about to end as the Nazis invade. ­At one point, Dita says “that was the day she start­ed to fear men.” Auschwitz, the site ­of Josef Mengele’s grotesque med­ical exper­i­ments, deadly gas cham­bers, and one quite graphic image inside a cre­ma­to­ria is portrayed. Enhancing this novel are the illustrations which are dynamic. The colors are dark and muted. The illustrations portraying Dita when she was still at home with her family use warmer and brighter panels. The red used throughout signifies danger and/or extreme fear.

Josephine Sorrell, Jo the Book Girl

The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich (A Graphic Novel)
Deya Muniz
Little, Brown Ink
Nominated by: Kate Mccue-Day

Lady Camembert wants to live her life on her own terms, but that's not how it goes in the Kingdom of Fromage She has no interest in marrying a man, and while her father supports her, he knows the score, too. When her dad dies, Lady Camembert heads to the capital to live life as Lord Camembert, where no one knows her, and she can live life quietly. Meeting activist Princess Brie throws a wrench into those plans, and Lady Camembert finds herself becoming closer - and feeling more than just friendship. The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich is a feel-good rom com filled with cheese puns and gorgeous historical fantasy illustration especially when it comes to the outfits!

Rosemary Kiladitis, Mom Read It

Unaccompanied: Stories of Brave Teenagers Seeking Asylum
Tracy White
Street Noise Books
Nominated by: Rosemary Kiladitis

Unaccompanied: Stories of Brave Teenagers seeking Asylum by Tracy White is a collection of stories based on true accounts of young teens seeking asylum. This book portrays five teens fleeing their homes to risk their lives, facing dangerous situations and treacherous journeys to find safety in America. From Guatemala, Vilma, 13, is a quiet girl who enjoys reading. She was beaten and sexually abused by her father. At age 12, Rosa from Honduras, worked to support her family, then at 16, her narco boyfriend threatened her, and after reaching the U.S. She learns that she is HIV-positive. Seventeen-year-old Ricardo is from El Salvador, where he and his 13-year-old sister, Karen, are preyed upon by gangs. Fanta, a girl from Guinea, underwent female genital mutilation and was married at 12 to an abusive 40-year-old man. When she turned16, she left her children with her mother, journeying to the U.S. These cases were carefully researched and these harrowing accounts are representative of cases like this occurring everyday. This graphic novel is fast-paced, informative, disturbing, and enlightening. Importantly, the author treats the subjects with respect.

Josephine Sorrell, Jo the Book Girl

Poetry Collections

Animals in Pants
Levinson, Suzy, illustrated by Howdeshell, Kevin and Howdeshell, Kristen
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Becky L.

Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson is a fun and playful collection full of poems about, well, animals in pants. It's this premise -- coupled with colorful, saucy illustrations -- that will capture the attention of toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary kids, but they'll stay for the amusing language and ludicrous antics of fashionable creatures throughout this clever book.

Sarah Miller, Can We Read?

Dark Testament: Blackout Poems
Smith, Crystal Simone
Henry Holt & Co.
Nominated by: Rosemary Kiladitis

In one of this year's most unique collections of poetry, Crystal Simone Smith finds poems within the pages of George Saunders' 2017 novel Lincoln in the Bardo. Utilizing a form of found poetry known as blackout poetry, whereby a poet selects choice words and phrases from a written work and blacks out the unneeded text, the author crafts a collection of heart-wrenching, eye-opening, soul-stirring poems about human life, tragic loss, and a way forward.

Matt Esenwine, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

My Head Has a Bellyache: And More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Mischievous Nonsense, 2)
Harris, Chris, illustrated by Tsurumi, Andrea
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katy K.

In My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, there is a poem very relatable to how kids will enjoy this book. The poem is called “A Big, Comfy Chair and a Brand New Book”. The entire house is in disarray with dad being burned by a toaster, the dog needs out, the bath is overfilling and more while the boy is so involved in his book, he does not notice any of it. The green, white, and black color palette used on each page adds a playful feel to each silly poem. There is even a poem with adult and child parts. Refreshing and fun!

Sheri Howard , Lobit Education Village Library

Welcome to the Wonder House
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai and Heard, Georgia, illustrated by Freedman, Deborah
Nominated by: Sylvia Vardell

Welcome to the Wonder House by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich (illustrated by Deborah Freedman, published by Wordsong/Astra Books for Young Readers) is a thoughtful picture book collection of 29 poems gathered into a dozen metaphorical “rooms” that encourage curiosity and questioning. Each “room” is presented in a double-page spread of art and poetry that explores the natural world, each with a slightly different focus from ordinary things to trees and fossils to mystery and wishes. The illustrations help convey a tone of mystery and suspense with intriguing mixed-media art using wide washes of color in shades of blue, green, gold or purple with subtle hints of the objects referenced in the poems. The poets encourage questioning and creativity and challenge young readers to express themselves through writing, painting, building, and more.

Sylvia Vardell, Poetry for Children

Where I Live: Poems About My Home, My Street, and My Town
Janeczko, Paul B., illustrated by Yum, Hyewon
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Where I Live: Poems about My Home, My Street, and My Town by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Hyewon Yum is a collection of entertaining poems. The organization of the book is brilliant, starting with the intimacy of home albeit it an apartment, a farmhouse, or or the suburbs to streets and town. Told from a child’s viewpoint which adds to the fresh look at poems from many award winning poets. Yum’s illustrations in watercolor and pencil are engaging. A perfect launch pad for talking about where one lives.

Jone MacCulloch, Jone Rush MacCulloch

Novels in Verse

All the Fighting Parts
Sawyerr, Hannah V.
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Sam Richardson

Alternating between police interview transcripts and verse, Hannah V. Sawyerr dynamically tells the story of Amina Conteh dealing with and surviving sexual assault in All The Fighting Parts. Sawyerr’s use of different structures throughout makes the novel even more powerful. The compelling story along with the masterful use of mixed media makes this book unforgettable.

Sheri Howard, Lobit Education Village Library

Call Me Adnan
Faruqi, Reem
Nominated by: Joanne R. Fritz

Adnan Zakir is pretty happy with his life, full of best friends, an obsession with table tennis, and a wonderful family, including his toddler brother, Rizwan. When they all travel to Florida for the Ultimate Table Tennis Championship, that life shifts abruptly and impossibly when an unthinkable tragedy occurs. This heart-rending novel in verse that is somehow both a coming-of-age story and an unflinching yet age-appropriate exploration of grief doesn’t shy away from the deep pain of losing a loved one — and how everything changes — but its honesty is redemptive and beautiful, and written in a way that’s readily accessible for middle-grade readers on the younger end of that age group.

Sarah Miller, Can We Read?

Enter the Body
McCullough, Joy
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Gary Anderson

Shakespeare's most famous and intriguing young female characters share their own personal stories in this book that is part verse novel, part poetry collection. From Juliet and Ophelia to Lady Macbeth and Joan of Arc, McCullough gives voice to these iconic literary characters as they offer insight into their opinions of life, love, strength, and sisterhood.

Matt Esenwine, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Waters, Charles and Sorell, Traci
Nominated by: Katey H

Mascot by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell (Charlesbridge) is a novel in verse set in a contemporary urban middle school that is grappling with the question of whether their Native American school mascot is racist or not. Presented through multiple points of view, many arguments are presented both for and against, sometimes from surprising sources. Questions are raised about representation, class issues, income disparity, and privilege by engaging and believable characters who are white, Black, Native, Latino, and Indian. In the end, not everyone comes to see the need to change the school mascot—a realistic conclusion—but the poets show young people standing up for change while also weaving in practical steps and resources for doing so throughout the narrative.

Sylvia Vardell, Poetry for Children

No Matter the Distance
Baldwin, Cindy
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: KtStar

In No Matter the Distance by Cindy Baldwin, Penny, a protagonist with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) develops a unique friendship with a stranded dolphin. Told in spare and poetic language, Penny discovers who she is as she helps the marine team get the sick dolphin back to her pod. Themes of compassion and empathy has the reader rooting for Penny and Rose. It's a story that remains with the reader after the last page is read.

Jone MacCulloch, Jone Rush MacCulloch

Middle-Grade Fiction

Farther Than the Moon
Lindsay Lackey
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Anne-Marie Strohman

Lindsay Lackey’s Farther Than the Moon is the story of Houston and Robbie, brothers who dream of going to space. When Houston is accepted to a month-long astronaut camp, he’s over the moon. But Robbie’s cerebral palsy and epilepsy mean he must stay home. As Houston struggles with the program’s demands, he realizes getting Robbie to the cosmos might be impossible, but with the help of his new friends, he makes a plan that could change the way scientists think of space travel. Along the way, Houston learns the importance of intentions vs. actions and the value of giving everyone the chance to be seen. A diverse cast of wonderfully flawed characters come to life in this STEM-forward storyline that features themes of friendship, forgiveness and family.

Jessica Harrison, Cracking the Cover

Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated by: Wendy

Hands by Tony Maldonado is a small book that packs a big punch. The main character, a 12-year-old boy, is concerned about the return of his abusive stepfather and wants to protect his mother and sister from him. However, through the course of the book, Maldonado challenges what it means to be Black and masculine, and what it means to protect others. Our main character, Trevor, embodies the conflict: he wants to be a man and protect his family, but is just a kid who just wants to hang with his friends, draw, and listen to music. A perfect book for younger and reluctant readers, Hands will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

No Place Like Home.
James Bird
Feiwel & Friends
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

James Bird's novel, No Place Like Home, combines Ojibwe storytelling with a realistic portrayal of being unhoused as seen through the eyes of a child. Bird weaves the idea of being a warrior through Opin's experiences in a compelling way, reminding readers how often humans tell ourselves stories to get through difficult moments. Opin's mother teaches him Ojibwe words to help their language survive, but their family is struggling. Opin is the hero of his story and uses those stories and words to build the world he needs for himself and his newfound pet dog. This realistic portrayal of living out of a car and experiencing intergenerational trauma is equal parts heart-wrenching and hopeful.

Gabrielle Plastrik, X/Twitter

Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow
Disney Hyperion Rick Riordan presents
Nominated by: Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books)

Simon may be the only kid excited to move to the National Quiet Zone. Not having internet access means the kids at his new school can't discover the real reason he moved to town, and that's precisely how Simon wants things to stay. With an extraordinary amount of skill, Erin Bow has crafted a story with a tragedy at the center, surrounded by moments of hilarity and levity. Strong themes of grief and PTSD are woven among tales of alpacas in church, a eucharist-eating squirrel, and the reality of truth in friendship while never diminishing the lasting effects of trauma. Simon is a realistic character grappling to find his way after a life-altering event while learning what it means to be cared for. The sensitivity given to Simon's experience, balanced with laugh-out-loud scenes and empathic relationships, makes this exceptional story a must-read.

Amanda Sealey, @sealeycrew

Tethered to Other Stars
Elisa Stone Leahy
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Kasey Giard

In Tethered to Other Stars, Leahy explores themes of immigration both documented and undocumented microaggressions, standing up for oneself, and being compassionate to those around you. Leahy does all this while giving us a story of a first-generation American Latinx girl, Wendy, who has dreams of becoming an astrophysicist and who learns that keeping quiet about her family's story and her desires and opinions is not the best way to change things for the better. This is an excellent novel that will delight all kinds of readers with characters who are interested in STEM, running for student council, and activism in the community. It's sure to have readers of all ages cheering for everyone by the end.

Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn
Sally J. Pla
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Kate Mccue-Day

Maudie spends the school year with her mom and step dad and summers with her dad at his cabin in the California woods. This summer, however, a wildfire forces them to escape down the coast to a friend's trailer by the sea. Her summer with her dad by the water is not at all what she expected, and because she is autistic, change can be very difficult. Surprisingly, Maudie adjusts well, making friends, and learning about her dad's own experiences growing up neurodiverse and Latinx. Despite all this, Maudie is struggling with a secret she promised her mother she would keep. Middle School kids will relate to Maudie struggling to fit in, adjust, and make friends in a new place. This extremely emotional story will keep kids riveted from the start and have them rooting for Maudie until the end. This story also has the ability to help readers build empathy for others who might be in similar situations as Maudie. Author Sally Pla writes her main character from the heart and from a first hand authentic neurodiverse voice.

Kate Mccue-Day , @Mrsmccueday

What Happened to Rachel Riley?
Claire Swinarski
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Missy Ewing

Thirteen-year-old Anna has just moved to a new school and notices that one girl, Rachel, seems to be ostracized from every one in the 8th grade. Determined to solve the mystery, she pursues gathering information for her podcast despite the fact that no one wants to talk about it. As little clues begin to emerge, Anna finds a website where the boys have been giving each other points based on harassing the girls - even though they say they’re “just joking.” In What Happened to Rachel Riley?, Swinarski has given us a mystery to solve along with Anna, while confronting the casual sexual harassment that girls of all ages encounter daily. This novel has high potential as a classroom or school-wide read beyond the individual readers it will gather on its own.

Cindy Mitchell, Kiss the Book

Elementary Nonfiction

Glitter Everywhere!: Where it Came From, Where It's Found & Where It's Going
Chris Barton, Chris, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
Nominated by: Gary Anderson

Strong opinions about glitter are common, but whether you love it or hate it, this book is a fascinating look at the history and science of all things sparkly! Readers will learn what iridescence is, how it works, and how human use of shimmery beetles in ancient Egypt and shiny mica in South African cave paintings led to the development of what we now know as glitter. There is a discussion of various applications for glitter, from crafts to cupcakes, as well as future glitter innovations to help make new types of sparkles that are not harmful to the earth. An author's note, bibliography, and selected further reading suggestions round out this fun exploration of a very niche topic.

Jenna Ehler

Ice Cream Man: How Augustus Jackson Made a Sweet Treat Better
Glenda Armand and Kim Freeman, illustrated by Keith Mallett
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Rachael Fryman

You’re about to meet one of the sweetest unsung American heroes: Augustus Jackson, “the father of ice cream”. Born a free but poor Black boy in 1808 in Philadelphia, Gus rose to become White House cook and ice cream entrepreneur. The real barriers of racism and socioeconomic limitations are mentioned. (Likely subtle enough to be permitted in classrooms in all states). But the focus is on Gus’s innovation, passion, and drive to make the then-luxury dessert accessible to all - in the bright hat and dapper suit that is the crowning jewel of Keith Mallett’s illustrations. Yes please, we need more stories of Black inventors, especially in a time when the push to get girls into STEM risks is leaving BIPOC boys in the dust. Back matter goes into the history of ice cream and even provides a fun and easy home recipe!

Kelly Krasner-Clarke, Goodreads

Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider
Jessica Lanan
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Drew

See the world through the eyes of a jumping spider. Feel the world through his sensors. Hear what he hears as he hunts and is hunted. This gorgeously illustrated story of Jumper is sure to please any young child who loves nature, bugs, and, yes, spiders! The story takes place in a corner garden where we can see Jumper doing all of spidery magic, like jumping 5 times his body length and viewing his surroundings through his four pairs of eyes. The end pages provide additional details for the extra curious as well as a glossary and tips for kids on finding and identifying spiders.

Stacy Putnam, Stacy's Books

Meet The Bears
Kate Peridot, illustrated by Becca Hall
Welbeck Children's
Nominated by: Bridget Wilson

Be ready to go on a reading adventure with this book! Meet the Bears is an easily accessible picture book packed with beautiful illustrations and valuable information about eight different species of bears, displayed in a variety of ways. Readers will enjoy the "Guess which bear?" feature and the fact that it is set up as an adventure, complete with travel tickets and a packing list! Maps, stats, size comparisons, and even information about other bear-like animals are included. We think this book will appeal to different levels of readers, allowing for a connection to a wide audience.

Tiffany Loveland, Youtube

Piece by Piece: Ernestine's Gift for President Roosevelt
Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Anna López Real
Millbrook Press
Nominated by: Pat Zietlow Miller

Piece by Piece is a lovely and heartfelt story about grit and perseverance. It is written, illustrated, and about Mexican Americans, who comprise such an important (and often forgotten) part of the historical fabric of this country. The story chronicles the Great Depression in an easy-to-grasp way for kids. The message of giving and gratitude is top notch, as well. Well-written, with excellent execution and polish.

Hilary Margitich, WRITERS' RUMPUS

The Girl Who Heard the Music: How One Pianist and 85,000 Bottles and Cans Brought New Hope to an Island
Marni Fogelson, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns
Sourcebooks eXplore
Nominated by: afrjes7547

The story of Mahani Teave, the world-famous pianist/environmental activist from Rapa Nui/Easter Island, takes on art, science, character education and hits it all out of the park in 40 short pages. A young gifted musician follows her fascination with the unfamiliar piano around the word, incorporating subtle but clear themes of “how to balance your own culture with mainstream and be authentic across the board.” But Mahani’s heart is always in Rapa Nui, and she uses her artistic creativity-to-innovation pipeline to solve the ecological threat of trash encroaching her beloved home … in a way that will get young readers’ creative and problem-solving wheels turning. Beautiful illustrations featuring Moai, Rapa Nui’s natural beauty, and the wildly new cool school that trash built round out this gentle and inspiring tale.

Kelly Krasner-Clarke, Goodreads

What's Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon?: And Other Questions About Moths & Butterflies
Rachel Ignotofsky
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Charlotte

Author/Illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky has created a quirky, beautiful book about caterpillars that transform into butterflies or moths. The pages are visually stimulating with both warm-yet-vibrant colors, accompanied by various sizes of text. The tone is jaunty and inviting. There is a narrative paired with additional details that are more scientific. The book depicts two dozen or so caterpillars (larva) set in small settings with plants but also shows eggs, pupa, and adult moths and butterflies within broader scenes such as a farm and an urban butterfly garden. At the end, there is one page labeled "Sources and Resources" that suggests educational activities and further reading.

Karen Austin, Goodreads

Middle-Grade Nonfiction

How It Happened! Sneakers: The Cool Stories and Facts Behind Every Pair
Stephanie Warren Drimmer and WonderLab Group
Union Square Kids
Nominated by: Cindy Mitchell

We found this to be a well-executed and highly entertaining read for this age level, with a ton of kid-appeal. It is such a fun topic, tracing the full, fascinating history of the sneaker–the world’s most beloved shoe. The text is vibrantly-written to keep the reader’s interest, with a lot of fascinating facts and trivia. Covers so many different areas of knowledge, such as the history of ancient civilizations, the evolution of sports and fitness, consumerism, and popular culture.

Hilary Margitich, WRITERS' RUMPUS

Plague-Busters!: Medicine's Battles with History's Deadliest Diseases
Lindsey Fitzharris and Adrian Teal, illustrated by Teal, Adrian
Bloomsbury Children's Books
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

Plague-Busters! is a history of the six deadliest plagues from the bubonic plague to cholera to rabies told with great humor in both tone and illustration. An expert blend of vivid description and drawings that lighten the grossness factor. The absurdity of the cures will have middle schoolers rolling their eyes or laughing out loud as they quickly turn the pages for more. This is especially timely after the Covid years.

Stacy Putnam, Stacy's Books

Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams's Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration
Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

We thought this was a gorgeous, poignant, and thought-provoking book. Such a fresh approach to the subject matter and wonderful for tweens and up who love history, social justice issues, and photography/visual storytelling mediums. Takes the perspective of three different photographers from three different walks of life, and how they each captured and portrayed the Japanese American incarceration. This is a one-of-a-kind book that readers will never forget.

Hilary Margitich, WRITERS' RUMPUS

Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport
Caren Stelson, illustrated by Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books
Nominated by: Becky L.

What first looks like a lyrical mixed-media picture book, draws the reader immediately into the the timeless magic of childhood set in 1938 Prague. Through the memories of five Kindertransport survivors, we see the slow seeping-in of hatred and how it poisoned Europe. And the quick actions of an (unnamed until the last page) enterprising British Jewish stockbroker that transported 669 children to foster homes in London.

The five survivors and organizer Nicholas Winton aren’t named until the end, adding more poignancy to the magnitiude of this heartbreaking, lifesaving mission. The text alludes to and backmatter underlines that finding how you can make a difference and helping people is so much bigger than individuals.

Kelly Krasner-Clarke, Goodreads

The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity
Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Random House Studio
Nominated by: KtStar

The Mona Lisa Vanishes is an outstanding example of how narrative nonfiction can be as compelling and immersive of a reading experience as any novel! Nicholas Day weaves together multiple strands of the story of the creation of the painting, its initial reception by the public, its later rise to fame because of the theft, and the eventual recovery and restoration to the Louvre. Brett Helquist’s illustrations add to the fun and exciting tone set by the storytelling and make this an appealing, accessible title for all middle grade readers.

Jenna Ehler

High School Nonfiction

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Zest Books
Nominated by: Richetta

A brilliant adaptation of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s classic, this brings the iridescent beauty of the original essays and makes them easily accessible for young people through careful subheadings, sidebars, and attractive illustrations. Kimmerer brings us Potawatomie and other wisdom learned from plants, delightful life stories, and weaves them together with lyric wonder. With lessons about gratitude, reciprocation, the power of observation and care, Braiding Sweetgrass should be universal reading and this version will gracefully adorn any bookshelf.

Genevieve Ford, X/Twitter

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Becky L.

In Impossible Escape, award-winning author Steve Sheinkin follows the harrowing journey of Rudi Vrba, a Jewish teen from Slovakia who spends nearly two years at Auschwitz concentration camp. There, he encounters horror after horror and determines that he will take any risk in order to escape and to tell the world of this "big secret." The author includes extensive backmatter about his research, including a trip to Poland to follow Vrba's escape route in person. This book is a carefully crafted recounting of a dark time in history that is accessible for teen and tween readers today.

Jenna Ehler

Muzoon: A Syrian Refugee Speaks Out
Muzoon Almellehan and Wendy Pearlman
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

What happened to Muzoon, age 14, and her family when the civil war in Syria started to hit too close to home? An escape that leaves the reality of "home" a question. This book is an account of her life from the time before the Syrian War to her time entering a university in the UK. Muzoon’s experience living between refugee camps gave her the strength to become an advocate for girls' education. We loved the inspiring tale behind Muzoon’s work, her dedication and strength in speaking up for girl’s rights to an equal education!

Stacy Putnam, Stacy's Books

Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself
Monica Edinger and Lesley Younge
Zest Books
Nominated by: Colleen

Nearer My Freedom is the found poetry retelling of the life of writer and abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano, during the transatlantic slave trade. Readers will feel like they are reading diary entries from Olaudah’s personal journal. Entries include information about his life as a young boy, his enslavement, his travels across the seas, his liberation and his life as a free man. The lyrical and poetic approach to this story allows it to be easily accessible to many readers. In addition to Olaudah’s story, there are also several bits of important information included to help the reader understand context and history during this time period. Great for teaching primary sources, slavery, history and analysis of text. We believe every teen should have access to this wonderful, yet heart wrenching story.

Tiffany Loveland, Youtube

Spare Parts (Young Readers' Edition): The True Story of Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and an Impossible Dream
Joshua Davis
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Nominated by: aquafortis

Our panel found this a compelling and inspirational book for teens. The story revolves around four undocumented teens from Mexico, who meet through a high school robotics club and their shared passion for technical design and building. The reader really gets to know them their childhoods, interests and hobbies, pain and dreams. It is an inside look at what it looks and feels like to be a smart, driven, and undocumented child in America. They accomplish the (seemingly) impossible, progressing to an elite underwater robotics competition alongside teams from top colleges and universities. The story is amazingly uplifting, while still keeping its feet on the ground in reality.

Hilary Margitich, WRITERS' RUMPUS

Young Adult Fiction

Ander & Santi Were Here: A Novel
Jonny Garza Villa
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Linh

Ander Martínez’s life is in a time of transition. They grew up embracing the seamless mixture of language, food, and people in their San Antonio neighborhood. Their family has a successful taqueria which gave Ander both their foundation and their inspiration as a muralist. Ander & Santi Were Here is at times an intersection and at others a collision between cultures, people and the worlds that Ander knew and thought they knew. The difference between Ander and Santi is that Ander is in control of their next steps, and Santi, an undocumented immigrant living in threat of ICE while working as a waiter at the taqueria, is not. The relationship that develops between Ander and Santi is one that illustrates masterfully the layers of identities and choices we don’t always see in ourselves, ones we assume of each other, and the ones the outside world imposes upon us.

Jonny Garza Villa writes from their experiences and the result is accessible, believable characters who connect with readers on topics central to young adults as they transition from being family to community members: belonging, responsibility, building new relationship, and taking next steps towards your future. Of note is the way in which Ander and Santi’s evolving relationship illustrates too common assumptions around identities such as Latinx, LGTBQ, undocumented, and ally. Young adults and supportive adults who choose this novel will see or feel seen, because Ander & Santi Were Here.

Erin Conway, Erin Conway

Give Me a Sign
Anna Sortino
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Susan (Blogginbout Books)

Lilah is sweet, hopeful, and totally relatable, yet she struggles to hear every word in a conversation. Because she talks in a “normal” voice, people, including teachers and close friends, underestimate the extent of her deafness and get irritated when asked to repeat themselves. Becoming a Junior Counselor at a summer camp for the deaf and blind, Lilah looks forward to being part of an accepting community and improving her ASL, but when she meets adorable Deaf counselor Issac, she misinterprets a sign in the most cringeworthy way. Isaac volunteers to be her ASL instructor and their blossoming relationship is tender, realistic, and heartbreaking at times. Everything about this book feels so honest and true. It’s no surprise debut author Anna Sortino writes from her own experience. I can't stop thinking about this enlightening and beautifully written coming-of-age story and want to gift it to everyone I know.

Laura Cooper, Writer's Rumpus

Invisible Son
Kim Johnson
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Reshama

After being released from a juvenile detention facility in early 2020 for a crime he didn’t commit, Andre Jackson returns to a life drastically different from the one he was living only a few months prior. Staying with his grandparents, he confronts an ankle monitor tracking his every move, a tarnished reputation he’s ready to prove wrong, and a virus threatening both his community and the world. However, the one person he’d like to confront, Eric, the friend Andre took the fall for, is nowhere to be found, and no one else has even looked for him. While Andre investigates his disappearance, author Kim Johnson explores the uncertainty of the early days of COVID-19 along with more general social discord — including protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd. Ultimately, she has created a tension-packed mystery with a serious examination of how both the criminal justice system and the pandemic affect communities of color. With a strong voice, tight pacing, and intense twists, Invisible Son provides a powerful look at a moment in U.S. history that remains relevant today.

Christopher Helton, Plucked from the Stacks

Plan A
Deb Caletti
Labyrinth Road
Nominated by: BecAsh

Ivy is pregnant, and it’s not by her boyfriend, Lorenzo. Complicated. And living in Texas where even her Uber driver could get sued for driving her to an abortion complicates things more. Plan A follows Ivy and Lorenzo as they go on what’s essentially an abortion road trip to a state where Ivy is safe to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. The deep themes of agency and shared experiences in womanhood are explored through Ivy’s generally lighthearted voice, leaving you to both laugh and cry your way through this novel with so much heart.

Gina Adams, @gsreadingspree

Rez Ball
Byron Graves
Publisher/ Author Submission

Byron Graves, an exciting new voice in fiction, delivers a gripping debut novel that explores the universal journey of a young athlete determined to be the hero his Ojibwe community craves. In Rez Ball meet Tre Brun, whose sanctuary lies within the bounds of the Red Lake Reservation high school basketball team. Despite the constant echoes of his brother Jaxon's tragic accident, Tre finds solace and purpose on the court. When Jaxon's former varsity teammates extend a lifeline, Tre sees a chance to propel his Ojibwe community to its inaugural state championship — a pivotal step toward realizing his NBA dreams, regardless of the formidable odds stacked against him. As he steps into his brother's shoes as a star player, Tre grapples with the weight of expectations, striving not to falter on the court, at school, or in his burgeoning friendship with the enigmatic gamer, Khiana — a connection that complicates his quest for glory. Rez Ball weaves a tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring spirit of a community thirsting for triumph. Tre Brun's journey is more than a quest for a state title; it's a testament to the indomitable will to fulfill dreams and redefine the narrative etched on the Red Lake Reservation. Byron Graves invites readers to witness a story that transcends generations, proving that as long as dreams endure, the journey is far from over.

Deborah Zeman, @Z_Brarian

The Next New Syrian Girl
Ream Shukairy
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jacob C.

Beautifully written with a sense of love and purpose, The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy is a captivating novel that immerses readers in the compelling journey of a young Syrian girl navigating the tumultuous landscapes of identity, love, and resilience. Set against the backdrop of a war-torn Syria, the story unfolds with raw emotion and unflinching honesty, as the protagonist grapples with the complexities of her past and envisions a future shaped by her own strength and determination. Shukairy's evocative prose weaves a tapestry of cultural richness, political upheaval, and the indomitable spirit of a generation in search of hope. The Next New Syrian Girl is a poignant exploration of the human spirit's ability to rise above adversity and find a sense of self in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Tahira Ahmad

We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Kristen

Avery Anderson has the worst start to her senior year. Instead of staying in Washington, D.C., with her friends, Avery, her Mom, and Dad move to Bardell, Georgia to take care of Avery’s Grandmother, Mama Letty, in her final months. It becomes clear quickly that the tension between Mama Letty and her daughter is deep-rooted and not easily resolved. Avery, not knowing much about Mama Letty, works to establish a relationship, knowing her time is short. What Avery discovers is family trauma that is tied to events that took place in Bardell decades before, involving racial injustice and murder. Avery’s budding feelings for Simone Cole, her next-door neighbor, and her friendship with Jade Oliver, the daughter of the town’s richest and most prominent white family, explore themes of LGBTQ love in a deeply conservative small town, generational trauma, and secrets in a town where racial tensions run deep.

Sue Gerth, The Bookalicious Babe

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Divine Rivals: A Novel (Letters of Enchantment Book 1)
Ross, Rebecca
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Tamara S

Humans are collateral damage in a fight between the gods in Rebecca Ross’ Divine Rivals, a book that masterfully weaves unique mythology and magic with a very real look at war, loss, first love, and the power of the written word. Ross is incredibly skilled at setting a scene and injecting subtle, clever touches of humor and heart throughout the text. I loved the magical letters sent back and forth between Iris and Roman, enjoyed their wit and banter, felt genuine tension during all the war scenes, and got lost in the vulnerable, angsty atmosphere of this book. Divine Rivals achieves an impressive balance of relatable characters and situations in a fantasy world and has become one of my most recommended books for fellow readers of young adult speculative fiction.

Stacey Nerdin

Fault Lines
Carpenter, Nora Shalaway
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Anne-Marie Strohman

Seventeen-year-old Vivian, dubbed “Ice Queen," feels alone and uncertain in her rural town. Her beloved aunt passed four months prior, the one place she finds solace-her treehouse-is destroyed by fracking, and she begins noticing a strange ability to sense energy through nature. Driven by anger at the gas company for destroying her town and land, she begins to fight. Then comes Dex, a kid whose mom just got a new job at the gas company-a job that could finally raise them a hair out of poverty. A job that can keep them going until Dex can be the caretaker after he goes to the army and college. Dex is focused and driven, but he is also struggling to find his place…and then he meets Viv. A slow-burn romance ensues. One that battles socio-economical issues, gender expectations, and environmental ethical dilemmas. Nora Shalaway Carpenter has woven a story about finding your power, tackling topics and characters rarely seen in the young adult category. You will come out of this story a better person, knowing that no issue is black and white and that listening to others, their perspectives and their histories, can help us all understand each other and make change together. This book is most powerful for young readers who are feeling hopeless with the devastation around them (climate change, environmental issues, injustice) and can give them a sense of hope that even small actions can make a difference.

Alexis Ennis, Mrs. Book Dragon

Smith, Lyssa Mia
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: ChristaS

Moulin Rouge fans, get ready to be transported to a magical island in Prohibition-era New York. Revelle is the story of Luxe Revelle, the star of her family’s show and the only one who can save her family from losing all they know. Prohibition has hit this island hard and when Dewey Charmant, the son of the wealthiest family on the island with the only successful bootlegging enterprise, offers up a deal, Luxe can’t refuse. Pose as his girl to help him become mayor in exchange for everything her family needs? Done. Until she accidentally meets Jamison. Jamison Port is an orphan searching for what happened to his family and the island of Charmant feels like home. Secrets. Twists and turns. Forbidden romance. Magic. All come to a head in a finale that will keep you turning pages faster than you can read. Lyssa Mia Smith has created an exhilarating magical world with a tragic love story, beautiful setting, and riveting characters. Readers will be dazzled by this standalone novel.

Alexis Ennis, Mrs. Book Dragon

The Half-Life of Love
Bourne, Brianna
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Isla K.

Flint Larsen has 41 days, 9 hours, and 42 minutes to live. In this society, set in the not-so-distant future, people seizure when they've reached the halfway point of their lives. Flint's occurred when he was eight. He's spent most of his life quietly waiting to die, but when he meets September Harrington, for the first time in a long time, he wants to live. This YA sci-fi romance will have readers considering the meaningfulness of their own lives and how short life can be, but also fighting for what's important while we're here. I loved both of the main characters and what they were each struggling with throughout the book. This one will stay with you for a while.

Amanda Hunt, TheNextGenLibrarian

The Isles of the Gods
Kaufman, Amie
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission

A sentinel goddess who requires a sacrifice to continue protecting her people, a sleeping god who will awaken with a sacrifice from his, and a host of characters racing to prevent a war that will tear the world apart. This is Isles of the Gods; a sweeping fantasy that takes the reader on a clandestine high-seas adventure as a group of strangers band together to make it to their god/goddess in time. More than just a fun adventure, it’s a beautifully written story filled with rich world-building, unique magic, and a diverse cast of characters that fly off the page and suck you in in equal measure. Told from multiple points of view, the story delves into the motivations, the reluctance, and the hearts of each character with surprising and well-developed nuance. Isles of the Gods is an incredibly satisfying read that leaves you excited to see what comes next!

Liz Garn, Elizabeth Garn

The Q
Tintera, Amy
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deborah Zeman

Amy Tintera weaves a dystopian thriller with a touch of Romeo and Juliet type star-crossed lovers and territorial feuds with nods to the current day pandemic in a nonstop race to beat the clock. The Q is a post-apocalyptic quarantine zone where Austin, Texas once was. Its residents are walled off from the rest of society as they have been exposed to a deadly virus. Two competing families are in a bitter and often deadly territory war to keep control of the Q. When we first meet Lennon Pierce, the son of a US presidential candidate, he is kidnapped and forced to jump out of the plane and into the Q. He has hours to try and make his way to the only exits before he is considered too contaminated to ever leave, but he landed on the side farthest away from his only exit. While trying to escape, he learns about what life is really like inside the Q. This is a high-octane race against the clock where secrets are revealed, teens fall in love, and there are lots of crashes, explosions, and cold-blooded terror to keep teens reading. While being speculative fiction, it is so relatable to much of today's current politics and social structures.

Karen Jensen, Teen Librarian Toolbox

Threads That Bind
Hatzopoulou, Kika
Nominated by: MelissaB

In the half-sunken city of Alane, gangs rule the streets and the descendants of the Greek gods are everywhere, wielding their inherited power. Io is the youngest of the Ora sisters, descended from the Fates, and she uses her magic to make a living as a private investigator. When she’s hired by the most powerful woman in town she soon finds herself investigating a series of impossible murders. Threads that Bind is a genre-bending novel, part urban fantasy, part detective fiction, part gang warfare. It’s full of rich and detailed world-building that keeps the reader engaged as they try to put together the pieces of the mystery in between non-stop action and suspense. The romance is also a nice thread that runs throughout. It’s a slow burn between Io and her “fated” soulmate, but it gives their characters some additional depth without overshadowing the murders at the center of the story. While there have been a lot of stories inspired by the Greek gods, Threads the Bind offers a truly unique and refreshing spin on the genre for readers to get wrapped up in.

Christa Seeley, Christa's Books