2021 Newbery Award Winners

January 31st, 2021 by

During the pandemic, there are no more fancy awards shows with live performances, red carpets, and good-looking celebrities chatting with even better-looking celebrities while wearing glittering gowns. But you know one thing that social distancing cannot take away from us? Book awards!!!

On Monday, the American Library Association announced the 2021 Newbery Medal Winner and 2021 Newbery Honor Books. Every year, the Newbery is given to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

This year’s big winner is When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller — which also won the 2021 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature! When we were growing up, it seemed like only a few novels featured Asian-American kids like us, so it’s pretty exciting to see this book selected for both awards.

Plus, the double award was apparently essential to surprising the author with her Newbery news. Tae Keller told Publishers Weekly Magazine that she learned about her Asian/Pacific American Award on a Friday, but then her editor said the awards committee wanted to do a video call with her that Sunday. All weekend, she was super nervous and unsure what they were going to say. Then it turned out that the call was to surprise her with the news that she won the Newbery Medal! We don’t know about you, but that sounds about 100 times more thrilling than any of our recent Zoom calls!

So if you’re trying to decide what to read next, check out When You Trap a Tiger or Tae Keller’s first book, The Science of Breakable Thingsor any of this year’s Newbery Honor recipients (official descriptions from the publishers):

2021 Newbery Medal Winner:

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now they want it back. And when one of the tigers approaches Lily with a deal — return what her grandmother stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health — Lily is tempted to agree. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice… and the courage to face a tiger.

2020 Newbery Honor Books:

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. The boys are trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spreads, launching a 17-day rescue operation involving thousands of rescuers from around the globe. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder: How long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Luckily, the Wild Boars are a very extraordinary “ordinary” group. Combining firsthand interviews of rescue workers with in-depth science and details of the region’s culture and religion, author Christina Soontornvat — who was visiting family in Northern Thailand when the Wild Boars went missing — masterfully shows how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the 13 young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission. 

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Henry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known as Box, he “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one generation to the next — as property. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Henry Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape!

In stanzas of six lines each, each line representing one side of a box, celebrated poet Carole Boston Weatherford powerfully narrates Henry Brown’s story of how he came to send himself in a box from slavery to freedom.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf — her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in 7th grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.

Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing 7th grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his 12-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.

The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project — they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Are you adding any of these books to your to-read list? Or have you already read them? Leave a comment and let us know!

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