It’s a huge time in children’s books: that’s right, it’s the annual Youth Media Awards! On Monday, the American Library Association announced their top children’s book picks via livestream. These awards include the prestigious Newberry, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards, among several others. As a new children’s librarian, it’s exciting to see such diverse stories and voices recognized at this year’s ceremony.

Instead of listing every winner and honoree, I’m highlighting the books and awards that we found most exciting. You can find the complete list of 2021 winners and runners up on the ALA’s official news release.

John Newberry Medal

First up is the John Newberry Medal, awarded for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. This year’s winner is When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller, a middle-grade novel about a Korean-American girl exploring her identity through her grandmother’s stories. The novel also won this year’s Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature!

Randolph Caldecott Medal

We Are The Water Protectors book cover

The Caldecott Medal is the Newberry’s counterpart for distinguished work in American picture books. We Are Water Protectors, illustrated by Michaela Goade, received the medal this year. Not only is this a great book, but Goade is the first Native American to win this award! Goade is a member of the Tlingit and Haida tribes in Southeast Alaska. Of why she was drawn to the book, written in response to the Dakota pipeline running through Standing Rock Sioux territory, she said, “I love how it balanced lyricism and poetry with a powerful message.” 

Coretta Scott King Awards

The numerous Coretta Scott King Awards recognize and celebrate African American authors and illustrators for children’s and young people’s literature. Highlights from this year’s winners include Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (Author Book Award) and Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (Steptoe New Talent Author Award). Legendborn is one of my recent favorite young adult releases. It tells the story of a Black teen girl who discovers a secret, historically white, magic society while attending a residential pre-college program. It’s the first book in a series that weaves Arthurian adventure with southern Black culture and is perfect for fantasy fans looking for something new.

RELATED: More Young Adults Books to Add to Your TBR

Lifetime Achievements and Legacy Awards

The ALA awards three lifetime achievement and legacy awards. Dorothy L Guthrie received the Coretta Scott King — Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Librarians, educators, or youth literacy advocates receive this award for substantial contributions using award-winning African American literature for children. The Youth Media Awards also honored Mildred D. Taylor, author of 1976 Newberry Award winner Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and The Road to Memphis, among other works, who received the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, while Kekla Magoon, author of X: A Novel and How It Went Down won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

Pura Belpré

The Pura Belpré Awards honor Latinx writers and illustrators whose books best affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience. Raúl Gonzalez won the illustrator award with his picture book ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, part of a series featuring a wolf named Little Lobo who loves food and wrestling. The book’s text features Latin American Spanish vocabulary that’s fun for native speakers and children learning Spanish.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros received the Children’s Author Award, while Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez won the Young Adult Author Award. The committee also honored We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez and Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera. Rivera’s Dealing in Dreams is one of my favorite books of the last few years, so I’m excited that she’s getting the attention she deserves.

Michael L. Printz Award 

Three covers of 2021 Michael L Printz Award winner and honored books

This award recognizes excellence in literature written for young adults. The 2021 Printz Award winner was Everything Sad is Untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri, an autobiographical novel about Nayeri’s childhood as an Iranian refugee in Oklahoma. Additional honors went to Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric GansworthEvery Body Looking by Candice Iloh and Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. You might recognize Yang for his work on the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, as well as Superman Smashes the Klan, his first foray into the DC Comics world.

Stonewall Book Award

Last but not least is the Stonewall Book Award. It recognizes exceptional children’s and young adult books relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. The 2021 winner was Archaa Shrivastav’s We Are Little Feminists: Families. Honors also went to Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne and Felix Ever After by National Book Award winner Kacen Callender.

There you have it! These are just some of the exciting winners of this year’s Youth Media Awards. All of these books are available for purchase from your local independent bookseller or, although they may be on back-order now that they’re award winners! Did your favorites take home a prize? Was there a book you think should have won? Let us know below!



Alex Faccibene
Latest posts by Alex Faccibene (see all)