Nikki Katz

Looking for great books to add to your classroom library or to launch a new lesson plan? This list of 2021 award-winning books for kids is a good start. They make especially great gifts for the holiday season, too!

(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page.)

Newbery Medal Winner:
When You Trap a Tiger, written by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger book cover

About the Award: Named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. This award is given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of ALA, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

About the Book: In this book for 8-12 year-olds, Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother. While there, a magical tiger straight out of Lily’s Halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives. She unravels a secret family history and learns about herself in the process.

Caldecott Medal Winner:
We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom

We Are Water Protectors book cover

About the Award: Named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. This award is given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of ALA, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

About the Book: This picture book for young readers was inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America. It’s a cry to safeguard the Earth’s water, with powerful illustrations to match!

Coretta Scott King Award Winner:
Before the Ever After, written by Jacqueline Woodson

Before the Ever After

About the Award: Given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

About the Book: A stirring novel-in-verse that follows ZJ and his family as his dad, a professional football player, begins to have memory problems and anger issues.

Coretta Scott King Award Winner:
RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

RESPECT book cover

About the Award: Given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

About the Book: Aretha Franklin was born to sing. The daughter of a pastor and a gospel singer, her musical talent was clear from her earliest days in her father’s Detroit church where her soaring voice spanned more than three octaves.

Everything Sad Is Untrue

About the Award: Named for a Topeka, Kansas, school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. Award given for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

About the Book: In this young adult novel, a boy named Khosrou tells the stories of his family, but nobody believes him. Read as his family flees Iran in the middle of the night, endure cement refugee camps of Italy, and more.

National Book Award Winner (Young People’s Literature):
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, written by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

About the Award: The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in America. Since 1989, they have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.

About the Book: Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu’s feelings for classmate Kathleen Miller under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Batchelder Award Winner:
Telephone Tales, written by Gianni Rodari

Telephone Tales

About the Award: This award is given to a United States publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originating in a country other than the United States, in a language other than English, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.

About the Book: At the same time each night, Mr. Bianchi, an accountant who often has to travel for work, calls his daughter and tells her a bedtime story. The book is set prior to cellular phones, and each story is told in the time a single coin will buy.

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Winner:
Honeybee, written by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Honeybee book cover

About the Award: Established by the Association for Library Service to Children in 2001, this award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois, and is sponsored by the company. ALSC administers the award.

About the Book: The life cycle of a worker honeybee, including the many roles she plays within her colony, unfold alongside detailed, closeup illustrations.

Geisel Award Winner:
See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog, written by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

See the Cat

About the Award: Given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers. Must be published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

About the Book: Poor Max. He’s a dog, but much to his dismay, the book keeps instructing readers to “see the cat!” A fun book for adults guiding early readers.

Odyssey Award Winner:
Kent State  by Deborah Wiles

Kent State

About the Award: Given to the producer of the best audiobook made for children and/or young adults. Must be available in English in the United States.

About the Book: Two-time National Book Award finalist Deborah Wiles explores one of the darkest moments in our history, when American troops killed four American students protesting the Vietnam War.

William C. Morris Award Winner:
If These Wings Could Fly, written by Kyrie McCauley

 If These Wings Could Fly

About the Award: Given to a debut author who demonstrates an “impressive new voice” in young adult literature.

About the Book: Tens of thousands of crows have invaded Auburn, Pennsylvania. It’s an issue for everyone in town except seventeen-year-old Leighton Barnes. For Leighton, it’s no stranger than her house, which inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things.

Pura Belpré Award Winner:
¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, illustrated and written by Raúl Gonzalez

Vamos

About the Award: Named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. Award presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. Co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA, and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

About the Book: A delicious follow-up to Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! Follow Little Lobo as he returns to share his love of food and wrestling.

Pura Belpré Award Winner:
Efrén Divided, written by Ernesto Cisneros

Efrén Divided

About the Award: Named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. Award presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. Co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA, and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

About the Book: Efrén is American-born, but his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when his grandmother, Amá. doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Schneider Family Book Award:
I Talk Like a River, written by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith

I Talk Like a River

About the Award: Awarded to honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Given by the American Library Association.

About the Book: A boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating. His kindly father and a walk by the river help him find his voice.

New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Winner:
I Am the Subway, written and illustrated by Kim Hyo-eun

I Am the Subway

About the Award: This is only one of the ten books featured in this list that has been created annually since 1952. Three expert judges select the 10 winners purely on the basis of artistic merit.

About the Book: Accompanied by the constant, rumbling ba-dum ba-dum of its passage through the city, the subway has stories to tell. Between sunrise and sunset, it welcomes and farewells people, and holds them―along with their joys, hopes, fears, and memories―in its embrace.

Which of these award-winning kids books are you most looking forward to sharing with your class? Share in the comments below.

Also, check out our best books for the classroom, by grade and subject.

Check Out All the Award-Winning Kids & YA Books From 2021





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