Thursday, June 11, 2020

Look to the Cybils Awards for Exceptional Children's Books that Address Racism and Promote Diversity

I'm proud to have served as a Cybils Awards judge for many, many years. The Cybils Awards have always actively tried to create lists of exceptional children's books with a special emphasis on diversity.

I spent a little time today looking through Cybils Award finalists and winners from the last five years. Here are a few winners and finalists that address racism and promote diversity that you may like to read for yourself. I am sure there are many, many more.

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
2019 Finalist · Elementary/Middle-Grade Graphic Novels
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Finalist blurb: Rich with humor and emotion, New Kid explores both middle school life as well as the racist microaggressions that are prevalent in our society. When protagonist Jordan Banks finds himself at a new private school, he comes to realize that he is one of the few people of color there. Not only does he have to navigate the typical middle school challenges of making friends, dealing with crushes, and completing homework on time, but he also has to deal with the preconceived notions -- both his own and others' -- about race. Craft expertly deals with this topic while also creating realistic and heart-warming characters.
— Erin Warzala, Crooks in Books

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

by Kwame Mbalia
2019 Winner · Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction
Nominated by: Reshama

Finalist blurb: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is an epic adventure that melds African and African American folklore in a riveting fantasy about the power of stories. Tristan, an African American seventh grader, has lost his best friend and is spending the summer down South with his grandparents. There he is transported to a land of lore that is both familiar and strange. Tristan processes grief and guilt while confronting an allegory of his ancestral past in this otherworldly adventure. Told in rich cinematic detail with beautiful attention to dialogue, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky demands space on the bookshelf.
— Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)

by Trevor Noah
2019 Winner · Middle-Grade Nonfiction

Finalist blurb: Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, shares his story of growing up in South Africa in It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime, adapted for young readers from his bestselling memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Born of a black mother and white father at the tail end of apartheid, his very existence—the evidence of the mixing of races—means he was “born a crime.” A story of racial prejudice, poverty, violence, and faith, this remarkably honest and vividly written story takes young readers into the South African social and political landscape in the years immediately following the dismantling of apartheid.
— Carrie Butler Becker, Other Women's Stories
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers) (Amazon, IndieBound)

Hair Love

by Matthew A. Cherry
2019 Finalist · Fiction Picture Books
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Finalist blurb: Zuri has hair that kinks, coils, and curls every which way. She loves her hair and how it can make her feel - from a princess to a superhero. She wakes up on one special day determined to have the perfect hairstyle. Her dad offers to help and in typical dad fashion, creates styles that are not so perfect. After watching a how-to video, the perfect hairstyle is finally achieved. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison celebrates family, the relationship between a dad and his daughter, and of course - hair!
— Valerie Byrd Fort, Library Goddess

The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander
2019 Finalist · Fiction Picture Books
Nominated by: proseandkahn

Finalist blurb: Words by Kwame Alexander and pictures by Kadir Nelson combine to form a perfect tribute to the courageous struggles of black Americans, through time, for justice, for equality, for a good life. Children and adults alike will find themselves deeply moved after reading this powerful story of strength and persistence and endurance in the face of decades of torment and hatred and violence. This is a book that will be read and reread and shared again and again.
— Deb Nance, Readerbuzz

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

by Chris Barton
2018 Finalist · Elementary Nonfiction
Nominated by: DWhite

Finalist blurb: Chris Barton’s text begs to be read aloud. Using alliteration and repetition, it reverberates with the big booming voice of former U. S. Congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan. Ekua Holmes’ mixed media illustrations are as bright and bold as Barton’s text and perfectly capture the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the author’s note and a two-page spread timeline in the back matter, readers discover that Barbara Jordan —who retired early from public service because she had multiple sclerosis — died too young at 59. What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? is a wonderful choice for Black History Month, for Women’s History Month, and for all the months of the year.
— Roberta Gibson, Wrapped in Foil

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

by Tonya Bolden
2018 Finalist · Junior High Nonfiction
Nominated by: Stephanie Charlefour

Finalist blurb: Author Tonya Bolden believes there is more to reveal about one man known mostly for his autobiography of emancipation. She has written this illuminating, well-researched biography for YA readers about his character and contributions as a statesman, publisher and suffragist. A unique design feature of Facing Frederick is the use of famous daguerreotype photos of Douglass as focal points on the timeline of his life.
— Rebecca Aguilar, Mostly About Nonfiction

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson
2018 Winner · Middle Grade Fiction
Nominated by: Katy Kramp

Finalist blurb: Candace and Brandon are about the have the summer of their lives but not in the way they expected. The Parker Inheritance is part mystery part social activism. It weaves together a story of family dynamics, friendship, and the Civil Rights movement, showing the reader what it was like for African Americans living in the south at that time. The Parker Inheritance is told through alternating time lines of the present day and the 1950’s
— Shannon Griffin, Picture Books to YA

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
2018 Winner · Poetry
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

Finalist blurb: Fifteen-year-old Will knows the rules of the street- don't cry, don't snitch, and get revenge. When his older brother Sean is shot and killed, Will believes it's his job to avenge the murder. On the way down in the elevator, he encounters the ghosts of a number of people- an uncle, a childhood friend, his father, and finally, his brother, Sean- who have all died as a result of gun violence. Jason Reynold's novel-in-verse perfectly captures the reality of so many urban adolescents, and ends with a question that is sure to get readers talking. Definitely a book that will turn kids onto poetry.
— Carol Wilcox, Carol's Corner

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide

by Carol Anderson
2018 Finalist · Senior High Nonfiction
Nominated by: Kelly Jensen

Finalist blurb: A sobering look at how the US’s laws and court decisions have systematically disenfranchised African-Americans. Bolden’s Young Reader’s Edition of Anderson’s adult title White Rage focuses not just on landmark court cases but also the smaller moments, putting them into the broader American context. It excels at making complicated legal and judicial proceedings clear and easy-to-understand, showing how these issues are still current, and not just stains on our past.
— Jennie Rothschild, Biblio File

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults)

by Bryan Stevenson
2018 Finalist · Senior High Nonfiction
Publisher/ Author Submission

Finalist blurb: Based on his own experiences as a nonprofit lawyer defending people whom others have tossed aside and/or tried to forget about, Stevenson offers readers an in-depth look at our all-too-often dysfunctional and biased justice system. His flowing narrative allows us to get to know the individual clients, which drives home the often life-or-death nature of their various legal battles. This is a powerful, impactful, and enlightening book that has the power to transform the way this country thinks about justice, mercy, and compassion.
— Laurie Thompson, Laurie Ann Thompson

Locked Up for Freedom: Civil Rights Protesters at the Leesburg Stockade

by Heather E. Schwartz
2017 Finalist · Junior High Nonfiction
Publisher/ Author Submission

Finalist blurb: The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around, especially when one considers everything that lead up to it. Many activists during that period were arrested for participating in marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides. A surprising number of these activists were young people. After one such series of marches and protests, a group of thirty plus girls from Americus, Georgia were arrested and secretly taken to an old Civil War stockade outside of Leesburg, Georgia. After interviewing some of the participants, Schwartz recounts the experiences of some of those girls, both leading up to and including the imprisonment in the stockade. Being stuck in a run-down, filthy single room, the girls faced unhealthy food, lack of fresh water, no cleaning facilities and overflowing toilets. The girls’ courage and determination were tested to the limit as exhaustion and sickness took its toll. Amazingly, after their release, many of these girls remained committed to the movement for which they had suffered so much. Beautifully designed and highly readable, the author has clearly documented her sources and photographs making it easy to find additional information about a little known story from an important time in United States history.
— Heidi Grange, Geo Librarian

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power

by Ann Bausum
2017 Finalist · Senior High Nonfiction
Nominated by: Joanna Marple
Finalist blurb: Ann Bausum tells the powerful story of the 1966 March Against Fear, begun by James Meredith and his followers and finished by Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and other heavyweights of the Civil Rights Era. During the march, Carmichael introduced the term "black power," which did not go over well with the media and many whites. This book provides not only a look at a specific series of events, including the sometimes violent response, but it also looks at the changes that the Civil Rights Movement was experiencing along the way. The book shows that history is rarely smooth sailing, but full of bumps and storms with a few calm patches mixed in. The detailed notes, bibliography, photo credits, index, and black and white illustrations add to the effectiveness of Bausum’s excellent presentation. The quotes scattered throughout the book are particularly powerful.
— Heidi Grange, Geo Librarian

Piecing Me Together

by Renée Watson
2017 Winner · Young Adult Fiction
Nominated by: Becky L.
Finalist blurb: Jade navigates two worlds in her daily life: the world of economic challenge at home and the world of economic privilege at the private school she attends on scholarship. Given the opportunity to participate in a mentorship program for "at risk" students, Jade initially balks, agreeing only when she realizes joining may help with her ultimate goal—taking part in the school's study abroad program. Jade is a unique voice in YA, rebelling against the tyranny of sympathy and those who see her brown skin and economic status as ways to feel better about themselves. Poetic and lyrical, Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson reads like a piece of art itself, illuminating Jade as she pieces together her burgeoning identity, much as Jade illuminates her own growing truths in the collages she pieces together from the found and the forgotten.
— Pamela Thompson, What We're Reading Now

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas
2017 Finalist · Young Adult Fiction
Finalist blurb: The Hate U Give is a story that feels ripped from the headlines (unarmed African-American teen shot and killed by police officer) without ever becoming preachy or stereotypical and without resorting to demonizing any group. It's an incredibly tricky line to walk, but Angie Thomas makes it look easy. Starr—the only witness to the shooting—is caught in an impossible situation; her family may be in danger whatever she does or says. The story is necessary, especially for our current political climate, but it also transcends time and politics. A must-read.
— Kelly Hager, KellyVision

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman (2016-01-05)

by Susan E. Goodman
2016 Finalist · Elementary Nonfiction
Nominated by: Jonemac
Finalist blurb: In 1847, a police officer escorted four-year-old Sarah Roberts home from her all-white Boston classroom. This scene launches the story of her family's legal, political, and social battles to gain equal educational opportunities for Sarah and all children of color. It’s an unfamiliar footnote to history, but laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education more than a century later. Despite setbacks in Sarah’s case, in 1855 Boston became the first major American city to integrate its schools. "Every big change has to start somewhere". In the back matter Goodman directly addresses readers, discussing reliable research sources, making decisions about "cloudy" aspects of history, and modern language within historical context when the words used for people of color at the time were insulting and demeaning. A timeline of landmark desegregation events includes a challenge to readers to decide for themselves which are steps forward and which were steps back.The text is flawlessly written. Gorgeous illustrations convey the mood, the shifting perspectives, and details of the time period. Illustrator E. B. Lewis creates powerful images of a well-dressed, free, African American family, their urban setting, and aspects of their community that contrast starkly with Southern and slavery-based stereotypes. First steps, next steps, and the ones coming after form a chain of strength and hope.

Strictly No Elephants

by Lisa Mantchev
2016 Finalist · Fiction Picture Books
Nominated by: Flowering Minds
Wiseman Books

When one little boy and his tiny pet elephant try to participate in Pet Club Day, they are met with a sign that says: Strictly No Elephants. Despite their sadness, they push forward together and ultimately travel from the realization that they do not fit in that club, to a joyful accomplishment and a place where they can celebrate their differences with friends. This well-written and aptly-illustrated book conveys the sadness and sweet success often found in the process of finding true friends and subtly suggests the meaning of friendship.

— Lynne Marie, My Word Playground

Ghost (Track)

by Jason Reynolds
2016 Winner · Middle Grade Fiction
Nominated by: Abby Johnson
Finalist blurb: Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw can run. He may not have any formal training, but he’s counting on his natural talent to get him where he wants to be. Track isn’t a real sport anyway, he thinks. It’s just a way for him to show off. When an attempt to show off lands him a spot on an elite youth track team, he assumes he’ll be a star. After all, he’s been running for years. That’s what kept him safe when his father came after Ghost and his mother with a gun three years ago. His father may be in jail now, but that doesn’t mean that the trauma of that night is past for Ghost. He’s still running away from the memories and the anger he feels, but being on the track team shows him that there may be a way forward for him. There may be something worth running toward.

Ghost is a candid coming of age story starring an endearing but imperfect character that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

— Mindy Righer, Proper Noun Blog


by Kwame Alexander
2016 Finalist · Poetry
Nominated by: PragmaticMom
Finalist blurb: Booked by Kwame Alexander HMH Books for Young Readers

Nick Hall is a typical eighth grader who loves soccer and hates school. Unfortunately, he has a father who is a linguistics professor afflicted with chronic verbomania.* Nick's father loves words so much that he has written a dictionary, Weird and Wonderful Words, which he is forcing Nick to read, one letter at a time. And of course, his father is much more interested in developing his son's cognitive abilities than in supporting Nick's passion for soccer. Most of Nick's problems are typical middle school dilemmas-- boring classes, budding interest in a girl, and dealing with the school bullies, twins who steal Nick's bike. And of course the book has a couple of caring adults- one of whom happens to be a former Grammy-winning rapper turned school librarian, Mr. MacDonald. Nick's life takes an unexpected turn when his parents inform him they are separating and his mother is moving out of state to return to her first love, training horses. What's not typical about this book are Kwame Alexander's poems. Alexander uses a variety of poetic forms- including free verse, acrostics, found poems, and many others. And thanks to Nick's father, there's tons of interesting and unusual vocabulary- codswalloped, limerence, cacchinate, to name a few. A novel-in-verse that's sure to engage even the most reluctant reader. *a love of words

— Carol Wilcox, Carol's Corner

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights

by Rich Wallace
2016 Finalist · Senior High Nonfiction
Nominated by: Sherry Early
Finalist blurb: On August 20, 1965 Jonathan Daniels was murdered in Lowndes County Alabama, protecting fellow civil-rights activist Ruby Sales. This gorgeously designed book tells of the theology student’s life and the conviction he felt to fight the injustices he saw in his own country. With several other clergy members, Daniels went to Selma for the March to Montgomery but when others returned North, Daniels stayed to work and became part of the community. An inspirational look at a surprisingly little known civil rights martyr.
— Jennie, Biblio File

March: Book Three

by John Lewis
2016 Winner · Young Adult Graphic Novels
Nominated by: Becky L.
Finalist blurb: Georgia Congressman John Lewis's memoir about his time as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement uses stark black and white artistry to evoke painful emotions about a pressing time in our nation's history and the fight that continues today. The three volumes in the series use President Obama's 2009 inauguration as an opportunity for John Lewis to reflect on how much progress our country has made, but even that optimism doesn't quite soften the blow for the unnecessary deaths and inconceivable injustices participants on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement faced. Police violence, elected officials who turn a blind eye, allies who think of politics before justice, and in-group fighting among the protesters -- this book feels more like a how-to manual for ethical protest in today's world than a history of what was.
— Amy Estersohn, No Flying, No Tights

The Door at the Crossroads

by Zetta Elliott
2016 Finalist · Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth
Finalist blurb: With elements of time travel and magic realism framing strong historical and contemporary narratives, The Door at the Crossroads is a compelling story sure to appeal to a wide variety of readers. Through interesting and well-written characters, it provides a much-needed mirror and window book on contemporary African-American and Afro-Latinx stories, while also depicting the history of slavery that still impacts our society today. Although the harsh reality of slavery is unflinchingly shown, the 19th Century free black community of Weeksville, in Brooklyn, is also vividly and lovingly depicted, showing a depth, resilience, and sense of community that has helped black people to survive centuries of violence. Post-9/11 New York is also depicted, including touching on Islamophobia.
— Sheila Ruth, Wands and Worlds

National Geographic Readers: Rosa Parks (Readers Bios)

by Kitson Jazynka
2015 Finalist · Easy Readers
Nominated by: Maria Marshall
Finalist blurb: This intermediate easy reader biography not only covers Rosa Parks' historic act of civil disobedience, it explains her life before and after the event and includes the historical context. The book offers a simple explanation of segregation and sets the scene for the pivotal moment by relating everyday things, like the cost of chocolate and games children played, to modern-day equivalents. The easy reader also includes information on Parks' lifelong dedication to civil rights and brings events to life in a way that young readers will understand and relate to current events. With economical language, photographs, and clear sources, Jazynka has created an excellent introduction to Rosa Parks for beginning readers.
— Jennifer Wharton, Jean Little Library

Bayou Magic

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
2015 Finalist · Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction
Nominated by: Patricia Tilton
Finalist blurb: In a simple but not simplistic story, 10-year-old Maddie visits her Grandmère in the Louisiana bayou in order to learn the magical traditions of her family. While there, she discovers how friendship and magic (and bonus mermaids!) can help with modern problems, and learns the importance of being connected to the land around her. Rhodes has created book with a lyrical mix of African, French and Creole traditions that has a huge heart and is full of magic and, ultimately, joy
— Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Peña
2015 Finalist · Fiction Picture Books
Nominated by: Anne Marie Pace
Finalist blurb: Matt de la Peña delivers a great cross-generational experience on an ordinary bus ride. CJ doesn’t want to wait in the rain, doesn’t want to ride the bus, and does not want to venture across town like he does every Sunday after church. He longs for what others have until Nana opens her gentle, very unique worldview that includes trees that drink from straws, a blind man that sees with his ears (and nose) and CJ, himself, who embraces the discovery that the true smell of “freedom,” is one that simply finds magic, beauty, and fun in the diverse spectrum of people he meets everywhere. The energy of the words marry the vibrancy and color of Christian Robinson’s illustrations. This book is one that will leave all readers embracing the delicious moments in life.

Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World

by Kathy Lowinger
2015 Finalist · Senior High Nonfiction
Nominated by: Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Finalist blurb: With faith and song during the Reconstruction era, a group of former slaves became world famous for their musical interpretation of the songs of their parents and grandparents, spirituals or “slave songs” as they were called. It all started when, freed from slavery after the Civil War, seventeen year old Ella Sheppard asked to exchange work for an education at Fisk Free Colored School (now Fisk University) in Nashville, TN. She knew how to work hard, and she knew how to sing. Both talents would be useful since the school was almost out of money. The students, including Ella and along with their treasurer and choirmaster, George Leonard White, set out to raise money for Fisk with a series of concerts. The nine students became known as The Jubilee Singers. Although they faced persecution, prejudice, and indifference, these young former slaves went out across the nation “in God’s strength . . . to sing the money out of the hearts and pockets of the people.” Read their inspiring story in Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World.
— Sherry Early, Semicolon

March: Book Two

by John Lewis
2015 Finalist · Young Adult Graphic Novels
Nominated by: Constance Burris
Finalist blurb: Just as powerfully as in March: Book One, Book Two continues the story of John Lewis's involvement in America's civil rights movement. March: Book Two, despite its title, stands alone as a distinct chapter in America's long struggle with race, but it also emerges smoothly from its predecessor volume. The book focuses on the Freedom Riders and ends just after the August, 1963 March on Washington.. Although somewhat denser than Book One, Book Two alternates effectively between the political discussions among the movement's leaders and the more dramatic scenes in streets and prisons. The black-and-white artwork evokes the familiar black-and-white newsreel footage of protestors being set upon with firehoses and police dogs, as well as the well-known images of George Wallace on the steps of the Alabama capitol and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. When those iconic images show up in comic form, they are simultaneously familiar and new. March: Book Two is an important contribution to our understanding of America and its history.
— Gary Anderson, What's not wrong?


  1. I've had the March graphic novels on my TBR list for a long time. I can't think of a better time to read all three. Thanks for the reminder, Deb.

  2. Wonderful list Deb, thank you for pulling these all together.

  3. Deb, these sound like some worthy award contenders. I love that so many books for kids these days
    both educates and entertains.

    1. I do, too. I find myself reading more children's books.

  4. Great list! I've read several of these and enjoyed them tremendously. There are a few I still need to read.

  5. I love the Seinfeld episode where Joey uses a thesaurus on his computer for the first time and changes every word in a letter of recommendation to make it sound "smart." He goes to write "from the bottom of my heart" and it comes out "from the depths of my systolic pump." I always use this tiny clip when I discuss "inflated language" with my students.
    Sounds like you had a good week and I liked all the video--proud of Nolan Ryan.

  6. Wonderful list and a great idea to look to the CYBILS for inspiration. The judges really do pick some awesome reads.

  7. My whole book group loved The Hate U Give. I've added a few for Gage's reading list :)


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