2022 Blue Ribbons

2022 Blue Ribbons

Hand-drawn award ribbon outline in blue.We were lucky this year to see a sizeable increase in the diverse identities and ideas represented in literature for youth, and with that in mind, we couldn’t help but expand our own award list—there were just too many stellar examples of our field’s growing inclusivity. In nonfiction, you’ll find a healthy variety of formats and subjects, from a picture book walk through the Mexihcah’s process of creating amoxtin to a biography of Octavia Butler in evocative concrete poems. Fiction spans genres and settings, featuring separately a grim, post-apocalyptic world as the backdrop for exploring trans identity; an amusement park as the spark for a romance from multiple perspectives; and the Monterey Bay Aquarium as the aquatic background for a heartwarming animal tale. Community is the backbone of this year’s picture book list, with family and friends coming together to plant gardens and a neighborhood of animals overcoming their first impressions to make a warm, welcoming place for everyone. We conclude this year with a bonus of short story collections, a format we are always thrilled to see thrive. Happy reading!

—Kate Quealy-Gainer, editor


Albert, Melissa. Our Crooked Hearts. Flatiron. Gr. 9-12
This searing exploration of a toxic mother/daughter relationship and its connection to magic is haunting and beautiful, full of messy girls drunk on messier magic and told with electric prose brimming with sharp metaphors. (June)

Applegate, Katherine. Odder; illus. by Charles Santoso. Feiwel. Gr. 2-4
Inspired by true events, Applegate’s third-person narrative in verse delivers the playful but heartfelt story of Odder, a sea otter cared for at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. (October)

Callender, Kacen. Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 8-12
Lark must contend with the accidental revelation of Kasim’s love after he posts on their Twitter account; this rich world is peopled with loving and lovable characters, many of whom are Black and LGBTQIA+, and their voices respect the intensity with which teens consider racism, ableism, and transphobia. (September)

Eagar, Lindsay. The Patron Thief of Bread. Candlewick. Gr. 5-8
To help her street gang survive on the streets of medieval France, chronically underestimated Duck apprentices to a blind baker to steal money but ends up warily reciprocating the baker’s care; this story of family and acceptance reaches a hopeful conclusion that is balanced by wry, but not bitter, complexity. (April)

Forest, Kristina. Zyla & Kai. Kokila. Gr. 8-12
Zyla and Kai meet, date, and break up in this romance, which is elevated by Forest’s mastery of the narrative structure; she utilizes different tenses, points of view, and styles to demonstrate the unexpected ways human lives are interconnected. (June)

Keller, Tae. Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone. Random House. Gr. 5-8
In this nuanced and compassionate book, seventh grader Mallory falls under the sway of queen bees and joins in their torment of Jennifer; a compelling author’s note illuminates the complicated motivations and devastating results of bullying. (April)

Lamb, Sacha. When the Angels Left the Old Country. Levine Querido. Gr. 9-12
Steeped in both Jewish folklore and the Eastern European immigrant experience, this immersive story is carried equally by the propulsive plot and the winning trio at its center, as the demon Little Ash, the angel Uriel, and the firecracker of a human Rose leave Warsaw for the U.S. in the early twentieth century. (November)

McCall, Guadalupe García. Echoes of Grace. Tu/Lee & Low. Gr. 10-12
Grace can experience “echoes” of past events, and a tragedy tips her into memories of a horrific sexual assault in this contemplative, haunting examination of internalized misogyny, victim-blaming, and the paralyzing ripples of trauma through generations. (June)

Reynolds, Jason. Ain’t Burned All the Bright; illus. by Jason Griffin. Dlouhy/Atheneum. Gr. 5-10
Reynolds’ wrenching and hope-filled poem depicts a family of four who must sit with the racial injustices, climate crises, and close-to-home illness that categorized pandemic-era unrest; Griffin’s mixed media artwork traces the same emotional journey, with gritty texture and turbulent imagery that speak in concert with the text. (January)

Skinner, Nicola. Storm. HarperCollins. Gr. 5-8
This poignant story tackles grand themes of love, forgiveness, friendship, and even the meaning of life as readers meet twelve-year-old Frankie, who was killed in a tsunami and wakes up as a ghost to find her home has become a tourist spot. (February)

Strong, Karen. Eden’s Everdark. Simon. Gr. 5-8
Grieving her mother’s death, Eden steps into a cursed, parallel world and must draw on her family’s ancestral powers to escape; the worldbuilding is complex, centering a tropical island built upon enslaved labor that is slowly being reclaimed and brought into the light. (September)

van Rijckeghem, Jean-Claude. Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady; tr. by Kristen Gehrman. Levine Querido. Gr. 10 up
In 1808 Ghent, delightfully chaotic Stance escapes her arranged marriage and poses as a man to fight in Napoléon’s army; direct prose relays both hilarity and visceral grit in this historical fiction romp through war and gender. (February)

White, Andrew Joseph. Hell Followed with Us. Peachtree. Gr. 9-12
In a grim, post-apocalyptic world, Benji escapes from a violent cult and finds allies in a group of teens living in an abandoned LGBTQ+ center; this is the best of horror, with as much bloody gore as clever commentary on society and its—perhaps necessary—collapse. (May)

Wilson, Kip. The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin. Versify/HarperCollins. Gr. 7-12
The 1932 Berlin setting is brought to life with cultural references and insightful contemplations in this poignant verse novel that follows eighteen-year-old Hilde as she leaves her orphanage and finds a job at a gay cabaret. (April)

Zappia, Francesca. Katzenjammer. Greenwillow. Gr. 9-12
Cat is trapped in her high school and slowly transforming into something less than human in this savagely horrific and strangely wise story that reminds readers that the monsters you see are not always the monsters that will hurt you. (May)


Brew-Hammond, Nana Ekua. Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky; illus. by Daniel Minter. Knopf. 5-8 yrs
Brew-Hammond’s graceful prose and fluid organization, coupled with Minter’s emotive illustrations, make for an evocative exploration of the conceptual idea and historical significance of the color blue. (January)

Hancox, Lewis. Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure; written and illus. by Lewis Hancox. Graphix/Scholastic. Gr. 8-12
The setup of this brilliant graphic novel memoir sees Hancox, now an adult trans man, return to high school to talk with his teen self; biting humor combines with a melancholy wisdom to create a compassionate and layered reflection on his struggle for identity. (May)

Joy, Angela. Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement; illus. by Janelle Washington. Roaring Brook. Gr. 3-5
Joy places the tragedy of Emmett Till’s murder in the context of Mamie’s life, bringing an intimacy to the portrayal of a mother forced to publicly mourn the violent death of her son; striking paper cut art underscores the narrative’s raw emotion. (October)

Kooser, Ted. Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play among Figures of Speech; by Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek; illus. by Richard Jones. Candlewick. Gr. 3-6
Shaped into four sections on the elements Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, this collection of poems is a delight of wordplay, imagery, and clever rhymes but remains accessible to readers with varied poetry comfort levels. (March)

Marwan, Zahra. Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home; written and illus. by Zahra Marwan. Bloomsbury. 6-10 yrs
In thoughtful, accessible narration, Marwan explains her immigrant experience with a Kuwaiti mother and stateless father; evocative paintings convey her emotional turmoil as well as the beauty of her two homes. (March)

Montague, Liz. Maybe an Artist: A Graphic Memoir; written and illus. by Liz Montague. Random House Studio. Gr. 6-8
This sharp, insightful graphic memoir offers snapshots of Liz’s life from age five through to age 22, when she became one of the first Black female cartoonists published in The New Yorker. (October)

Partridge, Elizabeth. Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adams’ Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration; illus. by Lauren Tamaki. Chronicle. Gr. 6-12
Exquisitely crafted and fiercely provocative, this gorgeous work of nonfiction focuses on the works of three photographers as they documented the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. (November)

Robinson, Fiona. Out of the Shadows: How Lotte Reiniger Made the First Animated Fairytale Movie; written and illus. by Fiona Robinson. Abrams. Gr. 3-5
Robinson’s cut-paper art makes a perfect pairing with her picture book biography of Lotte Reiniger, a pioneering woman in the film world whose inventions and creativity would have long-lasting effects on animation and moviemaking. (December, 2021)

Tan, Shaun. Creature: Paintings, Drawings, and Reflections; written and illus. by Shaun Tan. Levine Querido. Gr. 9-12
Tan acts as artist, curator, interpretive essayist, and catalog editor for a gallery of over two hundred pieces of his own works; sketches of otherworldly creatures and settings come together with contemplative essays and notes to create an immersive look at a perennially intriguing artist. (October)

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexihcah Word Painters; written and illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams. Gr. 1-5
This picture book walks readers through the Mexihcah’s process of creating amoxtin (books), as told by a Mexicah girl; Tonatiuh’s characteristically flat, digitally collaged illustrations tell the story just as much as the clarifying text, making for a layered examination of culture, values, and the stories that shape them. (December)

Zoboi, Ibi. Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler. Dutton. illus. with photographs. Gr. 6-10
This biographical sketch of acclaimed author Octavia Butler pairs elegantly crafted poems with direct, informative prose to create an emotionally charged look at a Black woman who changed the literary landscape. (January)


Bonilla, Rocio. In the Neighborhood; written and illus. by Rocio Bonilla. Charlesbridge. 4-7 yrs
This charming Spanish import offers both heart and humor in its community of animals who steadily dismantle their assumptions about their neighbors; wavery pencil lines and watercolor detail the distinct, amusing quirks going on in each household. (October)

Ferneyhough, Liza. Nana, Nenek & Nina; written and illus. by Liza Ferneyhough. Dial. 3-7 yrs
This meticulously detailed picture book is a loving ode to two cultures, as young Nina visits her grandmothers in Britain and Malaysia; simple text and colorful watercolor and quill-dip pen illustrations cleverly convey the parallels between her experiences. (July/August)

Ford, Bernette G. Uncle John’s City Garden; illus. by Frank Morrison. Holiday House. 4-7 yrs
Communal work, neighborhood bonds, and yummy food are all celebrated as Li’l Sissy and her siblings and uncle transform a vacant lot into a lush, fruitful garden; perspectives are brilliantly used to bring life to the growing garden and those who work it. (June)

Gilmore, Sophie. The Sea in the Way; written and illus. by Sophie Gilmore. Greenwillow. 4-7 yrs
Badger’s best efforts to see her friend Bear are waylaid by the sea that separates them, which sets Badger to a series of tasks that eventually make her appreciate her home and life outside of Bear; Gilmore’s softly textured watercolors evoke the seascape and Badger’s lonesome wistfulness. (October)

Guojing. The Flamingo; written and illus. by Guojing. Random House Studio. Gr. 2-4
Scant text allows the rich, saturated illustrations to carry the emotional weight of this short graphic novel that celebrates intergenerational creativity as it follows both a young girl’s trip to and from her grandmother’s country and the fantastical tale of a giant flamingo. (September)

Lawson, JonArno. A Day for Sandcastles; illus. by Qin Leng. Candlewick. 4-7 yrs
Gorgeous ink and watercolor illustrations give a constant sense of movement to this wordless picture book; young readers will be eager for a day of surf and sun after tracking a trio of beachgoing siblings and their efforts to build a sandcastle. (March)

Lyall, Casey. A Spoonful of Frogs; illus. by Vera Brosgol. Greenwillow. 4-7 yrs
A glamorous witch filming a TV segment on Frog Soup quickly resorts to non-magical methods to catch her wayward frogs on a spoon; Brosgol’s spright digital art emphasizes the physical comedy of the witch’s contortions, contrasting well with the spare text. (September)

Mountford, Karl James. The Circles in the Sky; written and illus. by Karl James Mountford. Candlewick Studio. 4-8 yrs
Moth and Fox must navigate their emotions in the wake of a bird’s death in this poignant examination of loss; Mountford’s stylized illustrations bring a graceful beauty, balancing movement and energy against a background of stillness. (July)

Pinfold, Levi. Paradise Sands: A Story of Enchantment; written and illus. by Levi Pinfold. Candlewick. Gr. 3-7
In this startling and memorable picture book, a young girl must save her brothers after they are trapped in the enchanted realm of the lion-like Teller; muted-toned illustrations call up Chris Van Allsburg, but with a darker edge. (November)

Verdad, Marcelo. The Worst Teddy Ever; written and illus. by Marcelo Verdad. Little. 4-7 yrs
Noa must put up with a constantly sleepy, no-fun stuffie—what he doesn’t know is that Teddy has a nighttime gig protecting the kiddo’s sleep from interruption; friendly, mixed media artwork consisting of paper cutouts with crayoned and painted details complements the playful text. (September)

Williams, Alicia D. The Talk; illus. by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu. Atheneum. 6-10 yrs
As our spunky young narrator Jay grows from child to preteen, the Black boy sees the change in the way people treat him; the everyday examples of casual racism make the book a painful but accessible introduction to discussing the lasting effects of white supremacy. (October)

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly; illus. by Rafael López. Paulsen/Penguin. 4-7 yrs
In this book inspired by Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly, readers follow two siblings as they imagine flying over their city; luminous art connects their journey to their family ancestry, making this an appealing pick for a family storytime or discussion on heritage. (January)


Adler, Dahlia, ed. At Midnight: 15 Beloved Fairy Tales Reimagined; ed. by Dahlia Adler. Flatiron. Gr. 7-12
In this diverse collection of reimagined fairy tales, readers can find stories as satisfyingly sharp as the first bite of a poisoned apple, while others offer softness and hard-won optimism; the best of the collection, however, remind us that fairy tales can lead to dangerous woods but can also offer a path that leads home. (November)

Capetta, A. R. ed. Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions; ed. by A. R. Capetta and Wade Roush. MITeen. Gr. 8-12
The short story format is deployed with precision and purpose in this collection of hard sci-fi tales, featuring stories that are distinctly beautiful, immediately engaging, and relentlessly provocative. (October)

Mitchell, Saundra, ed. Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder. Inkyard. Gr. 9-12
Meticulously curated, this collection focuses on LGBTQIA+ identity through the lens of futuristic love; the seventeen stories fully integrate a spectrum of representation with thoughtful narration, appealing accessibility, and clever, sometimes unpredictable plot points. (June)

Rogers, Andrea L. Man Made Monsters; illus. by Jeff Edwards. Levine Querido. Gr. 7-12
Rogers pulls from a rich authorial toolbox in this stunning collection that follows a Cherokee family through two centuries, effortlessly swapping between narrator points of view, story length, and writing styles to best tell each tale. (October)