2023 Blue Ribbons

2023 Blue Ribbons

Hand-drawn award ribbon outline in blue.Humor and silliness seemed to be sorely lacking in 2023, so the staff at the Bulletin is delighted that our Blue Ribbons list for the year features a host of joyful, celebratory, and yes, funny, titles. Among our selected picture books, readers will meet a little old lady who reluctantly befriends a group of ghosts, ghouls, mummies, and werewolves. Our fiction section offers up a movie-ready rom-com as well as a middle-grade take on Groundhog Day. Meanwhile, our nonfiction list revisits a world-famous heist, and our graphic novels, a new addition to the overall list, include two wonderfully subversive recastings of heroic tales. Of course, not everything can be sunshine and rainbows, but a well-told tale will always resonate; compassionate and nuanced contemplations of gender, sexuality, family legacy, and trauma span across all four categories. Whether young readers are looking for a belly laugh or a cathartic cry, they’ll find something here. Happy reading!

—Kate Quealy-Gainer, editor


Bow, Erin. Simon Sort of Says. Disney Hyperion. Gr. 6-8
Brimming with vitality, humor, and compassion, Bow’s story takes a unique approach to exploring the nuances of post-traumatic healing in its portrayal of Simon, a young boy reeling from a terrible tragedy and finding refuge in a town dedicated to finding extraterrestrial life. (January)

Eagar, Lindsay. The Family Fortuna. Candlewick. Gr. 9-12
Eager’s witty prose never falters as readers follow the Family Fortuna traveling circus to a late nineteenth-century American desert town, where Avita’s father’s endless exploitation of his children finally spurs a turning point for Avita, the monstrous “Bird Girl,” and her mistreated siblings. (April)

Gansworth, Eric. My Good Man. Levine Querido, 2022. Gr. 8-12
Spanning two decades, this dense, thoughtful, and complex book first introduces 25-year-old Brian, a journalist at a small city newspaper, and then takes readers through a series of flashbacks as he revisits his childhood on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, reflecting upon notions of friendship, masculinity, and Indigenous identity. (January)

Hardinge, Frances. Unraveller. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 7-10
In Hardinge’s brilliantly developed story, travelling companions Kellen, unraveller of curses, and Nettle, released by him from a curse that made her a bird, contend with those who fear or would exploit Kellen’s gift in a world where curses are easily cast in anger but far more difficult to undo. (January)

Langley, Kaija. The Order of Things. Paulsen/Penguin. Gr. 5-8
When aspiring drummer April loses her best friend Zee, a talented violinist, the reverberations of grief echo through every one of her relationships, and the resulting rearrangements of familial and friendship dynamics are explored in this stunning verse novel. (June)

Long, Ethan. The Death and Life of Benny Brooks: Sort of a Memoir; written and illus. by Ethan Long. Ottaviano/Little. Gr. 4-6
Based on the author’s own childhood, this illustrated, diary-like story is a tender, vulnerable portrayal of a troubled family bound both by love and tragedy as the eponymous Benny deals with his estranged mother and his father’s cancer diagnosis. (November)

McCullough, Joy. Enter the Body. Dutton. Gr. 9-12
Alternating between poetry and prose, McCullough skillfully uses the conventions of each to recast tragedy, gathering some of Shakespeare’s most famous dead heroines in a sort of purgatory to retell their stories, providing scope for slightly kinder worlds and broader desires than their written fates. (March)

Nazemian, Abdi. Only This Beautiful Moment. Balzer + Bray. Gr. 9-12
In this moving contemplation of intergenerational trauma, masculinity, and reconciliation, parallel narratives follow three generations of Iranian men, tied together through love and family but kept apart because of secrets that have built seemingly insurmountable walls between fathers and sons. (June)

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Vivian Lantz’s Second Chances. Harper. Gr. 4-8
A “Groundhog Day” premise gives Vivian the chance (multiple chances, in fact) to redo her disastrous first day of eighth grade; over subsequent iterations, Vivian’s idea of the perfect start to school changes dramatically in this witty, thoughtful middle grade read. (July)

Romero, R.M. A Warning About Swans. Peachtree. Gr. 9-12
Elements from “Swan Lake,” Germanic folklore, and Norse mythology come together in rich harmony in this elegant, queer-affirmative verse novel, telling the story of Hilde, daughter of Odin, as she leaves behind her duties to join the human world. (September)

Spalding, Amy. No Boy Summer. Amulet/Abrams. Gr. 8-12
This insightful novel is a true exemplar of the rom-com genre, employing its familiar tropes with freshness and humor to offer readers a funny, earnest look at relationships—romantic, platonic, and familial—as readers meet sisters Lydia and Penny, who have sworn off dating boys for the summer. (May)

Tison, Ari. Saints of the Household. Farrar. Gr. 9-12
Alternating between emotional, journal-like vignettes and stunning poems, Tison’s writing deftly captures the two distinct voices of brothers Jay and Max as they negotiate the disconnect between their cultural values of peace as Bribri, Indigenous people of Costa Rica, and the violence in their lives. (February)

White, Andrew Joseph. The Spirit Bares Its Teeth. Peachtree. Gr. 9-12
Just as superb as this debut (Hell Followed with Us, BCCB 5/22), White’s complex, layered sophomore effort is set in an alternate history of London in late nineteenth century, where an ability to commune with the dead brings little but abuse to violet-eyed Silas as he tries to reject his crushing future as a dutiful wife. (September)


Brown, Don. 83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary; written and illus. by Don Brown. Clarion. Gr. 9-12
This intensely powerful graphic novel documents the Russian invasion of Ukraine from its start in February 2022; haunting watercolor-and-ink illustrations document the catastrophes words cannot possibly convey and humanize the scope of the conflict into spare, focused scenes. (May)

Day, Nicholas. The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, A Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity; illus. by Brett Helquist. Random House Studio. Gr. 5-10
Bouncing between turn-of-the-century Paris and the Italian Renaissance, Day playfully recounts the creation of the Mona Lisa, its 1911 theft, and the media frenzy that transformed it into cultural phenomenon, as black-and-white vignettes from Helquist match the breezy tone. (October)

Gopal, Jyoti Rajan. Desert Queen; illus. by Svabhu Kohli. Levine Querido. Gr. 2-4
This biographical account of Indian drag performer Queen Harish is a whirling delight, with Gopal’s text and Kohli’s strikingly layered art—rich in jewel tones, endless patterning, and swirling, dashing linework—celebrating how a young boy in the desert found joy in both dance and gender expression. (October)

Henderson, Kimberly Annece. Dear Yesteryear. Dial. Gr. 3-6
Henderson’s curated showcase of Black history pairs a selection of photos with a direct address letter to “yesteryears,” generations of people of color from the late 1800s to early 1900s; the ingenious result centers Black accomplishment and invites readers to imagine the “yesteryears” in full, complex lives. (February)

Lindstrom, Carole. Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior; illus. by Bridget George. Roaring Brook. 4-8 yrs
Told from the perspective of water (nibi), this lyrical picture book biography of Anishinaabe activist Josephine Henrietta Mandamin and her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, follows their literal and metaphorical footsteps advocating for clean water; soothing shades of blue and curving lines connect the women to the water and to one another. (September)

Myer, Sarah. Monstrous: A Transracial Adoption Story; written and illus. by Sarah Myer. First Second. Gr. 9-12
Queer Korean adoptee Myer lays bare the anger and self-loathing she internalized from childhood bullying; sparkling, bright color palettes showcase her imagination and love of pop culture, while visceral imagery and ghoulish physical manifestations of anger visualize the raw pain she overcame with the help of her parents and found family. (June)

Slade, Suzanne. Behold the Octopus!; illus. by Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree. 4-8 yrs
Gonzalez’s breathtaking, photorealistic art brings viewers into an undulating, dynamic undersea world of the octopus in this nonfiction picture book, where Slade’s multi-level text skillfully engages early readers and those ready to go deeper in their cephalopod exploration. (February)

Slater, Dashka. Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed. Farrar. Gr. 8-12
In 2017, an Instagram account of racist memes and images featuring mostly Black girls from a small-town California high school came to light; with extensive research and compelling writing, Slater’s narrative recounting of the fallout cuts to the core of a painful experience that ripped apart a community. (July)

Tonatiuh, Duncan. Game of Freedom: Mestre Bimba and the Art of Capoeira; written and illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams. Gr. 3-5
Intertwining the stories of Brazilian martial artist Mestre Bimba and the performance art of capoeira, Tonatiuh explores how Bimba formalized a blend of martial arts and dance into a uniquely Brazilian cultural practice, with digitally collaged art that emphasizes the sport’s power, fluidity, and crowd-drawing musicality. (November)

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Kin: Rooted in Hope; illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford. Atheneum. Gr. 9-12
Carole Boston Weatherford traces her heritage beyond her enslaved ancestors’ arrival in the Americas, resulting in lacerating, beautiful poems that both document and are inspired by her family’s history; stunning, black-and-white scratchboard art from Jeffery Boston Weatherford highlights the dignity of the enslaved people while indicting those that enslaved them. (September)

Picture Books

Capalia, Faith. Melvina Whitmoore (More or Less a Horror Story); written and illus. by Faith Capalia. Harper. 4-7 yrs
A fearful little old lady feels safe as she settles into her new house, until she hears a ruckus downstairs and discovers a group of ghosts, ghouls, mummies, and werewolves; the digital art is kooky even when it’s spooky, matching the text’s cheeky tone when Melvina’s monsters upend expectations by throwing her a charming housewarming party. (September)

Datcher, Michael. Harlem at Four; illus. by Frank Morrison. Random House Studio. 4-8 yrs
A girl named Harlem goes for a walk around her namesake neighborhood, accompanied by her father; dynamically composed with staccato lines and shifting perspectives in the art, this is a loving ode to Black fatherhood and a neighborhood bound together by culture and community. (October)

Harjo, Joy. Remember; illus. by Michaela Goade. Random House Studio. 1-8 yrs
Poet laureate Joy Harjo’s 1983 poem finds a new audience with the addition of Caldecott medalist Goade’s lush, jewel-toned illustrations; connections to ancestors, living creatures, and the universe are prominent in word and image throughout the story. (March)

Hillenbrand, Will. The Voice in the Hollow; written and illus. by Will Hillenbrand. Holiday House. 4-7 yrs
During a winter storm, book-loving mouse Hubert Cumberbun is guided through the scary Hollow by a mysterious mouse in a pink coat; Hillenbrand’s highly detailed, charming artwork has just a touch of menace to foretell the deliciously eerie twist to this cozy winter tale. (November)

Hubbard, Kirsten. Dear Stray; illus. by Susan Gal. Paulsen/Penguin. 4-7 yrs
Amidst all the adorable furballs up for adoption, it’s the scrappy, hissing kitten that catches the eye of this story’s protagonist; the watercolor-and-ink art is rife with detail and texture and perfectly matches this tail—er, tale—of emotional connection. (September)

Johnson, Kevin. Cape; illus. by Kitt Thomas. Roaring Brook. 4-8 yrs
Dressed in a new suit, a young Black boy also dons his red cape to ward off any unwanted feelings as he and his auntie ride to a cemetery to bury his father; color and body posture pack an emotional punch, as the boy’s swirls of anger and grief move across the pages, until he dissolves into hug a from his auntie and opens up to the memories of his father’s love. (June)

Klassen, Jon. The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale; written and illus. by Jon Klassen. Candlewick. Gr. 2-4
This reimagining of a Tyrolean folktale follows young Otilla as she flees an unknown danger, finds refuge in the home of a bodiless skull, and fiercely protects it from a headless skeleton; Klassen’s familiar graphite-and-ink art underscores a sense of malevolence in this tale that embraces just the right amount of darkness and absurdity. (July)

Lê, Minh. Real to Me; illus. by Raissa Figueroa. Knopf. 3-6 yrs
Two friends—one a giant, green furry monster-like creature, the other a child sporting a gorgeous afro and rainbow T-shirt—have a close relationship, until one day the green creature wakes up to find their friend gone; whimsical art complements the flipped-script on imaginary friends, with a premise that is bittersweet and hopeful. (May)

Misdea, Dan. The Light Inside; written and illus. by Dan Misdea. Penguin Workshop. 6-9 yrs
An anxious, young jack-o’-lantern must traverse a foreboding landscape when their beloved stuffed mouse is taken away by a witch’s cat in this wordless graphic novel. Spare illustrations, paneled sequences, and a judicious use of color convey the hero’s change in perspective as they face their fears. (July)

Peoples, Daria. Hello, Mister Blue; written and illus. by Daria Peoples. Greenwillow. 6-9 yrs
When a curious girl ventures to explore the city with her Papa, the two encounter an old friend of Papa’s who is unhomed; luminous full-color oil paintings and a compassionate perspective enhance this book’s message that there are many ways to live, with dignity and meaning to be found in all. (May)

Smith, Nikkolas. The Artivist; written and illus. by Nikkolas Smith. Kokila/Penguin. 4-7 yrs
A young artist can’t help seeing the injustices in the community around him, so when his water tower mural goes viral in the media, he takes it as an opportunity to make the world a better place; dark shades of purple depicting symbols of oppression are contrasted by the yellow hues of the boy’s own glorious art, making the illustrations as striking as an Artivist’s vision of hope. (October)

Zsako, Balint. Bunny & Tree; written and illus. by Balint Zsako. Enchanted Lion. Gr. 3-6
Organized into nine acts, this extended wordless picture book conveys the story of titular characters Bunny and Tree as the two embark on an epic journey across railroads, seas, and mountain peaks; Zsako’s stunning, vibrant illustrations also feature speech bubbles containing visually symbolic messages to convey the friends’ conversations in this philosophical tale. (June)

Graphic Novels

Estrela, Joana. Pardalita; tr. from the Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann; written and illus. by Joana Estrela. Levine Querido. Gr. 7-10
Using an artistic blend of sequential-art storytelling, prose poetry, and full-page illustration, Estrela skillfully conveys the fragmented feeling of coming to know one’s sexuality with main character Raquel’s intimate slice-of-life story set in a sleepy town in Portugal. (May)

Eunnie. If You’ll Have Me; written and illus. by Eunnie. Viking. Gr. 9-12
From the soothing evening-sunset of the 2018 Emily Gwen lesbian pride flag color palette to the authentic dialogue between its protagonists, this love letter to queer women of color follows two young women at college as they learn to communicate about sex, love, and vulnerability. (November)

Miller, SJ. Mage and the Endless Unknown; written and illus. by SJ Miller. Iron Circus. Gr. 8-12
On Mage’s journey across a fantasy realm in this whimsical, wordless black-and-white graphic novel, their body is slowly destroyed, delivering the specific kind of hope only the best body horror can—that to move forward is to be irreversibly changed. (March)

Pham, Thien. Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam; written and illus. by Thien Pham. First Second. Gr. 8-12
Memories of food shared throughout his life structure the flashbacks in author Thien’s deeply moving graphic memoir, as he recalls the process of coming to America as a child refugee from Vietnam; simple, calligraphic linework and earthy tones effectively express central themes of family, food, and the vital importance of memory in protecting the present. (July)

Terciero, Rey. Doña Quixote: Rise of the Knight; illus. by Monica M. Magaña. Holt. Gr. 5-8
This lively retelling of Cervantes’ epic, set in small-town Texas, offers a wealth of mock-heroic humor and insight in endearing middle-grade besties Lucia and Sandro; colored and artfully designed Mesoamerican legends and alebrijes animals amply illustrate the themes of imagination still resonant in this evergreen story. (November)

Walls, Jasmine. Brooms; illus. by Teo DuVall. Levine Querido. Gr. 7-12
This tale of resistance centers queer people of color, blending historical fiction and fantasy in 1930’s Mississippi, where practicing magic and broom-racing are restricted by racist laws; it’s folk-art style and storytelling gorgeously highlights the life-giving importance of rest, craft, and solidarity for communities that band together in the face of colonialism and white supremacy. (October)

Weinersmith, Zach. Bea Wolf; written by Zach Weinersmith; illus. by Boulet. First Second. Gr. 3-7
Kid-kindred far flung will gather, laughing with loud voices, to hear the (not too) terrifying tale of Bea Wolf; a witty, engaging adaptation of the Old English Beowulf for youth audiences that affirms the epic logics of childhood; Boulet’s legendarily inventive warrior-kid character designs invite every child to joyfully embrace their very own Middle-grade Ages. (January)

Ying, Victoria. Hungry Ghost; written and illus. by Victoria Ying. First Second. Gr. 7-12
A beautiful, limited palette and polished art style tenderly portrays a teen’s slowly mounting struggle with disordered eating; the reader aches sympathetically alongside Val as she finds love and forgiveness in her friendships, in complicated family dynamics, and within herself. (March)