I know the actual Super Bowl just happened, but I did not watch any of it. Instead, let me tell you about my Super Bowl: the Youth Media Awards.
Every year, the American Library Association announces the best books and media in a variety of categories. For picture books and illustrations, it’s the Caldecott Medal. For children’s books generally, it is the Newbery. For the best books by African American authors and illustrators, it is the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Pura Belpre follows the same guidelines but for Latino authors and illustrators.
TAE KELLER’s “WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER” won the Newbery Medal this year; the Newbery committee didn’t ask me, but I do approve of this decision.
The novel follows 12-year-old Lily, who has just moved from sunny Southern California to rainy Washington with her mom and teenage sister to care for her sick Halmoni (“grandmother” in Korean). Halmoni has always made Lily and her sister Sam feel special. When they were young, she would tell stories of “long, long ago when tiger walked like man” stories just for them that always included two very special sisters. However, the move isn’t an entirely welcome one, especially because Lily discovers Halmoni is more sick than her mom let on — and she keeps spotting a giant tiger around town. With the help of her new friend Ricky, Lily works to uncover what the tiger wants and, by that effort, heal her grandmother.
“When You Trap a Tiger” shows readers the power of stories, both in giving us hope and in changing us. When Lily first meets the tiger, no one, with the exception of Halmoni, believes her. Her sister and mom both blame stress or her wild imagination. But when the tiger proposes a deal in exchange for her grandma’s recovery, Lily knows what she must do.
As Lily works to give the tiger what it wants, she realizes she is not who she thought she was. She discovers a different, stronger view of herself. The typically reserved and quiet Lily feels empowered to make big decisions, strengthen relationships and say she’s sorry. At the novel’s start, Halmoni warns Lily that the tiger characters in Korean folktales are not always what they seem. But neither, Lily learns, is she.
For the first time, the Caldecott Medal was awarded to an Indigenous author-illustrator team. CAROLE LINDSTROM and MICAELA GOADE’s “WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS” tells of the connection between people and the land and our duty to protect and preserve water. Lindstrom’s poetic call to action portrays oil as a black snake that can destroy our water if we let it.
The Ashinabe/Métis author was inspired to write this book following the widespread protests of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota, but its message of our connection to and responsibility for the earth is a timeless one.
Goade’s watercolor illustrations are lush and include a broad spectrum of colors and shades reminiscent of water. The young girl featured on the cover appears with her chin raised proudly and her black-blue hair flowing into the swirling water. The rich blues and greens are calm, even as our narrator speaks in dramatic tones and passionate pleas. I feel the most calm when I am near the water; Goade does an excellent job communicating its tranquil nature.
In “We are Water Protectors,” the young narrator encourages readers to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and to care for our earth and other living things. That is a sentiment I can get behind.
For a full list of award-winning titles and honorees, check out the School Library Journal award article: https://bit.ly/3k5YZVN.