The American Library Association annually honors notable books, videos and other media aimed at children and teens, which started in 1922 with the John Newbery Medal. The ALA Youth Media Awards are internationally renowned to parents, educators, librarians and readers looking for the best books that the past year has to offer. When it comes to finding books of the highest caliber, the 2023 award winners are no exception to the rule. There are a ton of books to get through, so let’s get started!
Randolph Caldecott Medal
Named for 19th-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, this award is meant for the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Hot Dog by Doug Salati (Knopf Books for Young Readers), a story of a hot pup who escapes the stuffy city for a day out on the beach. Salati’s joyful illustrations remind us to find what brings us calm and inner peace, even in the icky dog days of summer.
John Newbery Medal
Named in honor of the 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery, this award recognizes the author who has written the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s winner is Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), a stunning historical middle-grade novel about two enslaved children’s journey to Freewater, a community of the formerly enslaved and freeborn, hidden away in the swamp. Lyrical storytelling takes young readers on an unforgettable journey of survival, bravery and love.
Coretta Scott King Book Awards
Dedicated to Coretta Scott King for her tireless work in preserving Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of justice, the Coretta Scott King Book Award annually recognizes an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults. The Author award goes to Amina Luqman-Dawson, the aforementioned author of Freewater. The Illustrator award goes to Frank Morrison, who illustrated Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Crown Books for Young Readers). The painterly illustrations depict scenes stretching back over 400 years, from the arrival of the first enslaved people in 1619 Virginia to modern-day protests, this inspiring book endeavors for us to learn from our history and shape society into something far better.
The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author/Illustrator Award celebrates outstanding debut creations by African American authors and illustrators. The winner for outstanding debut writing is Jas Hammonds, author of We Deserve Monuments (Roaring Brook Press), an unflinching look at the way that past racial violence continues to affect generations of a family. The award-winning debut artist is Janelle Washington, illustrator of Choosing Brave (Roaring Brook Press). Written by Angela Joy, this biographical children’s book tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, and the way she poured her grief into action with the Civil Rights Movement.
Michael L. Printz Award
The Michael L. Printz Award, dedicated to a beloved and tireless librarian of Topeka, Kansas, honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is Sabaa Tahir’s newest release All My Rage (Razorbill), a moving story of familial love, as well as the expectations and sacrifices of past generations. An instant New York Times bestseller, we’re elated but not surprised to celebrate All My Rage’s win — our editors already called this an award-winner!
Schneider Family Book Award
The Schneider Family Book Award celebrates books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience, from children’s books to middle-grade and young adult reads. This year’s winner for children (ages 0 to 8) is Listen by Shannon Stocker, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth (Dial Books). Described as “radiant” by Publishers Weekly, Listen tells the story of Evelyn Glennie, a deaf woman who became the first full-time solo percussionist in the world.
The winner for middle grades (ages 9 to 13) is Wildoak by C.C. Harrington (Scholastic Press). This ethereal read follows Maggie, a young girl who shirks attention at school because of her stutter. When threatened with so-called “treatment,” she instead is able to spend a few weeks with her grandfather in Wildoak Forest. There she finds an unexpected woodland cohabitator — an abandoned snow leopard cub.
The winner for teens is The Words We Keep by Erin Stewart (Delacorte Press). This poignant novel follows Lily, a young girl trying to hold herself together after witnessing her older sister hurting herself. The Words We Keep deftly discusses mental health and tells a heartfelt story of familial love and the power of self-expression.
Mildred L. Batchelder Award
This award is dedicated to Mildred L. Batchelder, a former children’s librarian, executive director of the Association for Library Service to Children, and a member of the ALA. She spent her life working “to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages.” This award goes to an outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
This year’s winner is Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II by Lia Levi, illustrated by Jess Mason (HarperCollins). This unforgettable memoir, translated from Italian to English, tells the story of six-year-old Lia and her childhood in fascist Italy. As her family struggles under the new anti-Semitic laws, Lia must find a way to balance the mundane struggles of schoolwork and friendship with the uncertainty of the future and the looming war.
The Odyssey Award is given to the audiobooks produced for children and young adults available in English in the United States, and this year’s children’s book winner is Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, produced by Taryn Beato (Simon & Schuster Audio). This charming middle-grade adventure chronicles Portico Reeves, aka Stuntboy, as he works to keep his friends and family — aka the other superheroes in his life — safe. Tackling real-world topics like anxiety and parental fighting in a way young kids can understand, this audiobook is a must-listen.
The winner of the Odyssey Award for young adults is The Honeys by Ryan La Sala, produced by Melissa Ellard (Scholastic Audio). Equal parts mysterious and heart-wrenching, the novel follows Mars, the genderqueer and overlooked twin of the beloved — and recently passed — Caroline. Convinced that there’s something else behind Caroline’s tragic death, Mars attends the Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy in her place and investigates Caroline’s charismatic, secretive inner circle.
Pura Belpré Awards
Named after the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, the Pura Belpré Awards honor Latinx writers and illustrators whose stories portray and celebrate the Latino cultural experience. This year’s Pura Belpré Youth Illustration Award winner is Where Wonder Grows, written by Xelena González and illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (Cinco Puntos Press). Fostering an appreciation for nature and telling a story of intergenerational love and connection, this picture book is the perfect addition to a child’s bookshelf.
This year’s Pura Belpré Children’s Author Award winner is Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra (First Second). This charming middle-grade graphic novel follows Marlene, a young Dominican girl growing up and learning what society — and family — expects of a curly-haired girl. Preaching the importance of self-love and self-acceptance, this is a warm hug of a book.
The Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Award winner is Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado (Sourcebooks Fire). This exhilarating read blends the suspense of a supernatural thriller with real-world discussion of the police’s urgency over missing white kids, and the children of color who get left behind. Throw in a strange urban legend that seems a little too real, and you’ve got a book that will keep you up at night.
The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
Named in honor of the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award celebrates the most distinguished informational book for children. This year’s winner is Seen and Unseen by Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki (Chronicle Books). This book takes an unyielding look at life in the Japanese American incarceration camps, as captured by the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Ansel Adams. A primary source for this chapter of American history, this nonfiction picture book is a must-read for kids.
Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award
The Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award is given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience. This year’s winner of the Children’s Literature Award is Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrated by Charlene Chua (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day, this adorable read tells the story of Violet, a shy young girl trying to share her feelings with her crush, Mira.
The winner of the Stonewall Book Awards – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Young Adult Literature Award is When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb (Levine Querido). The book follows Uriel and Little Ash (short for Ashmedai), an angel and demon who remain the last two supernatural creatures in The Shtetl. When one of the Shtetl’s young inhabitants disappears on her travels to America, these two unlikely companions set off to find her in this story of queer love and perseverance.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
Named for the legendary children’s book author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award honors the most creative and imaginative beginning reader book. This year’s winner is I Did It! by Michael Emberley (Holiday House). With a playful cadence throughout its text, I Did It! captures the feelings of trepidation, determination and accomplishment that accompany trying something new.
William C. Morris Award
Named for an innovator in the world of children’s book publishing, the William C. Morris Award highlights a spectacular debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. This year’s winner is The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen by Isaac Blum (Philomel Books). Hoodie Rosen, like the rest of his Orthodox Jewish community, is a newcomer to the town of Tregaron. He’s not planning on making any waves — until he meets Anna-Marie, who just so happens to be the daughter of the mayor who’s trying to keep Hoodie’s community out. A masterful discussion of faith, prejudice and open-mindedness, this novel packs wit and heart into every page.
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
Each year, YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18). This year’s winner is Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile (Norton Young Readers). This memoir follows Tommie Smith, the Olympic gold medalist who, alongside bronze medal winner John Carlos, held his fist aloft on the 1968 Olympics podium to protest anti-Black racial injustice. After decades of ostracism and death threats, Smith brings his story to life in its full, triumphant glory.
Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature
The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature promotes Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and is awarded based on literary and artistic merit. The Picture Book winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature is From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Rachel Wada (Carolrhoda Books®). Based on the author’s own experience in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, the book tells the story of four-year-old Kalia, who asks her father if all of the world is a refugee camp. It’s only when he takes her to the top of the tallest tree in camp that she’s able to catch her first glimpse at the world outside the fences.
The Children’s Literature winner is Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee (Random House Books for Young Readers). When Maizy Chen’s grandfather falls ill, she finds herself moving alongside her mom to Last Chance, Minnesota, to run the family restaurant. But secrets lurk in the walls of the Golden Palace restaurant —secrets that stretch back generations, and might have a link to the family treasure that’s been stolen and the racist note left behind.
The Youth Literature winner is Himawari House by Harmony Becker (First Second GN). This charming young adult graphic novel follows Nao, Hyejung and Tina — three exchange students living in the Himawari House in Tokyo, trying to balance school with living in an entirely new country. From dealing with language barriers to struggling to fit in, the three friends stick through it all, becoming stronger together.
The Sydney Taylor Book Award
Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the Sydney Taylor Book Award is given annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. This year’s Picture Book winner is The Tower of Life by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal (Scholastic Press). This moving book follows the story of Yaffa Eliach, a child devastated at the loss her Polish town suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Harnessing her grief and determination, she and the town construct what will become The Tower of Life, a now-permanent exhibit in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The middle-grade winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Awardis Aviva vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe (Levine Querido). Raw and emotional, we hear the story of Aviva, a young girl reeling from her recent isolation from her local community. Something happened, and now Aviva is alone — and she’s also the only one who can see the ghostly dybbuk haunting the town. With its tender tale of familial grief and need for connection, it’s no surprise that this book is an award-winner.
And we’ve already discussed the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Young Adults — it’s When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb, winner of the Stonewall Book Award in the same age category.
Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards!