Hello everyone, this week’s post is a special one for me. From all the tween reads I’ve read over the last several years, I’ve narrowed down the seven best award-winning reads for you in this post. Now, these are titles that I feel have moved me or inspired me in some way. So, if you were waiting for this day, then why not press the button below and find out which ones they are…
This first title is a recipient of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1999. When Zachary Beaver came to town by Kimberly Willis Holt (Square Fish, 2011) is a historical read set during the summer months in the Vietnam War years. In this story readers meet a thirteen-year-old boy, Toby Wilson, who is struggling to find himself after a sequence of heart-rending events that turn his life upside down over what could be his toughest summer yet. It is this summer that Zachary Beaver, the fattest boy in the world, arrives in Toby’s sleepy Texas town and leaves Toby’s life changed forever. Kimberly Willis Holt delivers a gorgeous coming-of-age story in this read with memorable characters, almost lyrical language and vivid description. What I enjoyed the most wasn’t just the setting but the different types of relationships portrayed and how she delivered important lessons to us readers in kindness, humility, and forgiveness. Willis’s writing sets her apart from other historical writers for tweens and I believe this is one of the reasons why she’s won this award. Someday soon I intend on reading the companion novel to this: The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas (Henry Holt and Co., 2021)
My next selection is a title that has won multiple awards and been nominated for many more. The main awards Brown Girl, Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) received are the National Book Award in 2014, the Sibert Award for Nonfiction for Children in 2015 and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2015. This was one of the first books in verse I had read. Jacqueline Woodson writes in vivid free verse on what it was like to grow up in the 1960’s and 70’s in both the Northern and Southern states. She describes the reality of living with the remnants of Jim Crow laws, the growing civil rights movement and growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Each poem tells a story of part of a childhood where she searches for her place in the world; her dreams and ambitions, her struggles and fears as she grows up witnessing the impacts of the civil rights movement, and mostly about the strong constant family love and pride that made her just that little bit prouder and shine a little brighter. It’s thanks to Woodson’s beautiful words that I fell in love with poetry again and resolved to look for similar reads.
The next two have the Second World War as their common setting. This first one by Lois Lowry won her the Newbery Medal in 1990 and the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature in the same year. In Number the stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) we’re taken to Denmark in 1943 where we meet a strong young girl in Annemarie Johansen. Life in Copenhagen is a complicated mix of home, school, food shortages, and the constant presence od Nazi soldiers for young Annemarie and her family. As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, the Johansens take in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is part of the family. In this tale of an entire nation’s heroism, the story of the Danish Resistance and their plan to smuggle the entire Jewish population of Denmark – nearly 7000 people – across the sea to Sweden is told with pride and hope through one young girl’s eyes. By the time I read this book I had experienced several war stories based in the UK or Europe but this was the first set in the Scandinavian countries. Lowry has done a remarkable job in capturing this episode of Danish history in this awe-inspiring read!!
This next read received a Newbery Honor in 2016 but won Kimberly Brubaker Bradley the Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature and the Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School in 2016. In The war that saved my life (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015) we find an unusual story of child evacuees. I say this because the main character, Ada, sneaks out to join her brother Jaimie who is sent to a sleepy village in Kent. So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan – and Susan begins to love Ada and Jaimie. Set during one of the most explosive periods in world history, this amazing story is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity. This amazing story of courage and what the human spirit can achieve with the gentle hand of love and compassion moved me from the first page. It’s only right that the author receive all that she did for her hard work!!
This next one, Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan won the author the Freeman Award in 2017 and the translator, Helen Wang, the Marsh Award for her English Translation in the same year. Another historical read set during the years of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 70’s, we’re regaled by the adventures of Bronze, a young boy who hasn’t spoken since a fire swept through his village, and Sunflower, a young girl who has moved to the countryside with her father. As they become friends, new worlds open up for them both. However; life in rural Damadi is hard – and Bronze and Sunflower must work together to survive. This gorgeous story captivated me from the very beginning and I have recommended it to quite a few people since I’ve read it. Told from a third person’s voice, the descriptions of the hardships of life in rural China during that time along with the different relationships between the characters are expertly crafted and translated.
The next one is slightly different as it’s set in more recent times. It’s cataloged as teen read but it’s not that complex for younger readers. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2011) received the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2012 among many others for its exemplary combination of fantasy elements and contemporary themes of courage, grief and friendship. The edition I read was actually a special illustrated one with tie-ins to the movie created under the same title. This story tells the story of Conor O’Malley and his mother as she succumbs to the final battle with her cancer. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking tale of mischief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive. The story is a heartrending one filled with darkness and despair but is laced with humour on some occasions.
The last one is a title that earned the author the Newbery Medal in 2019. Merci Suarez changes gears by Meg Medina (Candlewick Press, 2018) gives us my favourite type of diverse middle grade fiction. Sixth-grader Merci Suarez doesn’t have a big house or take fancy vacations like the other kids at Seaward Pines Academy. She’s a scholarship student who lives with her extended family in three little houses they call Las Casitas. In a coming-of-age tale full of humour and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion that defines middle school and the steadfast connection of family. Diverse authors like Meg Medina who tell this side of American culture teach a lot about the struggles Hisplanic Americans face. Her sequels to this first book give us more insight into young Merci’s life and culture. If you want to learn more about Latin customs and culture you can’t go wrong with anything written by Medina.
So there you have my selections. What about you, my friends? Have you any other award-winners you have read recently? I’d love to hear of any you think I should add to my lists!!
Stay safe and keep reading