14 Award-Winning Children’s Books of 2021

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Jean Kuo Lee

Staff Writer

Jean Kuo Lee is a writer from California with a B.A. in English from UCLA, a former career in interior design, and a current calling to homeschool her children. She writes for parents and kids on several blogs with publications forthcoming. To contact her or to see more of her work, visit Twitter: @JeanKuoLee

Every year thousands of books are published for children. How do you choose what new books to stock your shelves with before the new year? Award-winning children’s books have always been a go-to resource for teachers, parents, and caregivers.

Among the most prestigious awards given for children’s literature are the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. The Caldecott Award is given annually to the artist of “the most distinguished American picture book for children” with runners-up receiving the Caldecott Honor. The Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the author of “the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children.” Runners-up receive the Newbery Honor.

I’ve listed the 2021 award-winning children’s books here for these. I’ve also added the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Awards for “the most distinguished informational book for children.” While there are many other awards given every year for children’s books, these books are amongst the very best.

Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom Cover

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

“Water is the first medicine…We come from water.” So begins this lyrical picture book that reminds us of Earth’s most sacred resource and the urgent need to protect it before it is destroyed forever.

Winners of the 2021 Caldecott Honor

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham Cover

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shami-Basha and Yuko Shimizu

This is the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel who provides safety to the abandoned cats of Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War. In the words of the author, the story is also about “war and people. But most of all, it is a story about love.”

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera Cover

Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Also a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, this lyrically written picture book celebrates the bond between mother and daughter. Mama is as bright as the sun, the little girl says, and “I want to be everywhere Mama is.”

Outside In by Deborah Underwood Cover

Outside In by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby

Even as our lives are lived increasingly indoors, the author reminds us in this beautiful picture book of the beauty and wonder that awaits us outside. Readers will enjoy a contemplative journey into the ways we are tied to the natural world, the way we are part of it, and the way it touches us.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott Cover

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott and Noa Denmon

What happens when a child experiences a police shooting? This picture book reveals the grief and the healing that must take place as fear grows to anger, then pride, and finally peace.

Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller Cover

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Also the winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, this middle grade novel explores the power of stories and of having a voice. The main character deals with her grandmother’s terminal illness through magical interaction with a tiger and other elements of Korean folklore.

Winners of the 2021 Newbery Honor

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat Cover

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

In this twist on Les Miserables, the author takes us through the fantastical story of a boy born in prison who escapes to a world no better than the one he left. Can there be true justice amidst the trappings of the law?

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly Cover

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly and Celia Krampien

Three siblings tell their stories in this novel about science, exploration, family, and friendship. They each have their anxieties in a tense and dysfunctional household, and are surprised when their lives come together because of a science project.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Cover

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

In this raw novel about child sexual abuse, two sisters survive trauma and emerge stronger. While not every middle grade reader will be ready for this book, there are those who need it.

Box Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford Cover

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Michele Wood

This is the story of how Henry Brown, who was born into enslavement, courageously shipped himself to freedom in a box. Written in stanzas of six lines each, the poet narrates his story of courage and freedom.

All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat Cover

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Also a Sibert Honor Book, this is the account of the 17-day rescue operation to save the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, a feat involving thousands of people from around the world, including the kids themselves.

Winner of the 2021 Sibert Medal

Honeybee by Candace Fleming Cover

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

A tribute to the hardworking honeybee, the author describes the life cycle of the bee in poetically written language. Brilliantly detailed illustrations bring readers up close to the wonders of a honeybee’s adventurous life.

Winners of the 2021 Sibert Informational Book Honor

Exquisite by Suzanne Slade Cover

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera

In this picture book biography about Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, readers follow the poet from early childhood to adult life, celebrating her achievement as the first black person to win a Pulitzer.

How We Got to the Moon by John Rucco Cover

How We got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure by John Rucco

This is a beautifully illustrated chronicle of one of the great feats accomplished by mankind. The author looks behind the scenes of the famous moon landing to investigate and tell the story of the thousands of people who made the extraordinary event possible.

Looking for more award-winning books for kids? Check out 16 New Picture Books from Caldecott Award Winners.