The Stars of 2021

By Megan Ciskowski, Associate Publicist

The end of the year is quickly approaching, and we’d like to take a little time to reflect and celebrate all the incredible titles published in 2021. Continue reading to find a complete list of Lerner titles that received starred reviews or awards this year and then add them to your bookshelf!

Picture Books

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.

Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan trace Ross’s journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the narrative highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all.

Starred Reviews

★”A stellar addition to the genre that will launch careers and inspire for generations, it deserves space alongside stories of other world leaders and innovators.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews


  • Eureka! Children’s Book Award Honor Book
  • Kirkus Best Children’s Books
  • Orbis Pictus Honor Book

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley and illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

After watching the World Cup on television, a group of Thai boys is inspired to form their own team. But on the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. The boys can play only twice a month on a sandbar when the tide is low enough. Everything changes when the teens join together to build their very own floating soccer field.

This inspiring true story by debut author Scott Riley is gorgeously illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien. Perfect for fans of stories about sports, beating seemingly impossible odds, and places and cultures not often shown in picture books.

Starred Reviews

★”A compelling book for football [soccer] fans and readers seeking examples of ingenuity.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

★ “This is a story that presents kids as true problem solvers. . . . an excellent STEM resource.”—starred, School Library Journal

★”[F]illed with happy smiles and strong kicks. . . . A splendid nonfiction picture book.”—starred, The Horn Book Magazine


  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books

From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang and Rachel Wada

A powerful true story of a young girl who has never known life outside a refugee camp and a father determined to help her dream big. At Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Kalia spends her days playing with cousins, chickens, and dogs. When she asks her father if all of the world is a refugee camp, he climbs with her to the top of a tree so she can see the world beyond the fences that confine them. Yang’s evocative prose is accompanied by atmospheric illustrations from Rachel Wada in a story that encourages readers of all ages and circumstances to believe in their dreams.

Starred Reviews

★”Beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, with a hopeful and inspiring message, this story will not soon be forgotten.”—starred, Booklist

★”This story of resilience and generational hope is told in an expressive, straightforward narrative style. A visually striking, compelling recollection.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

★”A stirring, lyrical portrait of hope and intergenerational bonds.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

★”[A] gentle celebration of vision, hope, and determination . . .”—starred, School Library Journal


  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
  • Kirkus Best Children’s Books
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids

How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson and illustrated by Anne Lambelet

See what the buzz is about in this fresh, fun look at insect anatomy. Let’s build an insect! In the pages of this book, you’ll find a workshop filled with everything you need, including a head, a thorax, an abdomen, and much more. Written by entomologist Roberta Gibson and accompanied by delightfully detailed illustrations by Anne Lambelet, this wonderfully original take on insect anatomy will spark curiosity and engage even those who didn’t think they liked creepy, crawly things!

Starred Reviews

★”Gibson and Lambelet provide a fun, instructional easy reader text and a science project for children. . . . A must-buy for elementary school and public libraries.”—starred, School Library Journal

Rissy No Kissies by Katey Howes and illustrated by Jess Engle

A lovebird who doesn’t like kisses? Rissy’s friends and family wonder if she’s sick, confused, or rude. But kisses make Rissy uncomfortable. Can one little lovebird show everyone that there’s no one right way to show you care?

Rissy No Kissies carries the message that “your body and your heart are yours, and you choose how to share.” A note at the end provides further information for kids, parents, and educators about body autonomy, consent, and different ways to show affection.

Starred Reviews

★”Radiant.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

★”[A] refrain (‘No kissies!’) and soft watercolor art by Engle reinforce the message that speaking up for one’s bodily agency should always be embraced.”—starred, Publishers Weekly


  • Kirkus Best Children’s Books

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use by Sara Levine and illustrated by Kate Slater

Have you ever seen a bird using a jackhammer? What about one scooping up a meal with a net? Of course birds can’t really use tools, at least not the way humans do. But birds have surprisingly helpful tools with them at all times—their beaks!

Guess which birds have beaks resembling commonly used tools in this playful picture book from award-winning author Sara Levine. Delightfully detailed collage artwork by Kate Slater helps this book take flight!

Starred Reviews

★”[A]n entertaining and informative introduction to the world of birds and how they survive and thrive.”—starred, School Library Journal

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.

News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.

Starred Reviews

★ “Ideal for classroom libraries and a deeper study of American history, this title is a must-have for those seeking the painful and complete truth.”—starred, Booklist

★ “Unspeakable deserves to be read by every student of American history.” —starred, BookPage

★ “A somber, well-executed addition to the history as the incident approaches its 100th anniversary.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

★ “[S]ucceeds in teaching the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the legacy of Black Wall Street.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

★ “This moving account sheds light on shameful events long suppressed or ignored. All collections should consider this title’s value in providing historical context to current conversations about racism and America’s ongoing legacy of white supremacy.”—starred, School Library Journal

★ “Far from romanticizing history, Weatherford is equally descriptive in explaining how a false accusation of assault brought simmering racial tensions to a violent end . . . Cooper’s illustrations (‘oil and erasure’) are the perfect partner to this history, the sepia-toned images resembling historical photographs. The portraits of Black residents are particularly moving, seeming to break the fourth wall to implore the reader to remember their story.”—starred, The Horn Book Magazine


  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist
  • Boston Globe-Horn Honor Book
  • 101 Great Books for Kids, Evanston Public Library
  • BookPage Best Books of the Year
  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
  • Eureka! Children’s Book Award Gold Recipient
  • Horn Book Best Books of the Year
  • Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Finalist
  • Kirkus Best Children’s Books
  • Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature Finalist
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
  • New York Times 25 Best Children’s Books
  • New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book
  • NPR Best Books of the Year
  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist 2022-2023

YA Fiction

Just Ash by Sol Santana

Ashley Bishop lives in Salem, Massachusetts and is descended from the first victim of the Salem witch trials, Bridget Bishop. He’s also intersex—born with both male and female genitalia. He’s been raised as a boy in accordance with his wishes, but at the beginning of his junior year of high school, Ash gets his first period in front of the entire boys’ soccer team. Now his friends and teachers view him differently, and his own mother thinks he should “try being a girl.” Gradually, Ash realizes that he needs to stand up for who he really is, or the cost of his silence might destroy his life.

Starred Reviews

★”There are few books and even fewer authors who have endeavored to give readers a real glimpse into the life of an intersex teen, which is just one reason Santana’s debut is so unique. . . . Santana—who is intersex herself—has written a smart and deeply introspective main character with whom readers will easily sympathize.”—starred, Booklist

The Secret Life of Kitty Granger by G. D. Falksen

It’s 1967, and Kitty Granger is about to accidentally become a spy. A working-class girl from London’s East End who today would be recognized as on the autism spectrum, she’s spent sixteen years hiding her “peculiarities” from the world. But after her hyper-awareness helps her survive a chance encounter with a Russian spy ring, two British secret agents offer her a job.

Kitty’s first mission draws her into a fascist conspiracy led by a prominent politician—who’s also an unreformed Nazi sympathizer. With help from her team, Kitty must use her wits, training, and instincts to get out alive. And she might as well save the country while she’s at it.


  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee

Where I Belong written by Marcia Argueta Mickelson

Guatemalan American high school senior Milagros “Millie” Vargas has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, ever since her parents sought asylum there when she was a baby. Millie’s disturbed by what’s happening to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she doesn’t see herself as an activist or a change-maker.

Then Mr. Wheeler, a U.S. Senate candidate, mentions Millie’s achievements in a campaign speech about “deserving” immigrants. It doesn’t take long for people to identify Millie’s family and place them at the center of a statewide immigration debate. Faced with journalists, trolls, anonymous threats, and the Wheelers’ good intentions—especially those of Mr. Wheeler’s son, Charlie—Millie must confront the complexity of her past, the uncertainty of her future, and her place in the country that she believed was home.

Starred Reviews

★”Full of thought-provoking conversations, messy answers, and lots of heart, this novel’s a quiet knockout. Utterly compelling.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

★”[N]ot to be missed. There is truth on every page—about love, restraint, and integrity.”—starred, School Library Journal


  • Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year
  • Whitney Awards Nominee

Graphic Novels

Artie and the Wolf Moon written and illustrated by Olivia Stephens

After sneaking out against her mother’s wishes, Artie Irvin spots a massive wolf—then watches it don a bathrobe and transform into her mom. Thrilled to discover she comes from a line of werewolves, Artie asks her mom to share everything—including the story of Artie’s late father. Her mom reluctantly agrees. And to help Artie figure out her own wolflike abilities, her mom recruits some old family friends.

Artie thrives in her new community and even develops a crush on her new friend Maya. But as she learns the history of werewolves and her own parents’ past, she’ll find that wolves aren’t the scariest thing in the woods—vampires are.

Starred Reviews

★”This vibrant, fast-paced werewolf tale rejuvenates the genre with themes of Black family, community, and history, offering accessible dialogue and reimagining the folklore of werewolves with a striking premise that has a tremendous payoff.”—starred, Publishers Weekly


  • 101 Great Books for Kids, Evanston Public Library
  • ALA Best Graphic Novels for Children Reading List
  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Kids
  • Texas Maverick Graphic Novels Reading List
  • YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens
  • YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Nominee

Brontë written and illustrated by Manuela Santoni

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—faced with an ailing father and an alcoholic brother—pursue independence through art in this graphic vision of the lives of three legendary writers.

Despite their family’s stormy fortunes, the Brontë sisters resolved to write. To thwart the nineteenth century’s double standards, they took the names of men, becoming the Bell brothers. Their works incited controversy and speculation, while at home, the sisters contended with the rages of Branwell Brontë, their self-destructive sibling. Manuela Santoni presents a time before Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were known as literary masterpieces, when winds shook the Brontë house and determination held it together.


  • Texas Maverick Graphic Novels Reading List

The Electric Guitar: A Graphic History by Blake Hoena

For decades, the blasts and howls of the electric guitar have been some of the defining sounds of popular music. But more than a century of effort and innovation had to happen before this instrument went electric. Learn about the master craftspeople who created the guitar as we know it, the inventors who figured out how to send guitar notes through amplifiers and give the guitar a bigger sound, and the musicians whose legendary playing put it at the center of rock ‘n’ roll.

Check out the rest of the Amazing Inventions series here.

Starred Reviews

★”A fascinating look at the relationship between technology and music.”—starred, Booklist


American Jaguar: Big Cats, Biogeography, and Human Borders by Elizabeth Webb

In the borderlands between the United States and Mexico, America’s largest cat—the jaguar—is fighting to regain its kingdom. Added to the endangered species list in 1997, the jaguar has declined in population mainly due to habitat fragmentation created by roads, farms, mines, and most controversially, the border wall. Such human-made barriers prevent free movement of many wild animals for predation and mating, thereby threatening their reproduction, DNA transfer, and overall survival. Author and wildlife biologist Elizabeth Webb examines the jaguar’s predicament and highlights the work of field scientists who are searching for solutions. “Conservation Connection” features throughout the book underscore the importance of protecting this keystone species of the Americas.

Starred Reviews

★”A powerful call to protect our Earth and its vulnerable creatures.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

It’s Outta Here!: The Might and Majesty of the Home Run by Matt Doeden

In 1921, New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth smashed a home run that sailed 575 feet (175 m), the longest homer ever hit in a Major League Baseball game. Ruth’s home runs thrilled fans and revolutionized the game. One hundred years later, the home run is still the most exciting play in baseball.

Read about the longest, strangest, and most important home runs in baseball history. See how the game’s superstars hit the ball so far, and learn about the ways players have cheated to hit home runs, from performance-enhancing drugs to corked bats and stolen signs. Take a high-flying journey from baseball’s early days to today’s biggest sluggers.

Starred Reviews

★”Holy cow! It is high; it is far; it is gone! A game winner.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

Mass Incarceration, Black Men, and the Fight for Justice by Cicely Lewis

In the United States, Black men are almost six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. This disproportionate impact can be traced back to slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the criminalization of Black people into the modern day. With growing awareness about unfair treatment in the justice system, more and more people are calling for change. Read more about the history and causes of mass incarceration and how activists are reforming and rethinking justice.

Check out the rest of the Issues in Action (Read Woke ™ Books) series.

Starred Reviews

★”The short chapters pack a punch with sentences that make unflinching statements . . . a strong addition to social-justice collections.”—starred, Booklist

No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves by Lee Wind

History sounds really official. Like it’s all fact. But that’s not necessarily true. History is created by those who document it…and sometimes those people are biased against or just can’t see or imagine anyone different from themselves.

Men who loved men, women who loved women, and people who lived outside gender boundaries are often left out of history. In fact, some household names have had these parts of their lives and identities censored, from Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt. No Way, They Were Gay? reclaims the lives and loves of famous figures by sifting through primary source materials including letters, interviews, photos, and poems.


  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books

Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean by Patricia Newman and photography by Annie Crawley

We are all inextricably linked to the ocean. Author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley take readers to the Arctic Ocean, the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, and the Coral Triangle off the coast of Indonesia to explore these connections. They look at climate change, pollution, and sustainability, and they highlight the efforts of local people in each area who are working to make a difference. Dive on in and find out what you can do to protect the health of the ocean! Page Plus QR codes link to video clips from diver Annie Crawley, with spectacular footage from each of the featured sites.


  • 101 Great Books for Kids, Evanston Public Library
  • Eureka! Children’s Book Award Honor Book
  • Orbis Pictus Award Recommended Book

Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals by Linda Zajac

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . robo-hummingbird? Meet robots engineered using biomimicry that are built to move like animals. These robots are changing the way we live today and shaping the way we’ll live in the future. On spreads pairing photos of robots with the animals they mimic, you’ll discover robots that race through water like fish, run like cheetahs, jump like a kangaroo, swarm through the sky like honeybees, and more!

Starred Reviews

★”Delightful, motivating, and thought-provoking—a winner for any bookshelf.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

Tracking Tortoises: The Mission to Save a Galápagos Giant by Kate Messner with photographs by Jake Messner

Galápagos giant tortoises. are fascinating—and endangered. They live only on the Galápagos Islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador. These tortoises face threats from the humans who live on—and visit—the islands, as well as from Earth’s warming climate. Join author Kate Messner on an a journey to the Galápagos Islands to see these incredible creatures up close and discover how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists to study and protect them. Page Plus links lead to videos of scientists at work in the field.

Starred Reviews

★”Delightful, motivating, and thought-provoking—a winner for any bookshelf.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews “Messner smoothly introduces her readers to the formation and population of this famous archipelago . . . Science at work in a unique setting.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews


  • 2022 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books list

When Dogs Heal: Powerful Stories of People Living with HIV and the Dogs That Saved Them by Jesse Freidin, Robert Garofalo, Zach Stafford, Christina Garofalo, photography by Jesse Freidin

Delve into the powerful stories of people living with HIV and the dogs who saved them, through striking full-color portraits and personal accounts. Compiled by three well-known leaders in their fields—fine art dog photographer Jesse Freidin, HIV adolescent specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo, and LGBTQ advocate and journalist Zach Stafford—When Dogs Heal illustrates a refreshing, beautiful and totally unique portrait of HIV infused with a deep message of hope for young adults.

Changing the narrative surrounding HIV, When Dogs Heal is about love, connection, and survival, featuring all kinds of people who are thriving and celebrating life, thanks to the compassion and unconditional love of their dogs. A portion of the proceeds of this book will go to support Fred Says, an organization dedicated to financially supporting HIV+ teen healthcare.

Starred Reviews

★”[D]eals affectingly with a subject that remains too absent in books for young readers. It deserves the widest possible readership.”—starred, Booklist

★”A unique collection that is unflinchingly honest and infused with hope. These valuable lessons of empathy, self-care, and acceptance will inspire all readers . . .”—starred, School Library Journal


  • Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books

Who Is a Scientist? by Laura Gehl

Scientists work hard in the lab and in the field to make important discoveries. But who are they really? It turns out they are just like us! Scientists can be any race. And any gender. They can wear lab coats, jeans, or even tutus. And they are people who love to fly drones, make art, and even eat French fries! Meet fourteen phenomenal and diverse scientists who might just change the way you think about who a scientist is. They share their scientific work in fields like entomology, meteorology, paleontology, and engineering as well as other interesting facts about themselves and their hobbies. A flowchart helps students identify science careers they might be interested in. Scan a Page Plus QR code at the end of the book for a video of the scientists introducing themselves!

Starred Reviews

★”The photographs reflect the world’s diversity . . . Both selection of information and presentation have been thoughtfully designed to appeal to young readers. Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.”—starred, Kirkus Reviews

Kar-Ben Publishing

Klezmer! by Kyra Teis

When Eastern European Jewish immigrants bring their klezmer music with them to America, it takes on a rockin’ new vibe, adding elements of Jazz borrowed from its new country. In the beautifully illustrated Klezmer!, a child makes an exciting music-filled visit to her grandparents’ apartment in New York City, learning all about the evolution of this toe-tapping music genre.

Starred Reviews

★”A delightful, deliriously happy introduction to an unusual and too-little-known musical form.” — starred, Kirkus Reviews

Hello, Hanukkah! by Susan S. Novich

“Hello, Hanukkah!” says the friendly badger as he prepares to count the candles in the Hanukkah menorah. This whimsical board book features a cute and clever badger teaching counting and coloring concepts along with Hanukkah customs.

Starred Reviews

★”This is a perfect Hanukkah package of colors, counting, and traditions. All libraries serving Jewish ­patrons will want to add this little gem to their board book collections.”—starred, School Library Journal

For more announcements on the Lerner blog click here!

Leave a Reply