The Kirkus Prize is one of the richest literary awards in the world, with a prize of $50,000 bestowed annually to authors of fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature.
This year, in the young readers’ literature category, the Kirkus Prize judges have nominated The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, New Kid by Jerry Craft and Jim Callahan, Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera and Lauren Castillo, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos, and Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.
New Kid by Jerry Craft and Jim Callahan
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds–and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
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Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera and Lauren Castillo
When Juan Felipe Herrera was very young, he picked flowers, helped his mama feed the chickens, slept under the starry sky, and learned to say goodbye to his amiguitos each time his migrant family moved on. When he grew up, Juan Felipe Herrera became a poet. His breathtaking poem “Imagine” and Lauren Castillo’s evocative illustrations will speak to every reader and dreamer searching for this place in life.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it–she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
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The Other Side: Stories of Central American Teen Refugees Who Dream of Crossing the Border by Juan Pablo Villalobos
You can’t really tell what time it is when you’re in the freezer. Every year, thousands of migrant children and teens cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The journey is treacherous and sometimes deadly, but worth the risk for migrants who are escaping gang violence and poverty in their home countries. And for those refugees who do succeed? They face an immigration process that is as winding and multi-tiered as the journey that brought them here.
In this book, award-winning Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos strings together the diverse experiences of eleven real migrant teenagers, offering readers a beginning road map to issues facing the region. These timely accounts of courage, sacrifice, and survival–including two fourteen-year-old girls forming a tenuous friendship as they wait in a frigid holding cell, a boy in Chicago beginning to craft his future while piecing together his past in El Salvador, and cousins learning to lift each other up through angry waters–offer a rare and invaluable window into the U.S.-Central American refugee crisis.
In turns optimistic and heartbreaking, The Other Side balances the boundless hope at the center of immigration with the weight of its risks and repercussions. Here is a necessary read for young people on both sides of the issue.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant–even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight–Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.
But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?