Six books (three fiction and three nonfiction) have been selected as finalists for the 2024 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence. The two medal winners will be announced at the American Library Association’s Book and Media Awards livestreamed event on Saturday, January 20th.
The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters
July 1962. Following in the tradition of Indigenous workers from Nova Scotia, a Mi’kmaq family arrives in Maine to pick blueberries for the summer. Weeks later, four-year-old Ruthie, the family’s youngest child, vanishes. She is last seen by her six-year-old brother, Joe, sitting on a favorite rock at the edge of a berry field. Joe will remain distraught by his sister’s disappearance for years to come.
In Maine, a young girl named Norma grows up as the only child of an affluent family. Her father is emotionally distant, her mother frustratingly overprotective.
Norma is often troubled by recurring dreams and visions that seem more like memories than imagination. As she grows older, Norma slowly comes to realize there is something her parents aren’t telling her. Unwilling to abandon her intuition, she will spend decades trying to uncover this family secret.
Denison Avenue by Christina Wong and Daniel Innes
Bringing together ink artwork and fiction, Denison Avenue by Daniel Innes (illustrations) and Christina Wong (text) follows the elderly Wong Cho Sum, who, living in Toronto’s gentrifying Chinatown–Kensington Market, begins to collect bottles and cans after the sudden loss of her husband as a way to fill her days and keep grief and loneliness at bay. In her long walks around the city, Cho Sum meets new friends, confronts classism and racism, and learns how to build a life as a widow in a neighborhood that is being destroyed and rebuilt, leaving elders like her behind.
Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration by Jake Bittle
Even as climate change dominates the headlines, many of us still think about it in the future tense—we imagine that as global warming gets worse over the coming decades, millions of people will scatter around the world fleeing famine and rising seas. What we often don’t realize is that the consequences of climate change are already visible, right here in the United States. In communities across the country, climate disasters are pushing thousands of people away from their homes.
A human-centered narrative with national scope, The Great Displacement is “a vivid tour of the new human geography just coming into view” (David Wallace-Wells, New York Times bestselling author of The Uninhabitable Earth). From half-drowned Louisiana to fire-scorched California, from the dried-up cotton fields of Arizona to the soaked watersheds of inland North Carolina, people are moving. In the last few decades, the federal government has moved tens of thousands of families away from flood zones, and tens of thousands more have moved of their own accord in the aftermath of natural disasters. Insurance and mortgage markets are already shifting to reflect mounting climate risk, pricing people out of risky areas.
Over the next fifty years, millions of Americans will be caught up in this churn of displacement, forced inland and northward in what will be the largest migration in our country’s history. The Great Displacement compassionately tells the stories of those who are already experiencing life on the move, while detailing just how radically climate change will transform our lives—erasing historic towns and villages, pushing people toward new areas, and reshaping the geography of the United States.
The Talk by Darrin Bell
Darrin Bell was six years old when his mother told him he couldn’t have a realistic water gun. She said she feared for his safety, that police tend to think of little Black boys as older and less innocent than they really are.
Through evocative illustrations and sharp humor, Bell examines how The Talk shaped intimate and public moments from childhood to adulthood. While coming of age in Los Angeles―and finding a voice through cartooning―Bell becomes painfully aware of being regarded as dangerous by white teachers, neighbors, and police officers and thus of his mortality. Drawing attention to the brutal murders of African Americans and showcasing revealing insights and cartoons along the way, he brings us up to the moment of reckoning when people took to the streets protesting the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And now Bell must decide whether he and his own six-year-old son are ready to have The Talk.
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian
On March 26, 2018, rescue workers discovered a crumpled SUV and the bodies of two women and multiple children at the bottom of a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway. Investigators soon concluded that the crash was a murder-suicide, but there was more to the story: Jennifer and Sarah Hart, it turned out, were a white married couple who had adopted six Black children from two different Texas families in 2006 and 2008. Behind the family’s loving facade was an alleged pattern of abuse and neglect that had been ignored as the couple withdrew the children from school and moved west. It soon became apparent that the State of Texas knew all too little about the two individuals to whom it had given custody of six children.
Immersive journalism of the highest order, Roxanna Asgarian’s We Were Once a Family is a revelation of precarious lives; it is also a shattering exposé of the foster care and adoption systems that produced this tragedy. As a journalist in Houston, Asgarian sought out the children’s birth families and put them at the center of the story. We follow the lives of the Harts’ adopted children and their birth parents, and the machinations of the state agency that sent the children far away. Asgarian’s reporting uncovers persistent racial biases and corruption as young people of color are separated from birth parents without proper cause. The result is a riveting narrative and a deeply reported indictment of a system that continues to fail America’s most vulnerable children while upending the lives of their families.