Despite Challenges, the 2021 We Are Kid Lit Summer Reading List is Here!
It has been a challenging year for everyone, including us educators. Last year’s release of the We Are Kid Lit Summer Reading List took place amid protests over the police killings of unarmed Black people and a deadly pandemic. While a competent rollout of vaccinations (thanks to the new administration) has mitigated the pandemic, we are now witnessing an assault on voting rights and on racial justice movements overall because white nationalists lost the presidency and control of the Senate. This list, “which selects books by and about IPOC (Indigenous and People of Color), with attention to their intersecting identities,” is still important and necessary.
Because so many authors and illustrators were unable to promote their 2020 book launches during the pandemic, we decided to prioritize those books this year. As a result, 2020 titles dominate the list, although we have included books from earlier years that have stood the test of time but may have been forgotten. Among these are Mildred Taylor’s The Gold Cadillac, a timely portrayal of life in the Jim Crow South first published in 1987, and Celia C. Pérez’s 2017 title The First Rule of Punk, a delightful multi-award winner that we don’t want to fall off anyone’s radar.
One aspect of publishing I’ve noticed over the past few years is the tendency for authors to publish multiple books in one year. (In fact, I’m going to be part of this trend, with 3-4 books due out in 2022 after a very long dry spell.) We were only able to choose one book by these prolific authors, and we made the decision based in part on balancing the list in terms of age category, genre, content, and discoverability. So, for instance, Christina Soontornvat’s chapter book series title Diary of an Ice Princess #4: The Big Freeze got the nod over her dual 2021 Newbery Honor Books, the middle grade fantasy A Wish in the Dark and the nonfiction book All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team.
We’ve always tried to prioritize books from outside the United States published in translation. As a translator from Portuguese to English, I’m pleased that we finally have a book from Brazil on the list. The one we’ve chosen is Vítor Martins’s Here the Whole Time, translated by Larissa Helena, the story of a gay teenager whose life changes when his neighbor in their apartment building — his crush — stays with him for two weeks while the other boy’s parents go on vacation.
This year’s list has a large representation of picture books, early readers and chapter books, and middle grade books, as well as graphic novels and series. We know that series books are popular, and the goal of the list is to get kids reading, to see themselves in the books they read, and to stretch their understanding of their neighbors and the world. As in previous years, we’ve looked for titles that present BIPOC characters who are also queer, disabled, and/or of multicultural heritage because identities are not monolithic.
Our list this year was the work of the We Are Kid Lit Collective: Edith Campbell, Sujei Lugo Vázquez, Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, and me. I look forward to working with the collective on the 2022 list. The annotated list is available here, and there is also a downloadable brochure. For past lists and more information, visit the We Are Kid Lit website here.