North Carolina Children’s Book Awards

Published 2:30 pm Monday, August 17, 2020

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Jen Pace Dickenson

Shelf Life


I was honored this year to join the committee for the 2021 North Carolina Children’s Book Awards. Here’s how it works.

Children around the state nominate their favorite picture books and junior books (nominated books have a copyright within four years of the award year, so the acceptable publication dates for the 2021 award are 2017-2020).

Then the selection committee reads all the books and votes on their favorites, and the top 10 in each category make it into the final nominee list.

Later, kids will read from this list and vote for their favorite. Visit for more details.

Here are a few of my personal favorites that are in the running for the 2021 picture book award. As the kids are heading back to school, what better time to grab them a new book?

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Told in lively and powerful verse by debut author Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family, vibrantly illustrated by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal.

Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins

All Rupert the mouse wants is to star in a beautiful, wordless picture book. One that’s visually stimulating! With scenic pictures! And style! He has plenty of ideas about what makes a great book, but his friends just WON’T. STOP. TALKING. Children and adults alike will chuckle at this comedic take on bookmaking.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

It’s up to Daddy to give his daughter an extra-special hair style in this ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters, from Academy-Award winning director and former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and New York Times bestselling illustrator Vashti Harrison.

The Good Egg by Jory John

From the bestselling creators of The Bad Seed, a timely story about not having to be Grade A perfect! Meet the good egg. He’s a very good egg indeed. But trying to be so good is hard when everyone else is plain ol’ rotten. As the other eggs in the dozen behave badly, the good egg starts to crack from all the pressure of feeling like he has to be perfect. So, he decides enough is enough! It’s time for him to make a change… Dynamic duo Jory John and Pete Oswald hatch a funny and charming story that reminds us of the importance of balance, self-care, and accepting those we love (even if they are sometimes a bit rotten). Perfect for reading aloud and shared story time!

La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya

The Princess and the Pea gets a fresh twist in this charming bilingual retelling, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration. El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree. The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa, but the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too… Readers will be enchanted by this Latino twist on the classic story and captivated by the vibrant art inspired by the culture of Peru.

Jen Pace Dickenson is the youth services librarian for Polk County Public Libraries. For information about the library’s resources, programs, and other services, visit or call 828-894-8721.