Readers of all ages can find reassurance and belonging from the winners of the 2019 Georgia Children’s Book Awards, which were named March 29 as part of the Conference on Children’s Literature.
“Not Quite Narwhal” by Jessie Sima is the top picturebook for 2019 while “A Dog Like Daisy” by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the winning book for older readers. The annual awards are the result of thousands of votes cast by children from across Georgia and are sponsored by the department of language and literacy education in the University of Georgia College of Education.
Winning picturebooks are selected by children in kindergarten through grade four, while the winning books are selected by children in grades four through eight. Voting takes place in school media centers and libraries across the state.
This year’s top picturebook tells the story of Kelp, who grows up believing he’s a narwhal but realizes that’s not exactly true. After a journey of discovery, Kelp realizes that maybe he doesn’t have to choose which group is right for him.
Jennifer Beaty, a fourth-grade teacher at Dacula Elementary School in Dacula who also served on the awards’ picturebook committee, said the book is loved by its readers and involves perennial popular characters: narwhals and unicorns.
“’Not Quite Narwhal’ is a super engaging book that kids adore,” she said. “The crazy popular topic of unicorns/narwhals and the engaging illustrations get kids interested. But at that moment when the kids realize that our friend Kelp isn’t quite who he thought he was, they become empathetic and want to see him happy. The last page reveal always results in a collective gasp when I read it to a group of kids for the first time.”
The ending offers teachers, parents, caregivers and others an opportunity to have a deeper conversation, added Jennifer Graff, an associate professor of literacies and children’s literature in the UGA College of Education who chaired the picturebook committee.
“I love how the end pages remind readers that Kelp’s story is one of many stories and that they do not end when the book closes,” said Graff. “There are so many places to engage in both fanciful and meaningful conversations.”
For older readers, “A Dog Like Daisy” tells the story of a pit bull in training to become a service dog for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Sara Kajder, clinical associate professor in the department of language and literacy education and chair of the awards’ book committee, said the book tells the story from the dog’s perspective and challenges readers to do and be better.
“It is impossible to read this book and not cheer for Daisy,” said Kajder. “Kristin O’Donnell Tubb gets her voice just right, allowing her to be playful, funny, direct and tender. PTSD is presented with compassion and honesty, and the story is warm, complex and helps us recognize that we all belong, just not always in the ways that we might immediately anticipate or seek.”
The annual Georgia Children’s Book Awards are named each year during the Conference on Children’s Literature, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Among the speakers at this year’s conference were the winners for 2018, Ben Clanton (“It Came in the Mail”) and Alan Gratz (“Projekt 1065”).
Every year, teachers, school library media specialists, public librarians, parents and UGA faculty members cull lists of books for each award category to 20 nominees and then work with partners across the state to allow children to vote for their favorites. This year more than 28,000 votes were cast across both categories.