Our Outreach Coordinator Leena Desai reflects on some of the biggest youth titles of 2021, sharing a few of this year’s most prestigious award-winners.

Firefly by Philippa Dowding

Winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature – Text, Firefly is a realistic portrayal of a girl trying to overcome trauma from author Philippa Dowding, best known for her fantasy novels such as The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden and Everton Miles is Stranger than Me. The book revolves around the titular Firefly, who has made the park her home because the actual home she shares with her mother is not safe. Then one night, bad things happen and her baseball-bat-wielding mother is taken away. Social Services come for Firefly and she is sent to live with her Aunt Gayle, whom Firefly barely knows. Aunt Gayle owns a costume shop and her house is a distinct departure from her previous home. Within no time, Firefly gets used to taking baths again, sleeping on a bed, and wearing as many costumes as she can to school. This is a heartwarming tale of a girl overcoming PTSD and finding out what home and family really mean. Grades 5-7

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Indigenous people have, over the years, led many movements for the protection of lakes, rivers, forests, and lands and for access to clean and potable water. We Are Water Protectors is the winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal and is written in response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, famously protested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. This book is sparse in text, but the pictures, as the saying goes, tell a thousand words. Illustrator Michaela Goade uses Indigenous motifs and portrays water as colorful watercolour ribbons that flow, just like a river does, surrounded by the stars, forests, and nature. Writer Carole Lindstrom issues a rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption and her book is a tribute to Indigenous resilience and the work done by thousands of Indigenous people before her. The words are an urgent call to action to protect the most important and finite natural resource on Earth without which life cannot exist. Grades 1-3

Genius Jolene by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Charlene Chua

In this chapter book – winner of the 2021 Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize – eight-year-old Jolene is off on a road trip to Los Angeles with her father in an 18-wheel truck. It’s a six-day road trip, with the goal being to deliver some newsprint. But it’s so much more than that; it’s an annual tradition Jolene cherishes because she gets to spend quality time with her father. And this year is more important than previous years since Jolene’s parents have split because her father has come out as gay. This change in her family has made Jolene even more determined to make the most of the trip and bond with her father over stories, music, and truck-stop fast food. Sara Cassidy’s simple language and Charlene Chua’s colourful illustrations help make complex subjects easy to understand and appreciate for young readers. Grades 2-3