Serving on the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award Jury

Cindy: The 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award was announced this week and I’m delighted to share the news with all of you. It’s been hard to keep the winners under wrap while waiting for the press release but now we’ve been given permission to reveal the title that took the prize.

Our jury of five selected Lois Lowry’s On the Horizon (HMH, 2020) a verse memoir of her childhood during World War II as the winner of the 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. We also selected two honor books, Ice: Poems About Polar Life, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian (Holiday House, 2020) and Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020).  The press release provides more information about the books and the award. Additional jury members’ comments about each winning title can be found on this year’s award page.

When I was invited to serve as the chair of this committee back in August 2020 by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Director, Karla Schmidt, I was honored and I didn’t yet know that would mean getting to work with admired and award-winning poets Marilyn Nelson and Tony Medina—definitely a bonus and a great experience. I also had the joy of working with Karen O’Connell, coordinator of the Arkansas Center for the Book, and Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian, knowledgeable and dedicated jury members as well. What a fun time we had with this dream job of being tasked to read poetry!

We all thoroughly enjoyed the months of reading the wealth and diversity of poetry for youth and picking a single winner is always hard. I’m thankful for the inclusion of our two honor award titles. Lowry, Florian, and Zoboi & Salaam’s titles show excellence at every audience level of the award’s age 0-14 criteria and all of them will beg to be read again and again just as we jury members did when we were preparing to discuss and select our winner.

Many fine titles were not given awards and I’d love to highlight some of those, but that’s not allowed. Trust me that there are many poetry gems waiting to be found in your local libraries and bookstores every year. Don’t miss them.

I’m sorry that I never got a chance to meet Lee Bennett Hopkins before his death in 2019. I’m grateful for the many books he wrote and edited for children; I used many of them over my three and half decades of public and school librarianship. What an honor and a treat to be a small part of this award.