< Back to Press Center

The National Council of Teachers of English Announces Winners of Prestigious Literary Awards

NCTE celebrates the best in children’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at the first-ever virtual Children’s Book Awards event.


Contact: Abby Heverin, NCTE Communications Manager, aheverin@ncte.org; 315-408-2759


Champaign, Illinois—The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) announced the winners of the 2021 Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, Charlotte Huck Award® for Outstanding Fiction for Children, and Orbis Pictus Award® for Nonfiction for Children during a virtual awards event on November 21, 2020.

Each year, NCTE presents several awards to recognize outstanding books written for all age levels. This year, the Council presented these awards at its inaugural virtual Annual Convention.

“The books and poet selected for this year’s NCTE awards speak to the pressing issues of our time. Tapping poetry and books to teach empathy, compassion, and understanding can indeed transform lives and our world. The winners of the Orbis Pictus and Charlotte Huck Awards deserve to be taught and shared broadly with children, families, and adults,” NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick said.

Janet S. Wong is the winner of the 2021 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.

NCTE established the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for their aggregate work for children ages 3–13.

After a career working at Universal Studios, studying law at Yale, and working as a substitute teacher, Janet S. Wong turned to publishing and writing children’s books. Her first 21 books, written over two decades, were published by Simon & Schuster, Harcourt, and FSG; then, in 2012, through Pomelo Books, she (with Sylvia Vardell) began to focus on anthologies that include other poets’ work. She strives to create books that contain engaging poems for children and mini-lessons or useful tidbits for teachers, librarians, and administrators. She has spent time volunteering for literacy groups, and she was honored with appointments to the NCTE Commission on Literature, the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry committee, and the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. Janet recently curated the anthology Hop to It: Poems to Get You Moving with Sylvia Vardell.

During the same event, NCTE unveiled its 2021 list of Notable Poetry Books and Verse Novels, selected by the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry Committee. The list can be downloaded here.

“We are the only committee in the country that focuses on selecting notable books of poetry and verse novels for children, ages three–13. We are proud of the wide range of themes in this year’s notable poetry books, including advocacy, history, nature, social justice, and science,” Ted Kesler, EdD, Chair, NCTE Children’s Poetry Awards Committee, said.

I Am Every Good Thing (Nancy Paulsen Books), written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, is the winner of the 2021 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.

The Charlotte Huck Award was established in 2014 to promote and recognize fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder. The award honors Dr. Charlotte Huck, a professor at The Ohio State University who devoted her career to promoting the role of children’s books in young people’s academic, social, and emotional development. Each year, the committee selects a winner, up to five honor books, and recommended titles appropriate for ages three–12.

The 2021 Honor Books include A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner; Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar; Quintessence by Jess Redman; We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade; and When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.

“I marvel at the ways in which authors and illustrators of children’s books employ the creative process to address complex sociopolitical issues, while also forecasting a future that is vastly different from the past or present. This year’s Charlotte Huck Award winners inspire hope, resistance, and change,” Desiree W. Cueto, PhD, Chair, NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children Committee, said.

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball (Harry N. Abrams), written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Frank Morrison, is the winner of the 2021 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award.

The Orbis Pictus Award, established in 1989, is the oldest children’s book award for nonfiction. It pays homage to John Amos Comenius’s Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures (1657), considered to be the first book planned for children. Each year, the committee selects a winner, up to five honor books, and recommended titles ideal for classroom use from K–8.

The 2021 Honor Books include All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat; Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann; If You Take Away the Otter written by Susannah Buhrman-Deever and illustrated by Matthew Trueman; Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne; and The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Richard Wallace and illustrated by Charly Palmer.

“Truth matters. It is essential that children learn to discern fact from fiction as part of their literacy development,” Denise Dávila, PhD, Chair, NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children Committee, said.

NCTE also announced Charlotte Huck and Orbis Pictus Award Recommended Books at the luncheon, where the authors of the 2020 award-winning books delivered keynotes. The 2021 winners are invited to speak at next year’s Annual Convention.

Learn more about the Charlotte Huck Award and find the list of 2021 Recommended Books here. Learn more about the Orbis Pictus Award and find the list of 2021 Recommended Books here.


About NCTE

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is devoted to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. For more than 100 years, NCTE has worked with its members to offer journals, publications, and resources; to further the voice and expertise of educators as advocates for their students at the local and federal levels; and to share lesson ideas, research, and teaching strategies through its Annual Convention and other professional learning events. Learn more at ncte.org.