The Evanston Public Library has named Listen to the Language of the Trees: A Story of How Trees Communicate Underground by Tera Kelley and illustrated by Marie Hermansson the winner of the second annual Blueberry Award.
The Blueberry Awards honor children’s literature that strengthens kids’ connections with nature and fosters action for the planet. The Evanston Public Library created the Blueberry Award in 2021 to fill a nationwide vacuum: no other children’s literature award exclusively celebrates the best nature books that promote climate stewardship.
Awards for the 2022 Blueberry List were announced Thursday, March 23, at a live event at the Evanston Ecology Center, attended by Chicago Botanic Garden Library Director Leora Siegel, Morton Arboretum’s Kathryn Neuffer, District 65’s Sustainability Coordinator Karen Bireta, and Natural Start Alliances’ Emily Van Laan along with a crowd of more children’s nature book lovers.
“I am so honored that Listen to the Language of the Trees is the Blueberry Winner,” winning author Tera Kelley said. “I hope my book helps children keep marveling at and connecting to forests — where cooperation is just as common as competition, where individual trees recognize their kin and send them extra resources, and fungi and trees negotiate an unruly partnership. Thank you, Blueberry Awards, for supporting books that connect children with nature!”
In addition to Listen to the Language of Trees, the Blueberry committee also awarded 24 Blueberry Honor Award winners and eight Blueberry Changemaker Award winners. The Changemaker category celebrates those books that support and encourage kids’ actions for the planet.
Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medal winner for The One and Only Ivan, was awarded a Blueberry on Thursday evening for Odder, a novel in verse about an otter who gets rehabilitated at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“What incredible news! I’m truly honored,” Applegate said. “When I first heard about the Blueberry list, I was delighted that some wise folks had finally noticed the need to highlight nature and climate lit for children. And now, to be a part of that list? I couldn’t be more pleased.”
The honorees of this year’s Blueberry Awards are a diverse crop of new authors and illustrators as well as some well-known names in children’s literature:
- Frank Morrison, also the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards, accepted a Blueberry for Uncle John’s City Garden, written by the late Bernadette Ford, about being introduced as a child to urban gardening by her uncle.
- Karina González, author of The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope and Rebuilding, illustrated by Krystal Quiles, a book about the resilience of the Puerto Rican people and the natural world of the island after Hurricane Maria, which has also been awarded a Pura Belpre Honor Award.
- Helen Frost’s masterful poetry book about praying mantises Wait — and See features photographs by PBS NOVA for National Geographic TV filmmaker Rick Lieder.
- Varsha Bajaj, was awarded a Blueberry Changemaker Award for her New York Times bestselling middle grade novel Thirst, about a girl in Mumbai who fights for her belief that water should be for everyone.
“Thank you for this tremendous honor,” González said. “It’s deeply gratifying that our book was selected as one of the best children’s books of 2022 about nature and the environment. Thank you for centering the importance of environmental themes in children’s literature.”
The awards were also announced on the nationally renowned A Fuse #8 Production blog at School Library Journal, by Evanston Public Library’s own Collection Development and Materials Manager Betsy Bird.
Since its inauguration last year, the Blueberry Awards have quickly expanded their reach to parents, kids, and educators in schools, libraries, and nature centers. On April 11, preschool teachers across the country are invited to a live Blueberry webinar hosted by the Natural Start Alliance, in which the members of this year’s Blueberry committee will talk about some of their favorites from among the 2022 list.
“I am so proud of our EPL staff for their initiative in creating this award and in celebrating authors that so beautifully and eloquently illustrate the importance of this critical topic,” EPL Interim Director Heather Norborg said. “The Evanston Public Library is proud to support innovative programs and services that connect people of all ages to their environment and inspire them to create change, and my hope is that the reach and impact of the Blueberries will continue to expand.”
Educators who are interested in learning more about the Blueberry Awards and how to incorporate Blueberry books into their programming and resources are encouraged to contact Martha Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.