Cynsational Books of 2022

The Cynsational Books of 2022 were selected by Cynthia Leitich Smith from nominations by Cynsations Team members.

The selections:

Berry Song by Michaela Goade (Tlingit/Haida) (Little, Brown, 2022) From the promotional copy:

On an island at the edge of a wide, wild sea, a girl and her grandmother gather gifts from the earth. Salmon from the stream, herring eggs from the ocean, and in the forest, a world of berries.

Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry.

Huckleberry, Snowberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.

Through the seasons, they sing to the land as the land sings to them. Brimming with joy and gratitude, in every step of their journey, they forge a deeper kinship with both the earth and the generations that came before, joining in the song that connects us all. Michaela Goade’s luminous rendering of water and forest, berries and jams glows with her love of the land and offers an invitation to readers to deepen their own relationship with the earth.


  • Caldecott Honor Book

“Tapping into themes of people’s connection to nature—and nature’s to people—the volume crucially invites readers to recognize this intersection. An author’s note contextualizes core Tlingit tenets discussed.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Goade’s lush, brightly colored art vividly portrays the landscape.” —The Horn Book, starred review

“Told in rhythm, song, and narrative, the language is rich and evocative—perfect for early ­elementary ­readers.” — School Library Journal, starred review

A Comb Of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow (Quill Tree Books, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the Caribbean beaches of St. Rita. So when Kela and her friend Lissy stumble across an ancient-looking comb in a coral cave, with all she’s already lost, Kela can’t help but bring home her very own found treasure.

Far away, deep in the cold ocean, the mermaid Ophidia can feel that her comb has been taken. And despite her hatred of all humans, her magic requires that she make a bargain: the comb in exchange for a wish.

But what Kela wants most is for her mother to be alive. And a wish that big will exact an even bigger price…


  • New England Book Award Middle Grade Category Finalist
  • The Horn Book 2022 Summer Reading Recommendations

“The story is imbued with magic, but Stringfellow’s powerful writing makes the fantastical feel like reality.” — The Horn Book

Forever Cousins, written by Laurel Goodluck (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation/Tsimshian), illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (Diné)(Charlesbridge, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Kara and Amanda are best-friend cousins. Then Kara leaves the city to move back to the Rez. Will their friendship stay the same?

Kara and Amanda hate not being together. Then it’s time for the family reunion on the Rez. Each girl worries that the other hasn’t missed her. But once they reconnect, they realize that they are still forever cousins. This story highlights the ongoing impact of the 1950s Indian Relocation Act on Native families, even today, and reminds readers that the power of friendship and family can bridge any distance.


  • A Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book

“Children facing separations of their own will find this reassuring. A sweet story of friendship, family, and community.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The story is a familiar one, but Goodluck, who has an intertribal background of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Tsimshian, weaves in cultural details that bring a cheerful freshness and situate the cousins fully within both their family and their Native experience.” — The Bulleting of the Center for Children’s Books

“…a heartwarming and culturally inclusive story that celebrates the love between cousins.” — Children’s Literature

Love In The Library, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura (Candlewick, 2022). From the promotional copy:

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast—elderly people, children, babies—now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn’t know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp’s tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn’t the only one. George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before.

As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day? Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s beautifully illustrated, elegant love story features a photo of the real Tama and George—the author’s grandparents—along with an afterword and other back matter for readers to learn more about a time in our history that continues to resonate.

Set in an incarceration camp where the United States cruelly detained Japanese Americans during WWII and based on true events, this moving love story finds hope in heartbreak.


“Simple yet evocative. . . Fluid, dynamic gouache and watercolor illustrations by Imamura (Winged Wonders) spotlight the expressive internees’ individualism amid a bleak landscape, immersing readers. . . Alongside a sensitive introduction to life in Japanese internment camps, this picture book transcends its central romance to encompass love for books, community, and being ‘human.'” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The author’s gentle text captures the resilience of human dignity and optimism even during times of immense challenge and adversity. Imamura’s stunning gouache and watercolor illustrations convey both the setting and the emotions of the characters. . . Tokuda-Hall’s author’s note discussing her grandparents, Japanese internment camps, and the continuing impact of racism caps off this powerful must-read.” — Booklist, starred review

“This lovely, inspiring story unfolds in Imamura’s muted art, cushioning the harsh reality of how Japanese Americans were treated during World War II. . . . Tokuda-Hall recounts the true story of how her maternal grandmother and grandfather met in an internment camp in the 1940s and writes a stirring and heartbreaking paragraph about how ‘[h]ate…is an American tradition.’” — School Library Journal, starred review

Man Made Monsters, written by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee), illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Cherokee)(Levine Querido, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Following one extended Cherokee family across the centuries, from the tribe’s homelands in Georgia in the 1830s to World War I, the Vietnam War, our own present, and well into the future, each story delivers a slice of a particular time period that will leave readers longing for more.

Alongside each story, Cherokee artist and language technologist Jeff Edwards delivers haunting illustrations that incorporate Cherokee syllabary.


  • Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, Teen Category
  • Washington Post, Best Children’s and YA Books of 2022
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2022
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books 2022
  • The Horn Book Best Books 2022
  • New York Public Library Best Books for Teens 2022

“Many of these stories sound as if they were passed down as family histories. It may read like speculative fiction, but it feels like truth.” — The Horn Book, starred review

“Stunning collection of short stories follows a Cherokee family through two centuries, beginning with something akin to a vampire attack and ending with zombies. Rogers has a rich authorial toolbox.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

“Spine-tingling…artfully tackles themes of colonialism and its effects on entire generations, for a simultaneously frightening and enthralling read.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Chilling… Exquisite… A creepy and artful exploration of a haunting heritage.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Teen and adult readers looking for a taste of the gorgeously gruesome should snap up this dark, engrossing jewel.” — Shelf-Awareness, starred review

“Startling…Will leave readers—adults as well as teens—unsettled, feeling like they have caught a glimpse into a larger world, and like there is a wider one still, just out of sight.” — Booklist, starred review

Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy (Dutton, 2022). From the promotional copy:

River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio. When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are—only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.


  • Stonewall Honor Book
  • Autostraddle Best Book of the Year
  • BookPage Best Book of 2022
  • Buzzfeed Best Book of 2022
  • Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2022
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2022

“A beautiful and relentless current of emotion.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A thoughtful, nuanced exploration of what it’s like to feel trapped—and how to make it out.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“McCarthy engages with every aspect of River’s life to create an extraordinary story with incredible depth…. [F]erociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process.” — BookPage, starred review

Our Shadows Have Claws: 15 Latin American Monster Stories edited by Yamile Saied Méndez and Amparo Ortiz, illustrated by Ricardo López Ortiz (Workman, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Fifteen original short stories from YA superstars, featuring Latine mythology’s most memorable monsters

From zombies to cannibals to death incarnate, this cross-genre anthology offers something for every monster lover. In Our Shadows Have Claws, bloodthirsty vampires are hunted by a quick-witted slayer; children are stolen from their beds by “el viejo de la bolsa” while a military dictatorship steals their parents; and anyone you love, absolutely anyone, might be a shapeshifter waiting to hunt.\

The worlds of these stories are dark but also magical ones, where a ghost-witch can make your cheating boyfriend pay, bullies are brought to their knees by vicious wolf-gods, a jar of fireflies can protect you from the reality-warping magic of a bruja—and maybe you’ll even live long enough to tell the tale. Set across Latin America and its diaspora, this collection offers bold, imaginative stories of oppression, grief, sisterhood, first love, and empowerment.


“The combination of recognizable names from young adult literature and superlative stories on a range of themes makes this collection a winner. This bloodcurdling anthology soars.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The Contributors are some of the best voices in literature…Vampires, shapeshifters, brujas, wolf-gods, and more await you in the deliciously dark pages of this collection.” — Buzzfeed

“Immersive and eerie…Threads of horror run through most of the stories, but they also contain magic and relatable themes and experiences. Readers will find celebrations of inner strength, the discovery of unique powers, and all-encompassing first love. This anthology will both haunt readers and stir their blood.” — Booklist

Powwow Day, written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw)(Charlesbridge, 2022). From the promotional copy:

It’s powwow day—but eight-year-old River can’t dance this year. She’s been very sick for a very long time.

This uplifting contemporary picture book by award-winning author and Cherokee citizen Traci Sorell follows River as she struggles with the isolation of a serious illness and the frustration of her physical limits—and as she finds solace in the healing power of community. Back matter explains the history and functions of powwows, which are held across the United States and Canada and are open to both Native Americans and non-Native visitors.

Awards and Honors

  • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2022
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2022
  • Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2022
  • Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature Best Multicultural Children’s Book of 2022
  • Bookstagang Picture Book Guild Best Bookshelf Building Picture Book of 2022
  • Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2022
  • 2023 Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Book
  • 2023 ILA Notable Book for a Global Society

“A heartwarming picture book about the roles of courage, culture, and community in the journey of personal healing.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A resonant, hopeful tale about the healing power of community and tradition.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A tender and inspiring view of Indigenous traditions and how ­celebrating them can lead to healing and redemption.” — School Library Journal, starred review

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Minni lives in the poorest part of Mumbai, where access to water is limited to a few hours a day and the communal taps have long lines. Lately, though, even that access is threatened by severe water shortages and thieves who are stealing this precious commodity—an act that Minni accidentally witnesses one night. Meanwhile, in the high-rise building where she just started to work, she discovers that water streams out of every faucet and there’s even a rooftop swimming pool. What Minni also discovers there is one of the water mafia bosses. Now she must decide whether to expose him and risk her job and maybe her life. How did something as simple as access to water get so complicated?


  • Texas Bluebonnet Master list 2023-2024
  • Amazon Best Books of 2022
  • Cybils 2022 Middle Grade Fiction Finalist
  • Global Read Aloud, Middle Grade selection for 2022
  • Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection
  • YALSA 2023 Best Fiction for Young Adults list

“This title gives readers a powerful look at the importance of free water and how the inequalities surrounding its distribution impacts communities in India. The story is filled with hope and faith as Minni learns the importance of education, family, friendship, opportunities, and taking a stand for her community.” — School Library Connection, starred review

“Minni is a likable narrator, and readers will connect with her dreams and courage in the face of unfair treatment.” — School Library Journal, starred review

“Bajaj thoughtfully examines class and privilege, making topics like water access and income inequality accessible to middle-grade readers.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review

The Topsy-Turvy Bus, written by Anita Fitch Pazner, illustrated by Carolina Farías (Kar-Ben, 2022). From the promotional copy:

Reuse, recycle, renew, and rethink!

Climb aboard the Topsy-Turvy Bus with Maddy and Jake as it travels around the country teaching communities the importance of taking care of the earth and creating a better, cleaner, healthier world. Based on a real Topsy-Turvy Bus created by Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental organization in North America.


“…a much-needed addition to the literary offerings that engage children in thinking about how people can find creative solutions to make our regular activities easier on our planet.” — The Sydney Taylor Shmooze from the Association of Jewish Libraries

The World Belonged To Us, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022). From the promotional copy:

It’s getting hot outside, hot enough to turn on the hydrants and run through the water–and that means it’s finally summer in the city! Released from school and reveling in their freedom, the kids on one Brooklyn block take advantage of everything summertime has to offer: Freedom from morning till night to go out to meet their friends and make the streets their playground–jumping double Dutch, playing tag and hide-and-seek, building forts, chasing ice cream trucks, and best of all, believing anything is possible. That is, till their moms call them home for dinner. But not to worry–they know there is always tomorrow to do it all over again–because the block belongs to them and they rule their world.


“Affirming the strengths of shared experiences and power drawn from collective appreciation, the creators show how a childhood can engender joy that follows ‘everywhere I’d ever go.’” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Author and illustrator offer a refreshing reminder of a pre-internet time when full-immersion play was the summer activity and kids took full advantage. A dream team of talent show and tell a delightful story of summers gone by.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“…joyful and nostalgic celebration of young Black girlhood…” — Booklist, starred review

“Woodson’s evocative use of language will bring readers right into the hot Brooklyn streets. The illustrations are perfect for this story, with a 1970s retro vibe. A gorgeous depiction of summer vacation in Brooklyn in the 1970s that could work in writing classes as well. Don’t miss this one.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“This lyrical paean to unstructured play does not wax nostalgic or harken back to a simpler time. Rather, Woodson sets out to capture (and brilliantly succeeds in it) a feeling and a moment. . . . Espinosa’s kinetic pen-and-ink and watercolor art captures a cadre of kids in perpetual motion—biking, jumping rope, building forts, shooting bottle caps, playing stickball—and conveys unbridled joy and mutual respect and admiration.” — The Horn Book, starred review

Worser by Jennifer Ziegler (Margaret Ferguson Books, 2022). From the promotional copy:

William Wyatt Orser, a socially awkward middle schooler, is a wordsmith who, much to his annoyance, acquired the ironically ungrammatical nickname of “Worser” so long ago that few people at school know to call him anything else. Worser grew up with his mom, a professor of rhetoric and an introvert just like him, in a comfortable routine that involved reading aloud in the evenings, criticizing the grammar of others, ignoring the shabby mess of their house, and suffering the bare minimum of social interactions with others.

But recently all that has changed. His mom had a stroke that left her nonverbal, and his Aunt Iris has moved in with her cats, art projects, loud music, and even louder clothes. Home for Worser is no longer a refuge from the unsympathetic world at school that it has been all his life.

Feeling lost, lonely, and overwhelmed, Worser searches for a new sanctuary and ends up finding the Literary Club—a group of kids from school who share his love of words and meet in a used bookstore–something he never dreamed existed outside of his home. Even more surprising to Worser is that the key to making friends is sharing the thing he holds dearest: his Masterwork, the epic word notebook that he has been adding entries to for years.

But relationships can be precarious, and it is up to Worser to turn the page in his own story to make something that endures so that he is no longer seen as Worser and earns a new nickname, Worder.


  • New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection

“This wonderfully layered story unfolds its many facets gently: finding refuge, garnering peer appreciation, questioning the way things were, and facing the toll of untreated trauma. . . . The author has developed her main character so well it’s hard to believe it’s not biography—but it can certainly pass as the most entertaining New York Times crossword artillery you’ll ever read.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Full of SAT-worthy vocabulary and wordplay, this is a touching story about grief, trauma, and embracing change. This story is especially powerful due to its sensitive depictions of non-death-related grief, which Ziegler accurately captures.” — Booklist, starred review

“Ziegler’s compassionate characterization of Worser… and nuanced portrayal of his changing relationships with his family and friends make this character-driven narrative a cathartic and emotionally charged experience.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A compelling and semantically delightful story for lovers of language and flawed protagonists.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review