December 30


The 2020 Nerdies: Poetry and Novels in Verse Announced by Heidi Mordhorst

CHALLENGE. Every good book–even nowadays a poetry collection–needs a compelling challenge for the characters or for the reader.  In this year’s Nerdy Award winners, poets capture our central human challenge: becoming and being true to ourselves, claiming our identity, resisting the limits of easy stereotypes and assumptions.  Whatever “they” may say or believe, these books offer defiant, upstanding replies.


A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart 

by Zetta Elliott

illustrated by Noa Denmon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux 

When they say you’re an angry Black boy, show them the power of your tenderest feelings.


Cast Away: Poems for Our Time 

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Greenwillow Books

When they say it’s too late for the planet, gather up and recycle your ideas about trash.

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z

by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

Carolrhoda Books

When they try to define you, show them you’ll break the mold.

Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration, and Cake 

by Marilyn Singer

illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Dial Books

When they say it’s only cake, remind them that food is fundamental.

In the Woods 

by David Elliot

illustrated by Rob Dunlavey


When they say nature isn’t relevant, remind them where wonder lives.

Just Like Me 

by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Knopf Books for Young Readers

When they say you’re an ordinary little girl, tell them how extraordinary you are!

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice 

by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olivia Gatwood

illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

Roaring Brook Press

When they say ‘it is what it is,’ show them that you are what will be.


Before the Ever After 

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books

When they say they want the fame and glory of sports, remind them of the price athletes pay. 

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer: The Kids Under the Stairs 

by K.A. Holt

Chronicle Books

When they say you’ll never be a reader, teach them that gaming is literacy too.

Closer to Nowhere 

by Ellen Hopkins

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

When they say your broken brain can’t love, show them how trust grows.

Land of Cranes

by Aida Salazar


When they say this isn’t your home, find the sweetness in your struggle through immigration detention.

The Canyon’s Edge 

by Dusti Bowling

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

When they say you’ll never be safe again, show them that you are your own superhero.


Apple (Skin to the Core) 

by Eric Gansworth

Levine Querido

When they say you belong nowhere, show them that Native peoples are still here, still standing.

Clap When You Land 

by Elizabeth Acevedo

Quill Tree Books

When they say you are an orphan, reach across islands to find the limits of “family.”

Every Body Looking 

by Candice Iloh

Dutton Books for Young Readers

When they tell you what you should hide, dance like you know who you are.

Punching the Air 

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Balzer + Bray

When they pronounce you guilty, use your anger to create your way out of the box.

The Black Flamingo 

by Dean Atta

Hodder Children’s Books

When they say you’re neither this nor that, dress yourself in all the layers that fit.

Three Things I Know Are True 

by Betty Culley


When they ask how the gun went off, reach out with your hands to find the truths.


Becoming Muhammad Ali 

by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

jimmy patterson

When they say you’re all talk, show them your heavyweight heart.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History 

ed. by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley

illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

Charlesbridge Publishing

When they say you’re too young to understand, show them you can lead!

With a Star in My Hand: Rúben Darío, Poetry Hero

by Margarita Engle

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

When they say you are an exile, take paper as your sky and words as your natural air; ride a new movement home.


Kent State 

by Deborah Wiles

Scholastic Inc.

When they tell you one side of the history, seek out multiple perspectives.

HEIDI MORDHORST teaches PreK in a Montgomery County, MD public school and is the author of two poetry collections for young readers, as well as contributions to numerous anthologies. She currently serves on the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award Committee. She blogs regularly at my juicy little universe and you can follow her on Twitter @heidimordhorst.