2021 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature

Malka Penn Award

The 2021 Malka Penn Award goes to

Kim Johnson


This is My America

 Debut novel from author Kim Johnson offers young readers a critical look at justice in America

“Kim Johnson has delivered a gripping story that tackles the human rights issues of historical racism, corruption, police brutality, and incarceration at a critical moment in our society,” says Glenn Mitoma, director of Dodd Human Rights Impact. “We are honored to recognize her work and the important message that This is My America brings to youth who are living amidst the struggle against systemic racism and fighting to redefine what equity truly means in the United States.”

Published in 2020, This is My America, a compelling debut young adult novel from Johnson, tells the story of 17-year-old Tracy Beaumont, whose father sits on death row convicted of a murder he did not commit. Each week, she writes letters to Innocence X, imploring them to take her father’s case. When her brother then becomes a murder suspect, she sets out to unearth the truth behind the crimes and to reveal the roots of prejudice in the American justice system.  Producers recently announced that This is My America is under development for television for HBO Max.

The Malka Penn Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes, such as discrimination, equity, poverty, justice, war, peace, slavery or freedom. Named in honor of author Michele Palmer – who writes under the pseudonym Malka Penn – the award recognizes works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, or biography and written for children from preschool to high school. Special consideration is given to stories about individuals who have been affected by social injustices and who, by confronting those injustices, have made a difference in their lives or the lives of others.

An award ceremony conveying the 2021 Malka Penn Award, featuring Johnson as well as a professional development workshop on anti-racism through literature, will be held on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the UConn Storrs Campus.

In addition to This is My America, the Malka Penn Award Committee has recognized the following selections as its 2021 Honor Books:

  • Everything Sad is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri – In this autobiographical novel, 12-year-old Iranian refugee Khosru – forced to flee with his mother and sister – is now a middle schooler in Oklahoma. Recognizing that he is perceived as “super weird” by his classmates, he defends himself through storytelling, revealing his family history and the history of his homeland to the increasingly captivated audience of his classmates and teachers.
  • Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War, by Maria José Ferrada and illustrated by Ana Penyas – Imaginative and expressive, Mexique tells the story of Los Niños de Morelia – the displaced children of the Spanish Civil War who, in 1937, boarded the ship Mexique bound for Mexico and what their parents hoped would be safety – through the perspective of a child aboard the boat.
  • Dear Justyce, by Nic Stone – Two boys from the same neighborhood, with a shared love of reading and hope for the future, find themselves on two different paths.
  • Stand Up! Speak Up!, by Andrew Joyner – A picture book that shares steps readers can take to be a climate activist, Stand Up! Speak Up! is a quick read that is perfect to start to engage children in activism and climate justice.
  • Nana Akua Goes to School, by Tricia Elam Walker and April Harrison – Zura worries about how her classmates will react to her grandmother, who has tribal markings on her face, during Grandparents Day at school. Nana Akua is a beautifully written story about diversity and acceptance.

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