Donna Barba Higuera wins top US children’s book award for The Last Cuentista

·2 min read

Donna Barba Higuera has won the US’s top children’s book award, the Newbery medal, for her story of an Earth destroyed by a comet, and the girl who is the only one who remembers it.

Higuera’s The Last Cuentista, which blends Mexican folklore with science fiction, was named winner on Monday. The prize, which is named after John Newbery, the 18th-century English publisher who was one of the first people to publish books exclusively for children, has been running for 100 years. It has been won in the past by some of the most enduring classics of American children’s literature, from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

Higuera’s novel, her second, tells the story of Petra Peña, whose family is chosen to travel to a new planet when Earth is destroyed by a comet. When she wakes up, hundreds of years later, she finds she is the only person to remember Earth, after a “sinister Collective” has taken over the ship, purging the memories of those on board. “Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?” says publisher Levine Querido, an independent press.

Related: Graphic novel New Kid wins prestigious Newbery Medal

“I have pinched myself, squeezed my eyes super tight, and it’s all still real life! What a day! Taking a minute to digest over here,” said Higuera on learning of her win.

The awards, which are run by the American Library Association, also saw the Caldecott medal for the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children go to Jason Chin’s Watercress. The picture book, which was written by Andrea Wang, tells the story of a child of Chinese immigrants who stop off while driving through Ohio to harvest watercress they see growing wild. At first, the girl is embarrassed, but changes her mind when her mother tells her a story about the family’s time in China.

“Speechless. Honored. Overjoyed,” tweeted Chin on learning of his win. Wang congratulated him. “I can’t express how much I wanted [Jason Chin] to win the Caldecott. His incredible, luminous, exquisite art not only brought the story to life but also brought lost family back to me,” she said. Watercress also won the Asian Pacific American award for best picture book at Monday’s ceremony.

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