Newbery & Caldecott 2009: Predict-o-rama
I decided to release them a little early this year. If I know my committee members, and I think I do, they’ll be rereading and tying themselves into variously sized knots in preparation for the upcoming ALA Youth Media Awards. From this haze of literature and debatable topics (“what really makes something ‘distinguished’ anyway”?) they will sit themselves down soon and bestow upon a few lucky souls the most prestigious children’s literary awards in America. I’m fair faint and giddy in expectation.
So the time is ripe for predictions. As per usual, these are just my own musings. You are aware that I have no clue what could or could not win. And these awards are particularly wonderful because sometimes a committee will determine a dark horse candidate particularly “distinguished”. So let’s all prepare to laugh at how wrong I am in two weeks’ time! I love how I can completely say things that sound reasonable at one moment, only to end up a fool later on down the line (particularly when it comes to the Caldecotts). My predictions follow:
WHAT WILL WIN
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson – Clearly I’m playing it safe with this choice, but that isn’t to belittle it. Chains has the advantage of being inherently “literary”, howsoever you choose to define that term. There will be some brief kerfuffles over whether or not the reader adequately connects to the heroine. There may even be a single historical fact called into question that will give the committee something to chew on for an hour or so. But unless there’s a significant showing of people who don’t like it (something I have yet to see), I’m fairly certain that this will bring home the gold all the way.
WHAT SHOULD WIN BUT WON’T
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt – Well . . . how do we define “should” anyway? Earlier in the year I was certain that The Underneath was the frontrunner for the gold, but at the same time I knew that it was a divisive book. And divisive books can split their committees in two, leaving the title without so much as an Honor to its name. That is, I’m afraid, what will probably happen here. The Underneath backlash will hopefully allow it to snag an Honor, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And the gold itself? Not gonna happen.
WHAT ALSO WON’T WIN AND WHY
Savvy by Ingrid Law – I enjoyed this book thoroughly, as you should know. And I see that it has been doing oh so very well on some of the Mock Newbery lists around the country. Yet while I am a fan of Ms. Law and her work, the book is a first novel that sports the innocent long-lashed adorableness OF a first novel. There is much to like here, but it can’t overcome its small flaws. I think it is swell. I do not think it will get anything.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Blood and gore may push this puppy just a hair too high on the old “14 years and younger” scale. I would agree with everyone that it deserves awards by the handful. And perhaps this will be a particularly lenient committee, able to stretch the definition of what they deem “children’s” fare. And I find it sufficiently literary, since making something fast-paced takes a different set of muscles, but is no less difficult that a small quiet scene. However, it is clearly teen.
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost – I’d love for Frost to win. Her The Braid was completely ignored the year it came out, in spite of the fact that it was one of the more brilliant pieces of writing I’d ever seen. Diamond Willow is getting some nice attention, but I’m afraid that the whole ancestors-as-animals aspect will probably sink it as the committee continues to debate.
Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt – Aside from the fact that nobody’s talking about it anymore, I think that this is clearly teen. Teen and more than a smidgen didactic at points. I liked the dog parts, though. Liked ’em quite a lot.
The Trouble Begins at 8 by Sid Fleischman – Wouldn’t it be great if this got the gold and Gary Schmidt’s Trouble got the only honor? Newspapers around the country would write headlines like “Troubling Year for Children’s Books”, or something equally skewed. I think this has a good shot, and is the only non-fiction title to continually come up in Newbery discussions. Not that it’s flawless. There was some discussion as to whether or not the images that do not feature Twain should really be paired alongside text that suggests that he is in those very pictures. That’s what might keep it from getting a Gold (or on ALA Notables, if I know how their minds work) but it isn’t sufficiently enough bad to knock it away from making a swipe at an Honor. Then again, some people hate the book’s tone. But I think that enough committee members may find in its favor, so let us see.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – I think the man has a chance. The committee will put aside considerations that take into account his massive fame in other spheres. They will examine the book based on its own merits and find it a rather clever and touching novel. The real question is how fantasy friendly this committee is. I haven’t a clue. And a good fantasy hasn’t won a Newbery Award or Honor since Princess Academy back in 2006. So who’s to say?
THOSE LOONEY WILD CARD BOOKS THAT COULD WIN IT ALL
The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich – A recent winner of the Oakland Mock Newbery committee and if this won any kind of a real award I would do a dance of pure unabated joy. Joy joy joy! Erdrich has been utterly passed over for the first two books in this series (though, if I’m not too much mistaken, The Birchbark House did get a National Book Award Honor). What a coup it would be if she won it all at the last minute with this!
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry – Again, divisive. But there could be enough residual Lowry love to sustain this title far into the debating process. Add in the fact that the committee may find it clever, and you have the very definition of a Wild Card on your hands.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to School, Girls, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – An early chapter book win would be the icing on the cake. Particularly if something this funny and enjoyable took home the gold. Is it distinguished? Sure, why not? There’s a lot at work in this little novel, hovering just below the surface. Don’t discount a novel just because it skews younger. To my mind, those are the hardest kinds of novels to write out there.
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young – I’m the kind of person who always bets that the Oscar will go to the most likely frontrunner too. Now the last time a book that you had to hold vertically won an award it was back in 1996 for Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. That book really used the format well, and Wabi Sabi faces justifying its vertical state. I have little doubt that dedicated committee members could find a good reason for it where I falter. The other bit of trouble is whether or not they consider the book something a reader can relate to. That said, I think it has an extraordinary shot.
WHAT SHOULD WIN BUT WON’T
We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson – Hush hush hush, now now. I wanted this book to finally FINALLY give Kadir the gold medal he so richly deserves as well. But sitting in on various picture book debates this year I came to the slow horrific realization that this title doesn’t stand a chance. Think about it. Last year’s winner Hugo Cabret was a wild choice as a “picture book”, which (if I know my committees) means that on a subconscious level the Caldecotters will be pulling back and going for old-fashioned fare to give their awards to. Books that are without a doubt “picture books”. No muss. No fuss. Add onto that the fact that Nelson’s pictures do not interact with the text one jot. A Caldecott winner is a book that, if there are words, works with them seamlessly so that they are one perfect whole. But the gorgeous paintings in this book often do not apply to the text on their opposite pages. You could remove every image in this book and still understand the text without a smidgen of difficulty. The images here are some of the finest of the year, but if we look at what defines a Caldecott winner then technicalities are going to keep yet another Nelson title out of the running in the end.
Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu – I argued earlier that Savvy was very much a first novel and wouldn’t win anything. Similarly Wonder Bear is very much a first picture book and won’t get anything quite yet. It’s beautiful, no question. Haunting even. One of the few books I actually kept for my own personal collection this year. But when push comes to shove the story is just a little too light and airless to support a medal as heavy as a Caldecott. I have little doubt, however, that Nyeu’s future works will place their feet firmly on the ground and garner a whole host of accolades and kisses.
The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger – The picture book I kick myself the hardest for not reviewing in 2008. I have no idea what is wrong with me. I can only hope and pray that the committee has more sense than I did and gives it a great big beautiful shiny sticker right front and center.
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes – I almost made this my out-and-out Gold winner, but Wabi Sabi just barely beat it. I’ve heard people argue against this one, but their arguments never quite stick. It’s a beaut.
Old Bear by Kevin Henkes – I actually hesitated to include this. Not because I don’t think it has a fair shot, but because it’s a difficult title to discuss. Simple books always are. I’m not sure why. But for beauty alone, this probably has a very good shot. Twould be a bit nice for Greenwillow if this and Berger’s book won together, don’t you think?
THOSE LOONEY WILD CARD BOOKS THAT COULD WIN IT ALL
In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Tricia Tusa – I know the pros. I know the cons. And I know that if this book took a flying leap for a medal it would surprise no one. Tusa has this title firmly in hand and Averbeck’s first picture book is dead on. The only trouble it faces is from people who say of it, “But the room isn’t blue!” Its medal possibilities lie entirely on that crux. We’ll see if it overcomes or succumbs in the end.
Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop – What would happen if a book of photographs won the Caldecott? Take a close look at the Caldecott’s definition. At no point does it declare that the “illustrations” must be drawn. What is an illustration? Can a photo be one? If so, then Bishop’s book should clearly be the first.
Abe’s Honest Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Kadir Nelson – If my argument against We Are the Ship winning a Caldecott hinges on the committee’s subconscious rejection of getting too creative in their choices, then why not also take that a step further and say that their subconscious minds will also feel inclined to give Mr. Nelson SOMETHING for all his amazing work this year. The best bet for that is Abe’s Honest Words, which does not match We Are the Ship in terms of content, but at the very least is a wonderful example of how well the man can adapt his images to other people’s text.
That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small – This is the very definition of a dark horse contender. It got good reviews, but didn’t make a huge splash. Yet it’s a remarkably strong story coupled with what may well be some of the most beautiful watercolors Small has ever created. The kicker is that at its heart it’s about a courageous librarian, and it always feels a little suspicious when librarian committees offer such books awards. I don’t think anyone could pick this up and not say that it was a lovely lovely little story, though.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz – I have not given up hope that this will prove a small, quiet, surprising winner. You cannot deny its beauty, power, or succinctness. This book says more by saying less, and is a brilliant example of what a picture book should be. I would be well pleased if this won.
UPDATE: A River of Words by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet – Monica reminded me that this was to be one of my Wild Card choices. And why not? It’s beautiful, with great text and a wonderful mix of word and image. Plus the design of the endpapers? [kisses fingers to the sky]
AND IN BRIEF . . .
CORETTA SCOTT KING AWARDS
WHAT SHOULD WIN
Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Weatherford Boston, illustrated by Sean Qualls – For anything. For the love of all that is good and holy give them some kind of award, PLEASE!
WHAT WILL WIN: I’m just gonna go out on a limb here . . . uh . . . Weston Woods? Honestly, when will we all just drop the pretense and rename the Carnegie Awards the Weston Woods Awards? Enough with this charade.
WHAT WILL WIN: The Hunger Games, sure. But I suspect that if it gets anything it’ll just be an honor. Just a guess, though.
WHAT WILL WIN: Did you know that if you scramble the letters in the name “Mo Willems” you come up with “Well, is mom”?
Uh-oh. Did I read any translations this year? [scans shelf] Nope. Anyone have a favorite for this? UPDATE: Tarie has mentioned Moribito, which would be a truly killer winner (no pun intended). Though Trisha makes a good point about giving it up to two Japanese manga-ish books in two years. It still has my money, though.
Er . . . um . . . doggone it.
UPDATE: Laughably wrong is the name of the game here. So what did I get correct? Well, Moribito did win the Batchelder, so yay. Sean Qualls finally got his first Coretta Scott King Honor. I named most of the Caldecotts, but definitely not in the right order. And I completely forgot to mention the Frazee book, which makes me mad. As for the Newbery, I mentioned The Graveyard Book as an Honor (whoops) and said that The Underneath wouldn’t win the gold. Which it didn’t. However I completely missed the Margarita Engle book because her last one was so upper YA. I’m just glad it’s still sitting on my shelf at home. Savvy was a surprise, so I was way way off there. And After Tupac, which I liked, got more loving than I credited it for. God, I love these awards!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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