Newbery/Caldecott 2011: The Big Questions
Yes, it’s time yet again to try to figure out what might win this year’s Newbery (for the best written work for children) and Caldecott (for the best illustrated book for children) Awards for 2011. Let’s try something a little different from Part One and Part Two of this year’s predictionfest. Now with Heavy Medal restarting and sites like the ACPL Mock Newbery creating reading lists, the true debates are about to begin. With that in mind, I need to step up my game.
I think that the best way to tackle this is to consider all the questions that need to be answered before the committees come to a final decision. Questions like:
Does it stand alone?
There are a couple series titles this year that may wish to dip their toes into the ring. The first could be Laurie Halse Anderson’s sequel to her shouldabeenaNewberyAwardwinning novel Chains. With Forge, Anderson writes a sequel that may or may not be standalone material. It’s on my old To Be Read shelf and should be due to be perused soon.
The other notable entrant into this category is A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner. If you picked this book up with no prior knowledge of the books that came before it, would it make sense? According to the Newbery criteria, it would have to in order to win. And while we’re thinking of it, is this a book for the 0-14 set or it is clearly mature fare? This leads neatly into the next question:
Is it too old?
Newbery committees often have a hard time resisting the siren song of those books that were clearly published with a teen audience in mind, yet don’t contain much in the way of inappropriate language, sex, violence, etc. Technically a kid could read it. So does it count?
This year the aforementioned Turner will have to answer that question. So too will books like The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt. The title opens with grown-ups leading their very adult lives. It then turns into a kind of quest for self novel, set on the Oregon Trail. A strong literary contender, to be sure, but is it for kids?
That question has been consistently asked, when thinking about the books of Lynne Rae Perkins. Remember that her Criss Cross did win a Newbery, though. So maybe As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth won’t be considered too old either. A lot happens in that book and it’s a fun ride. Speaking of previous winners:
Should we pay more attention to it if the author wrote a Newbery winner before?
Well, it doesn’t hurt. However, you do have to wonder whether or not we’re talking about these books because they’re extraordinary or because previous winners make it easy to come up with a list of possible Newbery contenders.
Certainly Keeper by Kathi Appelt is worthy of the hype. To some it comes across as more kid-friendly than The Underneath. And when you consider how divisive that book was to some when it won, shouldn’t the universal love this newest Appelt book has garnered make it even more of a surefire winner?
Don’t discount The Cardturner by Louis Sachar either. Though his writing wasn’t winning much love when he came out with Small Steps, this newest book about playing bridge has its fans. Suppose I’d better read it, eh?
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz poses an interesting question. It’s one of the youngest Newbery contenders this year, and I think there’s something to be said for that. To my mind, it is far more difficult to write a good original book for younger children than it is to write a good original book for teens. Plus the amazing use of language Schlitz utilizes here may mean that it gets more attention than its 12+ contemporaries.
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (I much preferred the original galley cover) is also a lot of fun, and best of all it has humor. I wouldn’t call it a laugh riot or anything, but this was one of the most enjoyable books I read this year. Some questions have come up regarding the ending and whether or not Holm brings the story to a close too quickly. To this I say nay. I think it wraps up beautifully, with great characters, superior writing, and just a dash of history for spice.
Is it noteworthy?
Always the question, right? You can like a book until the cows come home, but then there’s that horrible sense of “noteworthy” hanging over your head. For example, I’m rather fond of that Palace Beautiful novel by Sarah DeFord Williams (another victim of an unfortunately girly cover). To my vast interest I’ve seen librarian after librarian become won over to this book’s clever writing. But is it noteworthy? I have no bloody idea. Sure hope so.
One book that doesn’t have to ask that question is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. As mentioned before (before = millions of times) on this blog, this is my #1 Newbery pick. Love it. Adore it. Want it to win. And I’ll be MIGHTY interested to hear what Heavy Medal thinks about it as well (Jonathan, let’s get a male opinion in here, kay?).
Will the media inside of it hurt it?
While Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a great little book, does the fact that it’s a documentary novel hurt it? Perhaps. That’s a question that I’m sure will be bandied about for long periods of time in the Newbery committee room. I’d love it to get some luvin’, but it may also suffer from the fact that there are mysteries left unrevealed by the story’s close (so maybe this book should belong in the “Does it stand alone?” category).
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan is illustrated by Peter Sis and may suffer similar scrutiny. If you take away the art of Sis, do the words stand up well enough on their own? I’ve heard some folks say that this book felt a little too much like Newbery bait to them. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree, I can see where they’re coming from. It’s awful writerly. Meaningful. There’s room in the Honors for such books as this, though. And wouldn’t a silver medal just look so purdy against the cover?
Booga booga! Non-Fiction!
Never gets any respect, does it? I’d love to believe that books like Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman or The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone have a shooting chance. But let us be honest for a moment. A non-fiction title hasn’t won the Newbery proper since Lincoln: A Photobiography in 1988. Unless we’ve a really pro-non-fiction committee this year, I can’t see this happening again.
Then again, this is a year where books like The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s They Called Themselves the KKK are gaining attention. The real question then becomes, are they meant for kids or for teens?
So no funny books, huh?
Well, there are moments of levity in some of these books. But really, there’s nothing here on the same level as last year’s Honor winner Homer P. Figg. I’m somewhat tempted to consider Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg for a moment, but then I remember that the media inside (read: comics) almost certainly disqualifies it. More’s the pity.
Wild Cards: The Trend This Year is Horror
In my mind I meld A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and The Boneshaker by Kate Milford tightly together. Grimm has the edge in this race. Though both are the products of debut Brooklyn novelists, Grimm got blurbs from not only a previous Newbery winner (Laura Amy Schlitz) but also the great-grandaddy of children’s literary scholarship, Jack Zipes. Don’t discount the plucky little Milford novel, though. With her references to the works of Ray Bradbury, I certainly think she has a shot. The question then becomes, is it an homage or too similar? I say homage.
Wait a minute! Where the heckedy-heck did you put Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine?
Expect an answer to that query soon. These two, somehow surprisingly tied to one another, cannot be discussed without a serious smackdown going on. To be continued in a future post . . .
I have more difficulty with Caldecott predictions than Newbery predictions. Maybe this is because I find good writing less subjective than good art. Still, certain titles come up again and again over the course of a year. I know what to listen for at the very least. So with that in mind . . .
What do other folks out there like?
At this point in the year two of the primary places to look for hints of the upcoming award season are the 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellent in Children’s Literature and the awards given out by the Society of Illustrators. The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were pretty mute on the subject of great 2010 fare this year, so it’s to the Society of Illustrators I turn. Two of their recent medalists do look particularly toothsome too:
I credit Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast with clueing me in on the love building out there for The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska. Long before it won the Society’s Gold Medal, people were telling me that this was a book to watch. A perfect melding of text and image. I’ve been a Liwska fan for years, having fallen in love with the work she did on that amazing Barbara Joosse book Nikolai, the Only Bear. This title has a sequel called The Loud Book slated for early 2011 already. If it gets a big shiny Caldecott, that’ll make for a clever business plan on HMH’s part.
CORRECTION!: Travis at 100 Scope Notes has correctly pointed out that Liwska is ineligible for the Caldecott as she lives in Canada. And another one bites the dust . . .
Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat earned itself the silver medal from the Society of Illustrators as well and this pleases me beyond measure. Santat has slaved away on his books for a couple years now and hasn’t been getting the right amount of luvin’ from the masses. Who knew that pairing him with Barnett would get him the right accolades? This particular book is a real work of art and funny to boot. And as you know, I’m always trying to prop up the funny.
On the review side of things, Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio has gotten many a fine star. There’s no denying that the art is original and beautiful. There have been some mumbles about whether or not the representation of Italians here is stereotypical, to which I say piffle. I don’t think it plays into serious consideration. Still, something to discuss.
Well, they’ve won other awards before.
Just maybe not Caldecotts. But having gotten a Scott O’Dell Award for his The Storm in the Barn, Matt Phelan crops up this year illustrating Flora’s Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall. The illustrations in this particular book have a kind of slow burn to them. The first time you see them they seem okay. The second them you read them, they seem clever. Keep looking at them, though, and they grow on you until you’re convinced of their genius. Matt’s got a shot with this puppy. It’s subtle fare, but a contender.
Previous Caldecott Winners:
The man to beat in 2011 is going to be David Wiesner, no question. With more Caldecott Awards under his belt than anyone else alive (not even counting his Honors) his Art and Max is already getting some serious attention. And I got news for you, folks… it’s brilliant. Pure Wiesner.
Don’t discount our other contenders so soon, though. Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guiberson is illustrated by Ed Young, and that book has some serious subject matter on the brain. Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky is a sequel to a Caldecott Honor book. Could the sequel trump the original and get the gold? And has that ever been done before? Finally, Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen is illustrated by David Small. Small won the Caldecott before, but I’ve always felt it was for a book that wasn’t quite his best work. It was, however, a book of non-fiction, which leads us to . . .
Booga booga! Non-Fiction!
Non-fiction fares far better with Caldecott books than Newbery titles. Why is this? Haven’t a clue. As recently as 2004 the award went to Mordecai Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Here in 2010, I wouldn’t mind seeing Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier get the gold. The book consists of Little Brown’s best chance for an award this year. It’s their newest The Lion and the Mouse, if you will.
However, if I’m going to level with you then I must say that my heart belongs to Ballet for Martha. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, the book marks the return of Brian Floca. Each year I hope against hope that he’ll get a Caldecott. Every year he has to be content with a Sibert Medal instead. Don’t get me wrong. The Sibert is a bloody difficult medal to win. But can we just take a step back to examine the artistry of Floca’s work here? The man’s a certifiable genius with the pen, and who else can capture bodies in motion as thrillingly as he? Just give it a bloody Honor at least, oh committee. That’s all I’m asking. Give the man his due.
The Poetry Contingent
Poetry’s sneaky. You’ll be minding your own business, doing nothing, and then WHAMMO! They get a big old award. And since poetry can’t win an ALSC award of its own, it must be content with the rare Newbery (1989’s Joyful Noise) and Caldecott. Caldecotts are more frequent winners.
This year the first contender to burst out of the gates was Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. There’s been some talk out there about Mirror Mirror making a grab at the Newbery, and that would be nice. Still and all, I think it has a better shot at Caldecott glory. The combination of beauty and cleverness (the hidden images) give it a distinct edge.
CORRECTION: This time Marilyn Singer was the one to correct me. The residence of Ms. Masse? You guessed it. Canada. So this one’s out of the running as well. Oh, Canada . . .
Illustrators have always done well when pairing with Joyce Sidman too. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors as illustrated by Beckie Prange is no exception. And it’s technically a triple doozy. It combines non-fiction subject matter with poetry with gorgeous art. Keep a very close eye on this one. It’s the kind of book likely to sneak a gold medal when nobody’s looking.
I say Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee as illustrated by Tony Fucile. And I mean it. Seriously. Fucile’s art is jaw-dropping. Sure, there are books out there where the material is classier and the technique has more style. But I ask you to sit down and consider the power of capturing the perfect emotion at the perfect time. Fucile must have been the world’s greatest animator when he worked that his job. Now let us consider the possibility that his art could earn an honest-to-god Caldecott as well. Do I think it likely? No. But if I were on that committee, I know where I’d be pushing the hardest.
The Boys by Jeff Newman is another book that makes exquisite use of expressions. And the art itself is magnificent. I may be the sole voice shrieking in the wilderness about the marvelous stuff going on here, but shriek I shall, and loudly.
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills would be fascinating if it won, wouldn’t it? Hills has a seemingly simple style but shouldn’t a Caldecott committee consider sheer appeal? Appeal is hard to mimic. It isn’t all long eyelashes and big baby blues. Hills manages to be consistently cute without being cloying, and that’s worth noting.
Then we get to an interesting twofer. Big Red Lollipop by Rukshana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall OR Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, also illustrated by Sophie Blackall could win it. Both are Blackall, through and through. It’s funny that they were both released in the same year since they pair together quite naturally. Both stories are about sibling friction in one way or another and the relationship between daughters and mothers. They make natural complements to one another. Will that hurt them in the long run? Will folks just meld them together in their brains and not reward either? Hope not.
Oh, Daddy! by Bob Shea would please me beyond measure if it won Mr. Shea an award. I don’t think anyone gives him adequate credit for his style. The remarkable melding of simple design with child-friendly situations is a trait he has perfected over the years. This particular book is exceedingly pleasing to the old eyeballs too. I think it has an outside chance.
Of course if A Sick Day for Amos McGhee by Philip Christian Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead wins, you’ll be hearing my whoops from here to kingdom come. It’s a debut illustrator, sure, but this book reeks of charm. A wild wild card, but a sweet sweet book.
And would someone just bloody give Meghan McCarthy an award already? You missed your chance with her previous books but Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum is fantastic. The problem here is that sometimes folks have a hard time distinguishing “simple” from “easy”. Meghan’s illustrations are simple but they are not easy. Take some time to appreciate the artistry at work here. Just because something’s appealing, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t win pretty awards.
Books I Haven’t Read But Probably Have to Now If I’m Gonna Keep Blogging About This Stuff
– The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
– A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
– The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
– The Mourning Wars by Karen Steinmetz
– Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson
In December I’ll write up my final predictions. Until then let ’em rip. What have I missed (either accidentally or on purpose)?
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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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