Always a Bridesmaid: The Newbery/Caldecott Honor Winning Crowd
It’s almost time for me to start thinking about my mid-year Newbery/Caldecott prediction list (also known as The Arbitrary Arbitrariness of the Arbitrariums). In doing so my mind has been inclined to think back over the years to past winners. In discussion with a friend the other day, the conversation turned to Jerry Pinkney. Specifically, how for years he was the Susan Lucci of the Caldecott. Time and time again Mr. Pinkney would get Honors (no small shakes) and would be passed over for the big gold, until at long last he was lionized (so to speak). So I wonder to myself, who are the folks you think of first when you hear the words “They wuz robbed!”?
I’m going to note that this kind of post is not really my specialty. We are definitely in Collecting Children’s Books territory here, and my co-writer Peter Sieruta could undoubtedly give you the history of Honor Only winners throughout the years. For my own part, here are a couple contemporary names that occurred to me:
On the Caldecott Side
Bryan Collier – His work on Dave the Potter, Rosa, and Martin’s Big Words, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Collier is a force to be reckoned with. The fact that all three of these books were nonfiction fare is interesting as well. Seems the Caldecott committees are fine with honoring nonfiction insofar as it goes, but they often stop short of giving it the shiny gold. Not always. But often.
Marla Frazee – Her honors are relatively new, all things considered. Yet both All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever won Honors in two consecutive years in a row. For the Frazee fans amongst us this was a huge victory and confirmation that she is the national treasure we all knew her to be. The gold so far has eluded her, but since her recent track record is so very good we hold out hope.
Kadir Nelson – Probably the most obvious amongst those listed here, though I had been under the impression that Nelson had received more than two Honors. Not the case. And while Henry’s Freedom Box and Moses got Honors, books like We Are the Ship didn’t win anything (in the Caldecott category anyway). Now Nelson has a fall Harper Collins title called Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans that may prove to win him over to the top . . . or disappear without so much as a trace.
Mo Willems – If Kadir Nelson stretches to one side of the artistic spectrum, Mo Willems sits comfortably at the other. Having won Honors for Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, Mo is probably the best known of any of these illustrators. Yet while he sells like nobody’s business (and wins Geisels left and right), Caldecott committees have yet to give him the shiny shiny.
On the Newbery Side
Nancy Farmer – I wasn’t initially going to include Ms. Farmer, but then I counted the sheer number of Honors she has received. The House of the Scorpion, A Girl Named Disaster, and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, all garnered them, but in the last eight years she hasn’t been catching the committees’ eye.
Jennifer Holm – Catching committees’ eyes is the name of the game for Jennifer Holm, though. She’s sort of a Newbery Honor standard. Our Only May Amelia, Turtle in Paradise, and Penny from Heaven, are her Honors, but for a lot of us it’s pretty clear that she’s just biding her time. There’s a Newbery gold waiting for that kid. Plus, she’s still so young that you know she has time to get full notice.
Gary Schmidt – When discussing potential winners of the Newbery this year, the conversation inevitably turned to Schmidt’s much (justifiably) lauded Okay for Now. As the person I discussed it with said, “Well what else could even win the Award this year?” They have a point. And yet the same has been said in the past for Schmidt’s two Newbery Honors The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.
Megan Whalen Turner – Though she has only a single Honor to her name (for The Thief) every time Turner produces a novel, legions of fans (both old and newly acquired) clamor for a proper Award. Handicapped by the books’ age range and the debate of whether or not each one stands on its own, it still would not be surprising if someday Ms. Turner swept the gold once and for all. Indeed, we would expect no less of her.
Jacqueline Woodson – After Tupac & D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way (to say nothing of her Caldecott Honor for Coming on Home Soon) firmly establish Ms. Woodson as a woman waiting in the wings for a big win. I imagine it will be soon, though like Ms. Holm she’s a relatively young author. So she has time.
Are there any other folks, Honor winners or not, that you feel get consistently passed over by the committees each and every year?
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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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