Newbery / Caldecott 2014: Final Prediction Edition
ATTENTION!!! If you are planning on watching the live feed of the Newbery/Caldecott announcements during the ALA Youth Media Awards presentation, come half an hour earlier and check out my pre-game show where I will join cohort Lori Ess in discussing the potential winners. Afterwards we will note which Mock Newberys, Mock Caldecotts, Mock Printzs, etc. got it right nationwide. For more information: https://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2014/01/20/introducing-the-first-ever-absolutely-fantastic-slj-pre-game-and-post-game-show/
But NOW! It is at last time for my final Newbery/Caldecott/what have you predictions. The books have been percolating in my brain and by this time I’ve read most (I won’t say all since there might be a Moon Over Manifest winner lurking somewhere out there) of the contenders. I’ve seen the Mocks. I know what folks are saying. For a fun time, see how I did last year. It’s very fun picking out the winners on my lists to see where they rank. This Is Not My Hat was particularly off . . .
And so . . . onward!!
For the book that I feel has the number one best chance of winning the 2014 Newbery Medal, my selection goes to . . .
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
You may recall that I’ve been beating the drum for Doll Bones by Holly Black all this time. Now I leap into the air and do a complete spin, pointing instead at Henkes. This is very much going to be a case of what kind of committee we’re dealing with. I’d say that most Newbery committees are comprised of members who really enjoy complex and literary children’s books. And that’s fine. That’s natural. The danger is that simple books, books that have the ability to say quite a lot in a very few words, get lost in the shuffle. Billy Miller is one of these simple books. And the more I think about it, the more impressive it becomes to me.
And then there are the books that I think have a really good shot at an Honor or two. My thinking? Something along the lines of
Doll Bones by Holly Black – As you can see by this handy dandy chart, this is the book that has appeared on the most Mock Newberys around the country. Once my best beloved and surest chance, now I’m not so sure. Personally, I think it has the chops to go all the way, but some are iffy on it. In the end it may come down to something as simplistic as to whether or not the committee honestly thinks that Black was trying for horror or not. To my mind it’s obvious that she’s using the tropes but keeping it kid-friendly and with BIG themes in mind. We shall see.
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata – If I fell down on the job not reviewing a book this year, it would be this one. Its National Book Award win certainly gave me pause, and then I sat down and examined what my problem was with it. Basically, it’s the threshing. The interminable threshing. Kadohata occasionally stops the action dead to tell you, for pages at a time, about the process of threshing. To my mind, that pause in the narrative kills it for me Medal-wise. But then I went back and looked at the characters and over time I’ve been convinced that it really is a strong little number. So I’m calling it for an Honor. Don’t know if it’ll go all the way, but it would sure be nice. If it does win the gold it’ll be the first book to win both a National Book Award and a Newbery Award since Holes. So, y’know. No pressure.
Yup. I’m only seeing three potential winning books. We’ve had years like this, where the Honors are few and far between. My favorite years are the ones where there are as many Honors as possible, but they’re rare.
Note that while I’ve heard a lot of people say that 2013 was a strong year for nonfiction, they don’t mean in terms of Newbery books. The only title that would have a chance would be Courage Has No Color, and looking at past years I don’t see it getting the attention it deserves. But I would LOVE to be wrong, folks!
Then there are the Newbery Wild Cards that might take it all away:
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli – Early in 2013 I would have said this was a shoo-in. Now? I’m not so sure. The question comes down to whether or not the committee understands what Spinelli is going for and, more to the point, thinks he succeeds. In a recent conversation with a buddy we came to the realization that if 2013 had a theme it was of children entering adolescence. This book discusses it. Doll Bones discusses it. Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff, for crying out loud, discusses it (we tried extrapolating this into the picture books for Caldecott but it didn’t really work). At any rate, I still think it’s a strong contender.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – This has the feel of my The One and Only Ivan prediction of last year. I think it’s very strong but I’ve also heard from a lot of folks who don’t much care for what Ursu’s doing here. I think it’s stronger than Breadcrumbs (which I loved) so it has a real shot. At the same time, Ursu is usually ignored by award committees that should be lavishing her with pennies and praise. Then again again it was nominated for a National Book Award this year. Could this be The Year of the Ursu?
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – Don’t discount Monica. She may have debuted with a book that infused its fictional text with nonfiction but that’s to her credit. It was a risky game and the final product can only fulfill that most difficult of Newbery criteria: distinguished. It’s up to the committee to determine if the book works as a piece of writing.
Locomotive by Brian Floca – Because, and let’s face it, if it won a Newbery Honor (which it really and truly and honestly could) that would be an upset of the best possible kind.
Where the Heck Is . . . ?
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – Definitely a strong middle grade debut (she’s written for other age ranges), no question. And this book had moments in it that I’ll never forget, no matter how long I live (three words: closet of underwear). That said, there are some elements that don’t quite work for me on this one. The convenience of the ending. The emotional elements that are sustained but then fade away throughout the course of the novel. The ambiguous nature of Willow’s race also sometimes appears to have been thrown in to keep folks from complaining about the fact that people of every other race bend over backwards to help her. I should note that this isn’t a cry for every book about a person of color to be ABOUT that person’s race. Lord, not at all. By the same token, I don’t much care for it when ambuiguous races are thrown in last minute like a spare editing note and then never even alluded to again. Then again, the book racked up four starred reviews, so what the heck do I know? I mean, I’m clearly the only person who has ever thought this.
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia – You know those Oscar Award winners who don’t win for their best work but later in their careers as way of apology? That could easily happen here. Let’s face facts. One Crazy Summer was a once in a lifetime book, and the fact that it didn’t take home the gold still makes me red in the face with anger. But what’s done is done. This book, which has a lot of lovely elements, didn’t punch me in the gut in the same way. I liked elements of it. Months and months later I can still remember it very well. But for Newbery? I’m not seeing it this time around.
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt – Over at Heavy Medals they’re have conniption fits over this book. Something about the voice, and they’re not the only ones. When I attended BookFest at the Bank Street College of Education this year, this book was included in a room discussion of “divisive” 2013 publications. I didn’t see it. To me, it’s simply a hugely charming animal story with a few Bonnie and Clyde hogs thrown in for good measure. Is it too cartoony to win a Newbery? Possibly. Bad guys defeated by snakes aren’t the threats they might be, after all. That said, if it does win a Newbery (and that would be awfully nice) I insist that the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet serve cane sugar pies as dessert. I am not joking about this.
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – *sigh* Fine. I’ll take it off my list. I really and truly did love it. But I’ve faced down enough folks who don’t share my enthusiasm to know that it’s a bit of a long shot. Still, it warms the cold cockles of my heart to see it on so many Mock Newbery lists out there. That means it’s being read in droves. My job here is done.
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Folks wondered last time why I didn’t include this one, particularly since my review of it made it clear that I think it’s probably one of our newly minted National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature’s best. Well, maybe it comes down to what the committee thinks about humor on the whole. Usually when DiCamillo wins it’s for books that are a bit more serious. This one involves a superhuman squirrel with a penchant for poetry. But even that would be enough to carry it to the finish line . . . if it weren’t for the illustrated sections. You see, a Newbery winner has to rely on words alone. If there’s visual storytelling that shoulders the load of the plot at any point, it’s probably going to be considered invalid. Consarn it.
As for my number one Caldecott Award pick? I’m not going to surprise anybody out there when I say it’s all about the . . .
Journey by Aaron Becker – It has a pretty good chance. Weirdo concerns about concealed weapons aside, let’s consider the Caldecott Award criteria, shall we? The Medal is to go to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Now there are lots of books out there that were good. Some you could even call “excellent”. But for the lofty description of “most distinguished” I don’t know how you can look anywhere else. The question is, are we dealing with a Lion and the Mouse Caldecott year (which is to say, a year where everyone independently determines this to be the winner) or is it more of a This Is Not My Hat year where the book gets drowned in other possibilities? It all remains to be seen.
As for the Honors, there are some distinct possibilities:
Locomotive by Brian Floca – I haven’t seen such universal acclaim for a picture book work of nonfiction in years. There is a possibility that Floca could pull a Snowflake Bentley on us and win the Gold. I would not object one jot. History suggests that nonfiction Caldecott wins are rare beasties, but dare to dream, sez I! More likely, though, it’ll Honor. Not that the committees of years past have ever given Floca his dear due. I mentioned earlier that I’m still peeved about the fact that One Crazy Summer never won a gold. Well Moonshot, Floca’s brilliant (and I don’t use that word lightly) look at the Apollo mission got bupkiss the year it came out. No Caldecott in sight. Still fuming about that one.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Actually, Peter could run away with the gold this year very easily. Who knew that in the final moments it would potentially all come down to a debut wordless book on the one hand and a dandified tiger on the other? The art is fabulous here, but it’s how well it pairs with the language that makes it as good as it is.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Klassen could potentially do a two year sweep of the awards, but I kind of hope he doesn’t. It’s not that I don’t like the guy. I adore him. And it’s not that this isn’t a good book. It’s really well done. Seemingly simple on a first glance, there are loads of details hidden that just make you gasp when you read through on a fourth or fifth or sixth look. I mean, were YOU aware of the lightbulb and how it relates to the lightbulb on the next page? That said, while it’s really clever I don’t know if it has the heart to pull off a gold win. An honor is far more likely.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – Artists like Bagram Ibatoulline often get shunted into the category of Magnificent Artists Who Will Never Win Big Awards. Barbara McClintock and some other folks often find themselves there. To the best of my knowledge he’s never gotten a Caldecott of his very own. Well maybe this year will be the year! Pairing him with Fleischman was brilliant on somebody’s part. The technical artistry required to do this book is almost over the top (the fact that these aren’t photographs alone should be enough to cause one’s jaw to drop in a downward manner). But more than that, I felt like this book really had some serious heart. And isn’t that what picture books are all about anyway?
And the Wild Cards?
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – Personally, I thought it was a hoot. Aliens and cats and ants and all that. Really a lovely piece of work from start to finish. The question is how well it reads from panel to panel. Though Wiesner’s books have always relied on visual storytelling to different degrees, this is the most cartoonish of his stories. And depending on how fond the committee is of comics, that’s going to make all the difference in the world.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – Because in a perfect world Ms. Pham would get at least SOME credit for how brilliantly she incorporated math into the art. Is that something a Caldecott committee will consider? Maybe not, but it sure as heck can’t hurt. It’s not easy, and this book is definitely “distinguished” as a result.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – How is this not better known? How are people not constantly talking about it? Why do I feel like I’m in an echo chamber over here? I’ve resigned myself to the fact that few love this book as much as I do, but y’all’re crazy. This book rocks!
The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan, ill. Sophie Blackall – One of these days, Sophie’s going to surprise us all and get herself a Caldecott. And maybe this is the year. Maybe . . .
The sad thing? I can’t be the only person who noticed that my Wild Cards are mostly women while my predictions are all male. Doggone it. Bad blogger! No cookie for you!
Where the Heck Is . . . ?
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – I’m not sure why I can’t commit to this one. I love Bean. Have loved his work for years. I’m so happy to see him working again. But this book felt almost too personal to me. I’m not saying that certain kids won’t love it (I was actually thinking of checking it out for my kiddo, who’s into the idea of building houses right now). I just don’t know how it’ll stack up in the Caldecott committee discussions.
And that wraps that up.
Say, do you like charts? Then be sure to check out the following:
- Travis Jonker made this great chart of Publication Months of Newbery Award Winning Books.
- He also made this chart on the likelihood that a Newbery winner will win again.
- And this one on the average number of starred reviews.
- Here’s one for the Printz on the average number of starred reviews.
- And finally don’t forget this post, which culled info from all the available Mock Newberys.
So where have I erred tragically? Correct me!
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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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