Newbery/Caldecott 2019: Fall Prediction Edition
Yeah. I have no idea.
I kid, I KID!
Actually I don’t kid. This year is crazy, people! The books are all over the place. We’re seeing some shockingly strong Nonfiction contenders, and a plethora of good Caldecotts too. Yet, just like last year, the Newbery potential in the middle grade fiction is just okay. Not overwhelming particularly. I kept saying that last year and what did we end up with? Just one middle grade Award winner, and three Honors consisting of two YA titles and one picture book. Those YA books and the picture book were very strong and deserving, but that kind of thing tends to happen when the middle grade fiction isn’t rising to the challenge. At the time, I had hoped that maybe the committee would give some more love to Nonfiction (something it feels like you have to pull teeth to do each year). This year I’m even more convinced that at least one Nonfiction book has to make the list. Come on, committee! It’s the perfect year!
With the full and conscious knowledge that this list is going to be WAY off (and that it’s a little too early to rely on Calling Caldecott and Heavy Medal to inform my choices), here are some contenders:
2019 Caldecott Predictions
Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Seeger’s a Caldecott committee’s dreamboat. It’s like she invented the term “distinguished” personally. In her latest she pulls out the usual stops with her die-cut pages, but the thick paints up the ante. Then for the final crushing blow, she uses as few words as possible and still breaks your heart with the story of (and it doesn’t get more basic than this) a boy and his dog. Usually Laura is edited by Neal Porter, but Neal moved to Holiday House. This makes it all the more interesting when you consider that another book he edited (and that is Blue’s greatest competition) is . . .
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
What’s the old phrase? If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans. I’m aware that nothing in this life is certain. I am also certain that this is the Caldecott Award winner of 2019. Over the years I’ve watched in frustration as Yuyi hasn’t gotten the respect I felt she was due for her increasingly complex art. I mean, for crying out loud the woman can work with models! She got very close to an Honor, I think, when she did the art for Thunder Boy Jr., but this book hits every single mark. A personal story, beautifully told, with emotion, and a variety of artistic styles perfectly combined, AND there’s even a heroic librarian in the mix. One person I spoke to wondered if the inclusion of teeny tiny cover art of other books would render this one ineligible. I say there’s a great big difference between replicating someone’s art and referencing it. These aren’t meant to be accurate replicas, but touchstones that act as part of the storyline. Add in the fact that it has a lot to say about what’s happening in the world today and I seriously cannot even imagine how anyone on a committee could even attempt to take a pass on it. 2019 is a Morales year. Remember that.
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
In the last prediction post I thought it might win a Newbery. Then I saw the full-color art. Now I’m saying Caldecott, but honestly I’m cool with it winning a Newbery too. No worries. You can give it all the things and I will sings.
On a related note, I didn’t have many problems with the National Book Award announcements this year. They never include enough middle grade nominations, but this year they had three out of seven. That’s actually pretty good! Even better, I’d read two of them, and loved them dearly. But there wasn’t much in the way of Nonfiction, and that really jarred. And of all the books out in 2018, The Faithful Spy should have been a National Book Award contender. It is, to be frank, actually kind of odd that it wasn’t. I can only assume that the committee didn’t get a chance to read it. More fool they. This was the one that got away.
A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, ill. Lane Smith
Not to give anything away but I’ll be doing a write-up for Calling Caldecott on this book. I honestly do believe that it’s Smith’s best work in years, helped heartily by Fogliano’s text. More to come on that.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, ill. Barbara McClintock
Counting Dreamers and The Faithful Spy, this is my third Nonfiction inclusion on this year’s Caldecott list. I honestly can’t help it. The year is good. McClintock has a couple points working against her, since she’s been in the game for years and previous committees have always passed her by. Yet I’d argue that this is her magnum opus, and includes such a myriad variety of styles, all done to serve the text in the best way possible, that this book stands apart from the pack. Then again, you could have said The Boy Who Loved Math did the same, and it was swept under the rug come award season. Librarians fear math. Hopefully they won’t fear this book.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Graphic novels have a tendency to win Newbery Honors more often than Caldecott Honors. Strange but true. But this year, I think Wang’s book is such a magnificent creation that you simply cannot cut it out of consideration. If This One Summer can win an Honor then Wang’s magnificent creation needs to take a crack at it. I remain miffed that it’s been marketed as YA when it seems clearly middle grade to me, but that doesn’t matter. Unlike the Newbery, I don’t think the Caldecott has an age limit.
The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, ill. Ekua Holmes
By the way, it’s a good year for female illustrators, wouldn’t you say? I’m not including so many here today because I’m trying to fill a quota, of course. This is just how it’s all shaking out for me. Ekua Holmes has been Honored in the past but never given the full Award. Response to this book, however, has been more mixed than I’d like. When you see the gorgeous swirling papers she created for her illustrations, it’s hard to write this one off. I think it’s just the loveliest thing.
They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki
Speaking of This One Summer, Tamaki’s back. I’m still seeing folks talking about this book, even though it had a kind of early release date this year. The only point against its favor is that mere moments after reading it I could remember several striking images but not the plot of the book or a single word of text. The art clearly is the star of the show here, but to what end? I don’t want to count it out, but I’m not convinced that this is necessarily as sure-fire as some people say.
2019 Newbery Predictions
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
Now you’re looking at this book here and if you haven’t read it you’re thinking that I’m way off base. The book is about what exactly? A 17th-century female naturalist? Uh-huh. Dream on, Bird. But the only reason you’re saying that is because you haven’t read this book. I did, about nine months ago, and I can practically remember every chapter. Why? Because Sidman has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Her writing is exquisite and she even (very cleverly, I think) includes poems in lieu of suppositions about what one person or another might have thought at a given moment. I would also remind you that Ms. Sidman is a master of the sneaky Honor win. Remember the year her Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night won a 2011 Newbery Honor? To say nothing of the two Caldecott Honors her illustrators have received. I don’t usually go gaga for bios, but this one is extraordinary.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
At the ALA Annual Meeting in New Orleans this year I was sitting on a shuttle bus, waiting to be taken back to my hotel. A nice man sat down next to me and in the course of things we got to chatting. At some point he mentioned that he was on the Newbery committee for this year. “Oh,” I said, raising the book I was reading in my hands, “that’s a coincidence. I’m reading your Award winner.” The book was, naturally, Harbor Me, and if the book doesn’t win the Award proper then you can blame me for unduly pressuring the poor committee member who, honestly, didn’t really have anything he could say to that. Still, I figure every little bit of encouragement helps. I thought Woodson had it in the bag, gold medal-wise, with Brown Girl Dreaming and I’m not convinced that it still shouldn’t have won. This year, however, I think the playing field is pretty free and clear. Consider how beautifully positioned Woodson is. She’s won the Legacy Award, is currently the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, and when you say that Harbor Me is distinguished, no one scoffs at the notion. The writing really is very good. I’m not going to curse myself any further and say the Award is in the bag, but this is as close as I’ve seen to a Newbery Award sure thing since the year of When You Reach Me.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
I wasn’t sure if Little Charlie had the legs to make it to the home stretch, but then it went and got itself a National Book Award longlist mention. Now I’m fairly certain that it’s going to get some kind of a Medal on that pretty cover. There’s plenty of room on the left and plenty of room on the right.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
DiCamillo’s been playing this game for years. She also has a tendency to surprise you when you least expect it. Who saw her superhero squirrel as a serious Award title before it went and won? This book is very much Newbery bait, I’ll admit it. Orphan, abandoned child, check. Emotional journey ending in grace, check. All that stuff. It is actually good, though. And there’s much to be said for books that are actually good.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
I like the idea of this winning something very much. Mind you, it already got a Boston-Globe Horn Book Honor, which is no small potatoes. Still, I love how unapologetically middle grade it is. I like the story, packed as it is with the past and the present. It speaks to our times and our era and there’s even a mystery in there, after a fashion. What’s not to like?
A 2019 Coretta Scott King Award Plea
Hey, can we talk about something for a second? Can we talk about what we mean when we say that a book is “illustrated”? See, I’ve been watching the ALA Awards for a number of years, and I can’t help but notice that the prejudice against photography continues unabated. You’re not going to see a Caldecott go to, say, Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre, no matter how accomplished the work is. There will always be this assumption on some level that photography isn’t “art”. That it’s “easy”. Right?
That’s true for Caldecott, but what about other awards given out at the Youth Media Awards? What about the Coretta Scott King Awards? What about awarding something to artists like Nina Crews who have been working in the field of children’s books for decades, producing really stellar work, and who get bupkiss from ALA time and time again? Well, this year, it should be different. I’m not saying it will be different, just that it should be. If there were any justice in this universe then Seeing Into Tomorrow, with its haiku by Richard Wright and its photography by Nina Crews, should win something. Because first, the poems are great. Second, the photography is stellar. And third, Donald Crews makes a cameo and you cannot resist Donald Crews cameos. And over at Calling Caldecott, Autumn Allen just wrote up a stellar consideration of the book. Come on, committee! Acknowledge the awesomeness therein!
And that’s all she wrote. No mention is being made of a slew of other books that I haven’t gotten a chance to read yet. They’re on my shelf. I will indeed get to them. It just hasn’t happened quite yet.
What are you rooting for this year?
Filed under: Newbery / Caldecott Predictions
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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