Newbery / Caldecott 2019: Final Prediction Edition
2019 Caldecott Predictions
At this point in the proceedings, after doing a mess of reading, and reviewing, and contemplating, and pondering, you have a sense of how the year has shaped up. What kind of an award year will this one be? Will there be a lot of surprises or familiar faces? What are the dark horse candidates?
This year, as with every year, I am going to make my predictions. Often they’re wildly off-base. Last year I did pretty darn well with the Caldecotts (three out of five ain’t bad) and lamentably, I even say laughably, poorly with the Newbery. That’s not too surprising. Caldecotts are often much easier to call. I suppose that’s partly because it’s easier to read all the given picture books in a year vs. novels.
This year, the formal announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards will happen on Monday, January 28th at 8:00 AM PT here. In the past I’ve done some Pre-Game/Post-Game livefeed shows. I may yet do this again this year. I’m exploring some local options and, if they work out, they could be pretty spectacular. More on that soon!
Last year I said it was a Wild Card Year, and certainly on the Newbery side that was true. I’m not saying the same for this year. Early in the year the books had a slow start, but as the year progressed we started seeing some really impressive novels and works of nonfiction. Any of the books I mention here today deserve to win, but only a few will.
And so, without further ado . . . here’s what I think:
2019 Caldecott Award Winner
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
I haven’t been this certain of a book’s win since Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion & the Mouse. I can’t explain it. Sometimes you just know something. The simple fact of the matter is that all the books I’m listing here today deserve to win Honors, but if any of them beat Yuyi I will be a Vengeful Librarian Hate Goddess (visual approximation seen here) and the streets will run with ink. Fury, thy name is a disappointed woman with an MLIS degree.
But really, I find it unlikely that Yuyi won’t win. This book has a passionate core of followers, killer art, a great story, and (we should never discount this) a heroic librarian. It’s like when Hollywood gives Oscars to movies about Hollywood. We’re crazy for that stuff. But even if you took away the librarian this book would stand strong on its own. The aspect that gives it the strongest leg up? It has heart. Heart’s hard to write/illustrate, and it sticks with people on award committees through those long decision making hours.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be holding my breath until the end of the announcements, of course.
2019 Caldecott Honors
Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
I think, like Dreamers, this may also have been edited by Neal Porter, right before he high-tailed it over to his own imprint at Holiday House. I once yelled at Neal Porter at a writing conference (where I was only half-joking), “Stop making such good books, Neal! You’re making me look like I’m not impartial!” That man never listens to a word I say. He apparently knows a winner when he sees one, and a winner is how I’d describe Seeger’s book. Oh, I resisted it for a while. I’d seen Green, this book’s predecessor and a Caldecott Honor winner in its own right. Wasn’t Seeger just rehashing old territory?
Turns out, this book is even better than Green. And that’s pretty amazing because (spoiler alert) it’s a dead dog book. Dead dead dead. So with beautiful art, careful die-cuts, and a heartbreaking story told with fewer words than you’d find in a haiku, Seeger manages to convey an entire life. It’s winning that Honor. We may as well just sit back and admit it.
Also, and this is no small thing, if this gets an Honor then my Newbery/Caldecott Banquet outfit will be just that much easier to plan.
A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, ill. Lane Smith
The first two books I mentioned today are pretty clear shoo-ins. This book? Less so. Smith suffers from over-familiarity. Committees take every book into consideration, looking only at their merits. They should not take into account the artist’s previous work, or even how long they’ve been in the game. But, come on. Admit it. If this were Smith’s first picture book you’d have to throw pillows over your head to block out the sheer amount of praise it would receive.
So what are the key components to a Caldecott winner? Well, like I always say, if the artist changes their style they get extra points. That’s not a Caldecott criteria, that’s just from my own observations. Creativity and originality always win. That’s why Wolf in the Snow, with its hyper-realistic predator, got that little extra boost last year. Or think of all the amazing things Javaka Steptoe did with Radiant Child the year before that! You could point out that Ms. Seeger isn’t doing all that much that’s different in Blue, but considering how no one else does what she does, I’m giving this pseudo-rule a pass.
In this book, Lane Smith proves that he can still surprise us. Look at how he delineates past/imagination and present. And which of the two feel more real to the child reader? I wrote a justification for this book winning a Caldecott over at Calling Caldecott this year and a review even before that. Yet I still can find new things to discuss, every time I think of this book. If I can come up with new things to say about it, so can a committee.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
I don’t know if you know it, but in my regular day job I work only with books for adults. Crazy, right? So I’m tidying up the comics the other day and I stumble upon Jen Wang’s pretty darn adult Koko Be Good. I made the mistake of opening it up out of curiosity and it was all I could do not to sit right down on the floor and devour the whole thing cover-to-cover. That kind of devouring is precisely what you’ll see in kids when they get this book. This past holiday season it became my go-to. Present for my 12-year-old niece? Check. Recommendation for that grumpy patron with tween granddaughters? Check. Chances it’ll win a Caldecott Honor . . . uncertain.
The fact of the matter is, this book is a comic, and comics have only technically won Caldecott Honors once. But think about 2018. That was the year that ALA established its new Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table. Comics have never been better, and they’ve certainly never been as sumptuous as this. If any comic deserves a win this year, it’s this one.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Remember when Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol won a Caldecott Honor two years ago? That little win gives me hope. It makes me think that maybe there’s a chance for the funny books of the world. The committee would have to be the kind that understood how difficult this kind of book is to write. How the art and the tone must work in tandem with one another. How timing is key. Because honestly funny picture books are a rare rare breed. This book makes both children and adults laugh-out-loud. Is the art distinguished? I’d say yes. And I think Randolph Caldecott himself would have liked it. Call me a crazy dreamer, but I think this little dinosaur has a chance.
2019 Newbery Predictions
This week I was packing up boxes and boxes of 2018 middle grade book galleys. Imagine seven big Baker & Taylor cardboard boxes, full to bursting with ARCs. Each year I give away a slew of new books and a slew of galleys to the teachers and librarians in my school district. They add the books to their shelves and give away the galleys to happy kids. It’s a good system. Works for me, and works for them. But this year, as I packed up the books, I couldn’t help but notice how few I’d actually read. No one can read all the middle grades in a given year, but this time around it was startlingly obvious how many I’d missed. And that, in turn, got me to thinking about this list. If you head over to Heavy Medal, you’ll probably see all of these titles already mentioned and discussed over there. But considering how many books exist in a publishing cycle, surely beauties got missed. Books like the incredible Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt (an under-the-radar title that would have any committee buzzing) or the deliciously creepy Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (which hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell, but wouldn’t it be nice?). What will the committee adore that we all simply missed? Time will tell. Meanwhile, here’s how I see everything falling out.
Please note, I don’t actually think that there will be five Honors this year, but I found I couldn’t physically remove any of these.
Here’s what has a good strong chance:
2019 Newbery Award Winner
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Oh ho! Didn’t see that one coming, did you? You probably thought I was going to begin with Jackie Woodson’s Harbor Me or something, right? Obviously I must have some sort of a justification for calling this book my Gold, particularly in a year as strong as this. Okay, bear with me a little while I explain.
Essentially, I’ve been trying to determine what it is that makes a Newbery Award winner stand out from the pack. And in recent years, I’ve seen a small trend. Look at the last five to win: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Do you see a pattern here? Because I sure do. In pretty much every single year, these books were surprises. Few folks predicted their wins. Oh, there were always fans who hoped. But few Mock Caldecotts or Mock Newberys had these precise winners in their sites.
It also means that for the past five years my prediction for what will win the Newbery has been consistently wrong. So I tried to examine these books again to see what else they might have in common. You know what it is? They’re fun. And fun is not traditionally considered the name of the game when it comes to the Newbery. Historically it’s associated with well-written, meaningful, boring books. The last five winners have changed all that, and what that says to me is that an ideal winner has the literary chops, but also the fun.
Enter Kekla Magoon.
This year I’ve seen a lot of people lamenting the death of, what they call, black joy. If a book stars a black kid, it’s going to involve struggle. There are always exceptions, but so many of those books look very serious. Kekla’s book is one of the rare exceptions. It’s thoroughly enjoyable but doesn’t skimp on the emotional layering, smart writing, or character development. Most importantly, it’s one of those books I want kids to read 100 years from now when they get an assignment in class to read a Newbery Award winner. So I’m working off my gut, and this is what my gut wants.
2019 Newbery Honors
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
I was reading through the most recent issue of Horn Book Magazine the other day (the January/February 2019 edition, in case you’re curious) and I came across an article by Grace Lin called “Speak with Us, Not for Us.” In it, Lin explains that it’s not particularly helpful when white authors want to help the underrepresented by doing the representing for them. She writes, “We need authors to create white characters who are (or are learning to become) socially aware and who fight alongside people of color, without being saviors, and we need authors who know how to do the same.” Kelly Yang’s heroine in Front Desk is not white. Yet as I read Lin’s piece I thought about this book. I thought about how in it the character of Mia learns about the injustices other characters have to face and she, in turn, works to become an ally. If Styx Malone doesn’t win a Newbery this year, this book’s a pretty good second choice. The cover’s a bit cheery for the serious stuff inside, but it’s still a fun read with a good strong voice that you’d follow anywhere.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
All right. Remember when I listed the Newbery Award winners from the last five years and what they had in common? Well, unfortunately there’s something else that’s been trending the last five years. Nonfiction. Or rather, the lack thereof. In the last five years Nonfiction has taken a severe hit when it comes to the Newbery. Oh sure, there was El Deafo, but that reads like a fun comic (bunnies!) more than a memoir. And there was Ashley Bryan’s Freedom Over Me, but that wasn’t straight nonfiction either. Let’s face it – the last time a pure bit of rarified Nonfiction won anything Newbery-ish it was in 2013 when Steve Sheinkin got an Honor for Bomb. That’s six years ago, people. One book in six years. So my faith that Sidman will get anything for the truly remarkable bio of Maria Merian may be displaced, but I have my reasons. Remember, back in 2011, Sidman won a Newbery Honor for The Dark Emperor. Previous winners always have that extra little award winning oomph to them. Next, there’s the fact that this is a Biography. Committees like narrative nonfiction in general. There are also poems in this book by Sidman, which gives the book that literary chutzpah it requires. Add in the fact that you could take all the images out and the book would still stand out in the field, and you’ve got yourself a potential winner. I hope. I hope. I hope.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
So I’m sitting on one of those shuttle buses at the ALA Conference in New Orleans this year, and a nice person sits down next to me. In the course of talking they mention that they’re on the Newbery committee this year. How do I respond to that? I laugh and hold up this book, which I am reading, and say, “What a coincidence! I’m reading your winner right now!” Cheeky, Betsy. Cheeky.
For a long time this was my frontrunner for 2019. Why? Because it’s Jackie’s year, baby, and we’re just living in it. She’s been crushing it on all sides as the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature (to say nothing of the Legacy Award as well). And think about it. She accepted her Legacy Award at the last Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Imagine if the following year she accepts her Newbery Award. Add in the fact that she’s never gotten the gold (she and Yuyi could get the gold for the first time together!) and it all looks good on paper. But is Harbor Me the book that can get the job done?
The trouble is that the book is well-written with great lines and interesting characters. What it doesn’t have are rabid fans. People who are nuts for it. I’ve talked to a lot of people and they all respect the book. Respect is good for Newbery Honors, but for a book to win an Award you need passion. Somewhere, between the stories of the different kids in this book, the passion didn’t quite bubble up to the surface. I still think it’ll get Honored in some fashion, but if it wins the Award proper I’ll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Then we get to the old hands. The folks that have won before and it kind of feels like when Meryl Streep gets nominated for an Oscar. You’re happy for her when she wins, but in the back of your brain you sort of wish someone else could get a chance. Yet who can deny that Mr. Curtis is still at the top of his game? Or that this book ranks right up there at the top with all the rest? Here’s how good this book is: Christopher Paul Curtis wrote the whole dang thing in Southern dialect and after the initial hiccup you go for it. You really do. You accept the voice of the narrator. It’s darker than he’s gone before, but that humor is still present and reporting for duty. Don’t take your eyes off this book. It could easily get a win if you aren’t ready.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
And finally, another person with a Newbery Award or two under her belt. Remember what I said earlier about a book needing to inspire a kind of passion in its adult gatekeeper readership to win? DiCamillo could pretty much start her own church tomorrow and she’d fill the pews to bursting. People are passionate about DiCamillo books, and this one stood out for me. I read it on a car trip to Stratford, Ontario in one sitting and that was an ideal way to down it. No interruptions. Just me and the language and miles and miles of road. Here, the author takes a character from her previous book Raymie Nightingale and gives her a story of her own. I always found Louisiana a more interesting person than Raymie, so that works out. The book contains just the right amounts of wackadoodle and fantastic writing. In other words, DiCamillo-type stuff. Could win the Award proper, for that matter. Who’s to say?
Arg! So many of my favorites never even got mentioned here! Where’s The Faithful Spy (until we get an award for creative mixing of image and text, that book’s doomed to win nothing) or The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (see previous statement about The Faithful Spy)? Where’s The Book of Boy (funny never gets the respect it’s due, but I’d love it if this book got some kind of love) or The Parker Inheritance (a book that might sweep in and win it all and we’d all blink a couple times and then cheer extra loud)?
The truth is, these lists today are just what I think will win. Not necessarily what I want to win. So give it to me straight: What do you think WILL win this year? Not necessarily what you want, but what you think will take home the shiny shiny stickers?
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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