Newbery/Caldecott 2021: Summer Prediction Edition
Boy, and I thought the Spring prediction edition of these Newbery/Caldecott posts was swamped in COVID-19 problems. The farther we get into this year, the stranger it becomes. If you’re anything like me you either (A) Haven’t been able to read much because of pandemic jitters and/or (B) Haven’t been able to read much because you’re actually busier working at home than you ever were working at work and/or (C) Publishers stopped sending physical copies for a while there and you never quite worked up a comprehensive, practical system for organizing what you found.
Well, have no fear. While I fell down in terms of Newbery predictions so far, my faithful librarians at work have been reading books like it’s going out of style and have already plucked some favorites. So while it is still FAR too early in the year for this post, let’s see what cream is rising to the top thus far, hmmm?
2021 Caldecott Predictions
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, ill. Bryan Collier
Drawing inspiration from his own grandmother’s quilt-making, Collier’s work reminded me of what Hudson Talbott did for Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way, all those years ago. Extra points to Tami Charles for writing something that discusses the very matter of the cosmos and then ties it directly into BLM. An important message in a beautiful package, I predict this book will go far when it’s released in the fall. Will it give Mr. Collier yet another Caldecott Honor (it would be his fifth) or the gold proper? Who’s to say? One thing I know; an artist has a much better chance of winning a Caldecott when the text is as strong as Ms. Charles’s here.
The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, ill. Yuko Shimizu
The more I think about it, the more I like the fact that Yuko Shimizu’s books looks like nothing else out there this year. It’s accompanying a true story about an ambulance driver that saves the lives of abandoned cats in Syria. The art uses a very specific technique to evoke everything from comfort and pride to abject horror. Years ago I admired Shimizu’s work on Barbed-Wire Baseball, but the art felt a little muddied. I have no such qualms with this, her latest.
Honeybee: The Interesting Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann
Still my #1 favorite. Not that it doesn’t horrify my occasional colleague. Someone was showing the book off in a committee meeting and a staff member with a fear of bees just couldn’t take the sheer realism of Rohmann’s art. But with those gatefolds and the fact that the text probably deserves an award in and of itself, this is possibly the only picture book I’ve seen in 2020 (with the exception of one Canadian import) that actually elicits gasps when you show it to people for the first time.
My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, ill. Jillian Tamaki
I stick by my friends and I stick by my books about friends. You know what a lot of these books on this list have in common? The art, impressive as it is, is always accompanied by a supremely well-written text. The standard white background foregrounded by primarily pink and green art does not, at first glance, look as though it has enough tricks up its sleeve to be a contender. But take a closer look and you can see that what Tamaki pulls off here far exceeds her work on her previous picture book. Except . . . now that I’m looking her up, who knew that she had yet another picture book coming out with Abrams in September called Our Little Kitchen? Will wonders never cease . . .
A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis
Eventually folks are going to start figuring out that I just really like Portis’s books. Her specialty has always been simplicity in form, color, paints, and content. This is, perhaps, her most complicated book to date and it reminds me, in a good way, of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s work. It reads like a riddle book imbued with a Spring theme. But is it Caldecott? I direct you to the page featuring the thunder. Right there. That should answer your question.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, ill. Cindy Derby
It’s always very gratifying to me when I like a book and then The New York Times concurs. Sometimes when I propose potential Caldecott winners, I have to explain why I selected them. Not so in this case. Derby’s one of those women you need to keep a very close eye on. Don’t blink because she’s one to watch.
Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, ill. Juana Martinez-Neal
The adult in me wants to fill this list with dark, meaningful, desperately important books. The kid in me want something silly that involves crusty old sailors and playful waves. Why not have both? Juana Martinez-Neal has already won a Caldecott Honor, but she has loads of time to win the award proper. Oh. And here’s a treat. Head on over to 100 Scope Notes and you can see the cover reveal for Ms. Martinez-Neals’ next book, Zonia’s Rain Forest. You’ll be glad that you did.
2021 Newbery Predictions
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
2020 has turned out to be a rough year. We’re facing massive unemployment, the likes of which we’ve not seen since The Great Depression. Good timing, then, to read a book set during that era. It’s funny, but some small part of me, probably dating back to childhood, always assumes that if a book has beautiful writing, it must also by association be boring. Happily, there’s not a word of Wohl’s that I ever find dull. She’s always interesting, her characters feel real, and the words on the page always leap off in new and interesting ways.
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
So, physical abuse is apparently the most common topic to watch in middle grade novels of 2020. From this to A Game of Fox and Squirrels to Prairie Lotus to Chirp, it’s in a LOT of the older books right now. What’s remarkable about Bradley’s book is that she works it into the text in such a way that it feel true and awful to the characters, but at the same time you really find yourself enjoying the other aspects of the book. I can see members of the committee getting annoyed with Della’s voice, but if that doesn’t press your buttons then I think you’ll get a real kick out of this.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
I always pair this book with Front Desk by Kelly Yang in my mind. Not because they both have the word “Desk” in their titles (or at least, not entirely) but because in both books you have cute upbeat jacket art disguising the fact that there are some real and serious issues on these pages. My librarians are quite enamored of this book, I should say. They have their quibbles (something about a cupcake subplot?) but overall find it quite strong.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese
I was quietly impressed with this middle grade debut by Reese. It’s a book about familial abuse, but done in the context of a bit of magical realism. I’m still chewing this one over in my mind, so expect a review soonish. Reese is a good writer from the start and there are layers upon layers beneath this title’s seemingly simple appearance.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
Four starred reviews. A Boston Globe-Horn Book win in the Fiction and Poetry Award section. All this and the book only just came out in February! My co-worker Brian called it, “Intense as hell and beautifully written.” Considering how it tackles issues of race and homophobia, this comes in on the older side of the Newbery equation, but that’s okay. Technically the award goes up the 14. Sounds like this book would fit it to a tee. The only question is, where are they going to put all of its medals? Cause that is one busy cover.
Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome
I read Finding Langston last year, and since I rarely read the sequel or companion title to a book, I was perfectly willing to let Lymon here go. My fellow librarians were having none of it. Not only does the book stand on its own but it’s both a quick read and extraordinary. It clocks in at 199 pages, which is also a major selling point. Sometimes it’s nice not to have to read a book that’s 300+ pages long, right?
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare Le Zotte
Scholastic keeps showing up on my Newbery list today. Interesting. Well, I couldn’t finish up without including this as well. The beginning is a bit slow, but nice. Then it gets to a midway twist that will have your heart pounding and your blood pumping in your veins. Researched within an inch of its life, it’s a great example of historical fiction done well. Let’s see if the Newbery committee agrees!
And what have I missed today? Tell me! There’s still plenty of time before Midwinter.
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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