Newbery/Caldecott 2021: Fall Prediction Edition
Didn’t think I’d forget, did you?
This is such a weird year. Usually by the time a Fall Prediction Edition comes around I feel pretty confident about the year’s titles. This year, about half the titles were sent out as e-galleys and the other half just sort of melted into the mists of pandemic-tude. By the time my Summer Prediction Edition came out I wasn’t feeling at all certain that I had a good grasp on the material. But now, at this point in the year, I feel a little bit better. When Calling Caldecott lists books, I know each and every last one of them. Heavy Medal? You’re not catching me unawares this year. Let it be known that I am not going to be accurate in these predictions, no sir, but I at least won’t feel quite as out to sea as I have in years past. Pandemic or no pandemic.
On with the show!
2021 Caldecott Predictions
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, ill. Bryan Collier
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed. Yet long before his death, books were slated for release that would speak to the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020 we’ve seen a wide array of picture books that address Black joy, Black lives, Black hair, Black skin, and Black self-esteem. If you look at these books, each one tackles a different facet. But of all the books, I do honestly believe that Bryan Collier’s is the loveliest. Now I had the chance to see the original art of this book in a webinar conducted with Tami Charles and Bryan Collier. When you look at that cover you get only a hint at the sheer size of the final piece. On the webinar, Mr. Collier raised up an enormous piece of art, as large as a plate glass window. Look deep into that art too. Throughout the book you’ll see a feather pattern and each one of those feathers is massive, Collier overlapping them with great skill. Note too that the Caldecott loves him. He is, as of this writing, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient. That shiny gold seems to elude him though. Could 2020 be his year? The timing sure seems right.
Honeybee: The Interesting Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann
Nonfiction, this might just be your year too. Historically, Newbery and Caldecott committees eschew informational books. But if we can label 2020 anything, it may be the year when the real world squashed fiction flat. The movie industry, the book industry, and even the television industry all got whammed upside the head, thanks to COVID restrictions and limitations on creating new content. But the news cycle? Just try to tear yourself away from it. With that in mind, Candace Fleming is poised better than she has ever been in her entire life to pull off the rare twofer: A Newbery for one of her books and a Caldecott for another. We were joking at work that so many books this year are depressing, and then someone said, “Even the bee dies at the end of Honeybee!” Not untrue, but of all the picture books out in 2020, this is the only one that actually makes you gasp out loud when you look at the art. Chew on that.
My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, ill. Jillian Tamaki
For this one, I had to go to an outside source. Sometimes I can work out why a picture book is successful. Other times, I need to consult with others. I could tell that part of the allure of My Best Friend was how young it skewed. It is natural for any committee looking at illustration to want to award books that are sophisticated and complex. So where does that leave books meant for the pre-k crowd? To a certain extent, you have to gauge how successful they are at reaching their young audiences. Pondering all this, I wandered over to Calling Caldecott and took a look at Martha Parravano’s thoughts on this title. She writes, “The basic colors are browns — in a range from a rich russet to a warm peach — and greens, against a cream background. But she does so much within those limitations. Take the new friend’s hair, which is described as black, and indeed it presents as black, but it’s not — instead, Tamaki uses dark browns mixed with green. The effect is black hair reflecting sunlight.” Add in the remarkable use of (as Martha puts it) “THE PAGE TURN” and you’ve got yourself a book that is both very young and very smart. Also, it’s just the tiniest bit different from Tamaki’s last Caldecott Honor win.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, ill. Cindy Derby
I can feel longshots in my bones. Books that don’t really have a serious chance at Caldecott glory, but still have what it takes. For a committee to award Derby, a couple things would have to happen first. The committee would have to acknowledge on some level that the events of 2020 have placed an inordinate amount of pressure on children. It is not the Caldecott’s job to make a statement with its choice. However, that is not to say that the committee isn’t swayed, to some extent, by outside forces beyond its control. Johnny Tremain comes out on the cusp of WWII and wins a Newbery because of its patriotic content. You see what I mean? There is no book on the Caldecott list that truly addresses COVID (though plenty of contenders speak directly about Black Lives Matter), with the possible exception of this one. The words are lyrical and the art elevates the form. This is award-level art, from the change in perspective to the play of light on the walls. Let’s see if it gets any acknowledgement.
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, ill. Michaela Goade
I had to double check my facts before I believed it. Is it possible that an Indigenous artist has never won a Caldecott in any way, shape, or form? Michaela Goade is an enrolled member of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. In the event that this book won, she would be the first American Indian to receive a Caldecott in any form. Back in April I interviewed Lindstrom and Goade about this book, and it clarified some of the process that went into its creation. Please go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast if you would like to look at some of Goade’s preliminary sketches. They’ll give you a concrete feel for the process that went into the watercolors you find here. There’s beauty to the message and beauty beyond the message as well.
Update: This just in from reader Alexis Redhorse: “Zia Pueblo artist Velino Herrera won a 1942 Caldecott Honor for In My Mother’s House, written by Ann Nolan Clark.” Thank you, Alexis! This is a story I’d like to know better.
Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin
I always find it a bit unfair when I see previous years’ winners show up on prediction lists. As if we don’t have enough new talent that we have to keep looking to the past. That said, I know that Jason Chin already won a Caldecott Honor for Grand Canyon, and it deserved it, absolutely. That said, this book is better. I’m sorry! It is! Grand Canyon makes you feel small when you look at the sheer size of the canyon and the eons it took to produce it. But Your Place in the Universe consciously works to make you very very aware of just how small you truly are. Just when you think this book cannot possible back up any further, it does. Want to feel tiny? Have I got a book for you.
2021 Newbery Predictions
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
Or, Why I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Maggots. 2020 turned out to be a very strong year for middle grade novels. Who knew? One of the earliest indications of this came when Wolk’s book released in April. I remember picking it up, reading a couple pages and feeling my muscles relax as I came to remember that Wolk’s books are always interesting and always written better than anything you can name. Hers is not the only book this year that gave me that feeling, but it was one of the first.
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Blackbird Girls. Chirp. A Game of Fox and Squirrels. Here in the Real World. Fighting Words. What do each and every one of these books have in common? If you said, “The girls in each book are physically abused,” then you are correct. I don’t know why, but in 2020, middle grade was inundated with smart, well-written, sometimes witty books wherein the main character, or someone close to the main character, is both female and the victim of some form of abuse. And of all those books, Fighting Words is one of the most memorable. Now we’re far enough into the year that I’ve seen a bit of a Fighting Words backlash ah-brewing. I’m very curious to see if its momentum will carry its author to a second Newbery Honor win in some way. That is, of course, one of the things I like about Ms. Bradley. You honestly never know what she’s going to write about next.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
I heard someone take issue with this book jacket, earlier this year. They accused it of misleading the child readers, saying that it just looked like a cute, fun story when, in fact, it was full of incredibly serious details. Perhaps, but I would point out that it’s also an incredibly fun read. Can you win a Newbery for being a pleasure on the page? Because if so then Ms. Marks would win hands down. In too many cases, I find authors have a hard time establishing the “voice” of their main characters. Not Zoe. Take a gander at her first chapter sometime, if you ever want to figure out how to write one. Adept at balancing pure enjoyment with real-world problems.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese
Startlingly adept. Were an author to come to me with the concept of this book in hand, I would have to advise them not to proceed. Mixing child abuse and fantasy sounds like a terrible idea. But Reese takes everything slow. She’s one of those authors that believes that the child reader is smart enough to figure out what’s happening on their own. As a result, she gives her kid audiences all the clues, then lets them work things out on their own. Who knew that the most gutting scene in any book this year would be the destruction of a stuffed animal? Not I, said the fly.
Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker
I almost missed it. Can you believe that? Though it came out in February, there was something about Pennypacker’s latest that I was avoiding. Probably, if I’m going to be honest with you, it had something to do with that cover. That brown brown cover. At heart I’m a 10-year-old child and that cover said “distinguished” and “boring” to me. Maybe a bit of “depressing” as well. Fortunately for me, I decided to check out the audiobook. A marvelous work, that. One that allowed me to listen to Pennypacker’s truly delicious writing. Folks have been comparing this one to Bridge to Terabithia, which I find somewhat unfair. Yes, it features two outsiders who find a friendship and a safe space away from the world. But the tone is entirely different in this book. It’s also, to be frank, deeply satisfying. It EARNS its ending. Keep your eyes trained on it. Blink and it might win something before you can react.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
Already Callender is counting their awards. The thing I like about the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards is that they can give us a sneak peek at future. So, after this won in the Middle Grade category of the BGHBs, it rapidly because a National Book Award Finalist to boot. And should Callender win a Newbery in some way, they would easily become the first non-binary author to do so. Heavy Medal moved fast to write this one up in their column, and little wonder. It’s got the chops. Let’s see how high it flies.
The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candice Fleming
Ah ha! Bit of nonfiction in your prediction list? This is the second Fleming title I alluded to earlier when I was talking about her Honeybee. And it is with this book that we have to peer very closely at the Newbery criteria. Let’s see here . . . aha! Yes, that’s right. The Newbery age range does not, as some might think, go up to books for readers aged 12, but rather up to readers aged 14. Now, do you remember back in 2012 when Steve Sheinkin won a Newbery Honor for Bomb? I invoke the previous win to justify including this book on today’s list. It is, without a doubt, a most timely title. Opening with what feels like a Trump rally, the reader slowly comes to realize that Fleming has begun her story with something very similar: A Lindbergh rally. America had never been first-ier. From there she backtracks and though I do not tend to read biographies for fun, I was so sucked into her writing that I couldn’t pull myself out. Lindbergh was a horror story of a man, masquerading as an American hero. About the time you get to the scientific experiments where everyone’s wearing black or white you begin to realize that this title is something on beyond amazing. So yes, it deserves a Newbery in some form or fashion. It’s older, but we have room for it here.
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, ill. Jon Klassen
Honestly, I wouldn’t rule it out. While every other book on this list deals with some deeply heavy subject, this little number doesn’t. Now I’m going to let you in on a secret. When I first picked this book up and started reading it to myself, it struck me as merely okay. In fact, I wasn’t so sure I was going to finish it. I just figured it was some Wind in the Willows pastiche, and I was content to leave it at that. Then I listened to the audiobook, read by the actor Michael Boatman, and I came to a realization. Friends, there are some books in this world that benefit mightily when you read them out loud. It doesn’t happen all that often anymore, but when you pick up Skunk and Badger and read it to a child, suddenly it feels like the best thing you’ve ever dived into. Boatman’s version is so charming, in fact, that even as I’m writing this I’m scheming how I can get my kids to hear it too. Something about the way he makes the Badger and the Skunk laugh. I dunno. In any case, the writing is hard to beat and if your library has Hoopla, you can check out the audiobook there.
We’ve 3 months until the Newbery/Caldecott winners are announced after all . . .
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.
SLJ Blog Network