Newbery/Caldecott 2022: Spring Prediction Edition
Honestly, I didn’t mean to write this post for St. Patrick’s Day. It just sort of fell out like that. Still, why the heck not? If St. Patrick’s Day is all about luck, then let’s see how lucky I am at predicting next year’s Newbery/Caldecott winners.
This year’s prediction list is particularly strange. I’ve been doing these since 2008, but this is the first year where I haven’t been able to see the bulk of the books in a physical form. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the larger publishers decided that e-galleys were the wave of the present. They won’t send physical galleys, which makes trading books with your fellow librarians a bit trickier. It also means that the spring releases in 2021 are going to have a key advantage over their fall brethren when it comes to the Best of the Year lists. After all, if I’ve missed a Spring book I can just go to the library and check it out. If I miss something in the Fall, I might not be able to find a galley in time to meet my Best Of deadlines. Gleep!
So how does this game work? Essentially I make predictions four times a year and see how well I do. My hit rate varies wildly as well. Check out the previous years’ stats for spring predictions specifically:
2014 spring predictions: Zip. Zero. Zilch.
2016 spring predictions: Zero correct, though the commenters do mention two books that would go on to win.
2019 spring predictions: I got two Caldecotts right (Going Down Home With Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, ill. Daniel Minter and Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson) and one Newbery right (The New Kid by Jerry Craft).
So as you see, I love this game. And I have a good feeling about 2022, yep yep yep. See for yourself . . . . :
2022 Caldecott Predictions
Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris
If you told me the middle name of Shawn Harris was “Range” I wouldn’t even blink an eye because of course it is. Harris appears to be attempting to take over the picture book world with as wide an array of artistic styles as possible. Last year you might have ooed and cooed over the work he did on Mac Barnett’s Polar Bear in the Snow on the one hand and the art for Colin Meloy’s Everyone’s Awake on the other. This year he’s going solo and his medium? Colored pencils. And if you have ever thought to yourself, “I will never be so wowed by illustrations done in colored pencils that I will want to give the artist a Caldecott” then you have not yet had the pleasure of reading this book. I leave you to it then.
The Lost Package by Richard Ho, ill. Jessica Lanan
The thing to know about me is that I’m an easy mark for watercolorists. In particular, watercolorists that know how to paint water and reflections. That kind of thing just makes me goofy. This book, which could actually be a wordless book and no one would blink (seriously, was that ever discussed, Roaring Brook?) is a love song to the United States Postal Service. Sorta. I mean, the plot rests on the crux of the idea of a mail truck losing a package en roue to the airport, so let’s just call it a really roundabout love song. Now Jessica Lang’s been illustrating books for a while, but I feel like she’s beginning to flex her wings a little with this title. All right, all right, you want to really know why I like it so much? Okay, so there’s this image somewhat near the beginning. And all it is, is a shot of a mail truck driving forward towards a pothole. The pothole is full of water and is reflecting the sky, and for some reason I could NOT stop staring at this page. Give it a glance yourself and you may see what I mean.
Mind you, considering the fact that this duo is responsible for the world’s first Newbery Award winning picture book, I suppose I could slot this into my Newbery prediction list just as easily. Now when I like Mr. Robinson’s art the most is when he does precisely what he’s doing here. This book is full of details, different artistic styles, characters you can get emotionally attached to, and quiet moments as well. It also feels thoroughly, beautifully authentic to NYC, and that’s no small potatoes. Plus, in this particular day and age, a book that praises how we might put away our assumptions about other people (if only for a little while) probably needs to get widely distributed.
Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sís
Here is some good news about 2021. So far this year I have seen a lot of children’s books displaying a wide range of stories about the Jewish experience. Whether it’s Starfish or The Passover Guest or Sylvie or The People’s Painter, the variety of books about the past and present do my heart good. But we have had so many other years where the Jewish content was about one thing and one thing alone: The Holocaust. This year, I don’t mind seeing a book or two on that topic, because now I know that it’s not the only book reaching kids out there. And from the looks of it, Peter Sís is back like never before. Some Peter Sís books can feel a little old, and sail a bit too high over the heads of his young readers. Not this book. The text is clear cut and straightforward. It neither neglects to explain the horrors of WWII, nor dives too deep into it for kids. And yes, when I got to the end of it, while eating my lunch in my break room at work, I started gently weeping. Doggone good book.
The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Evan Turk
Psst! Hey! Caldecott committee! Over here! *looks over shoulder* You wanna see something neat? Check it out, guys. It’s a whole bunch of killer nonfiction out in 2021. Now I know you folks all go gaga for the fiction stuff and believe me, I understand. It’s a strong year for that. But after you’re done drooling over Nicky & Vera I want you to give this new Evan Turk book a look. You know. Evan Turk? The guy who shoulda gotten a Caldecott, like, five times now and it keeps not happening? Cut me a break here and at least have some long, lengthy discussions about this latest title. Me, I was unfamiliar with Ben Shahn, his story, and his work prior to this book. So after my read I looked him up and came to the realization that Evan Turk has seamlessly incorporated Shahn’s work into the illustrations of this book so well that you’d miss them if you weren’t looking. Turk’s art is, as ever, absolutely some of the best coming out these days. As one of my co-workers put it, “Turk’s art is so idiosyncratic and daring and here he finally finds a subject that seems just right for his style.”
The Rock From the Sky by Jon Klassen
Don’t really need to sell you on the magic of Jon Klassen, do I? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is his best book to date. Bar none. Better than his first “hat” book. Better than his Caldecott Award winner. Better than all that stuff. That doesn’t mean it’ll win anything. It just means it deserves to.
Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler, ill. Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay
I can’t help but keep on thinking about how cool it would be if Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay won a Caldecott Award together. How would they divide the speech? Well . . . how did Leo and Diane Dillon do it, back in the day? I’m calling on the librarians of ye good olde days to tell me, because I honestly do not know. This book is a glorious jolt of energetic chaos, perfect for those parents of cranky toddlers. I love the sheer experimentation of the whole endeavor. Nothing about this book felt “safe” or “dependable” to me. It just felt like the wild and crazy ride that it is. A book should earn extra points for that kind of novelty.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Floyd Cooper
Give. Floyd. Cooper. A. Friggin’. Caldecott. Right. Now.
I mean, I sing that song pretty much every year but now I might have to start chanting it. Floyd’s one of those hugely talented artists that are out there, bringing style and flair and emotion and buckets of talent to his books. Yet I’m working on a theory that unless you’re a new artist, you don’t get as much attention for your work from the ALA YMAs. Regardless of whether or not you agree, you can’t help but nod when I say that his work, on Carole Boston Weatherford’s latest, complements it so well that you literally cannot imagine another illustrator or artist drawing this book.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, ill. Jason Chin
Wait. One more thing. It says here: “P.S. Duh duh.”
I suspect you’d like me to say more than that, though. Well, it seems to me rather perfect that in a year that saw several Oscar nominations for the film Minari (where South Korean immigrants to America plant minari seeds by the creek) we also see Watercress (a story about Chinese immigrants to America that forage for watercress in waterways beside the road). This may be the most emotionally resonant book (I almost wrote “film”) Jason Chin has illustrated to date, and the credit of that falls squarely on the shoulders of Andrea Wang. This is a very personal story for her, and the emotion of the text is mirrored perfectly by Chin’s art. The flashback sequence to China and what happened to the mom’s little brother destroys me. Sometimes it takes more than technical artistry to win a Caldecott. Sometimes it takes an emotional connection deep within the committee members. This book, then, has that advantage in its favor.
2022 Newbery Predictions
Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz
I talked a lot in the Caldecott predictions about books that take guts. That dare to do something different or big or bold. That take a great big swing at something because it’s worth doing. Well, of all the novels I include on the Newbery prediction list here today, Laura Amy Schlitz’s book is probably the one taking the greatest swing. Because if you’re really going to engage fully with Ancient Greece, and reference it and write in the style of its plays and its poetry, and do all your research correctly, and visit it on your own time, you’d better be one helluva good writer when you put it all together. Great research does not begat great writing. . . . except if you’re Laura Amy Schlitz. That she can be so precise with her work, and yet still rip the reader open emotionally, takes a talent I know many of us wish we had. Lotsa room on that cover for awards, y’know. Lotsa room . . .
The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin
Though, frankly, I would have given him a Newbery for Spy Runner too, so what do I know? This little fall release is a treat. A memoir of life lived behind the Iron Curtain. It took me a while but I’ve really warmed up to Eugene Yelchin’s wacky style. I wasn’t a huge fan of Breaking Stalin’s Nose back in the day, but ever since then it’s like the man can do no wrong. Now he’s lightly fictionalized his own memoir for kids and it is FASCINATING. Particularly the part where Mikhail Baryshnikov defects and Eugene ends up with his blue jeans. Undoubtedly the funniest, most accurate depiction of living in Cold War Russia you’re ever going to see in a children’s room.
Pity Party by Kathleen Lane
Heh heh. Yeah. This one’s my l’il baby Wild Card inclusion. It’s the Black Mirror for Kids book. I was actually asked to blurb it and after reading it and picking up the part of my noggin that had blown off partway through, here is what I came up with:
“Few authors have ever put their fingers on the surreal pulse of the experience of middle school as effectively as Kathleen Lane. Listen to me, readers, this peculiar and downright delightful little book is a veritable lifeline. Grasp it tight.”
I’ll stand by that. And thinking about it, maybe it’s more Ray Bradbury. Whatever it is, it’s short fiction and a lot of fun. Some stories circle around and around. Some come up and then disappear again. This is the rarest of all beasts: child satire. It has a dry sense of humor, and embraces nonsense in a refreshing way. My favorite story is probably “Imposter” because it feels so specific as to be eerie, and is so universal at the same time. You know how sometimes a Newbery committee is willing to take a chance on a book that doesn’t fit into the Pre-Made slot of what we consider a “Newbery” winner? That might happen with this book. Consider yourself warned.
The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford, ill. Nicole Wong
I’m listing these books alphabetically by title, but if I weren’t I might have paired this book with Pity Party anyway. Both are collections of short stories, after a fashion, though Milford’s book has an overarching story as well. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a sequel to Greenglass House or anything, though. With this book Milford has created one of the cleverest children’s books of the year, with a puzzle and a mystery at its core that will entice young readers. After finishing this book I immediately started rereading earlier passages to pick up on the clues and keys the authors had been dropping on all the early pages. Milford’s never won anything Newberyish, you know. Bout time we changed all that.
Root Magic by Eden Royce
If any of you ever teach a course on How to Write a Great First Chapter, I hope you use this book as one of your examples. Debut author Eden Royce grips you with her writing and turn of phrase right at the start and that passage echoes so beautifully later in the last chapter as well. I would advise you NOT to listen to the audiobook, though, if only because the reading is a bit too slow for my tastes. Brought up to speed, though, this book is a skilled mix of folklore and American history. I was a bit worried that the defeat of the villain would feel cheap if it was solved via magical means, but then Royce EARNS that ending. Color me seriously impressed. As for her eligibility, Ms. Royce is indeed living in Kent, England right now but she was born in Charleston, SC which means she is ab;e to receive this award.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
My Spring Newbery predictions always include one or two books that I haven’t had the chance to read quite yet, but fully intend to. I just checked out the e-audiobook out of this, but I include it here today because Fipps has something that is an important factor with Newbery contenders. Every co-worker at my workplace that has read this book has immediately gone gaga for it. Seriously, I’m feeling great waves of love emanating off of them for this book. If Fipps is able to replicate that love across the country and within the Newbery committee, she’ll have a real leg up on the competition when it comes to award season.
Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff
Do I want to see a fellow children’s librarian walk away with a big shiny medal (or two, or three, or four)? Yup. Do I think this book deserves said big shiny medals? Yup. This is Kyle’s middle grade debut, and you probably already know him from his Stonewall award winning picture book When Aidan Became a Big Brother as well as that recent challenge his Max books received in Utah. With this book he does something I’ve never really had the guts to do with my own writing: He takes a deep dive down into creepy town. Do you like ghost stories? Do you like trans narratives? Then boy oh boy is this the book for you. Imagine too, if you will, how neat it would be to see Kyle’s book walk away as the first book by a trans author containing trans content to win something Newberyish. Y’all ready for that, Newbery committee? Because the chance just landed in your lap!
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold
And this would be the second book on this list that I haven’t quite read yet. And again, I’m including it here because the peals of joy emanating from my librarians are very convincing. It didn’t take much to get me interested, of course, since the description contains the words “magical realism” and “immigration” and “1980s” all at once. Meanwhile it’s getting stars left and right, Kirkus said it had “Pratchett-like worldbuilding” in it, and the central metaphor is incredibly strong. Could be a sure bet.
Whew! That’s what I have on my end. What have you seen so far this year that you think deserves a shout-out?
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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