Newbery/Caldecott 2023: Summer Prediction Edition
Spring has sprung and I know we’ve all been reading madly, trying to find the hidden gems, and the books that might have a chance at the upcoming award season. The thing is, this is an impossible game. No one can truly know the mind of a Newbery or Caldecott committee. Each one is as distinct as a snowflake, and often they veer wildly into different directions.
Traditionally on this blog the Spring Prediction Edition tends to be a bit slight. By summer this improves significantly. We’ve seen a lot of the spring publications, so this Prediction Edition is going to have quite a few of those, as well as a few Fall titles for spice. I’m currently writing this before the ALA convention too, so factor that into everything and take this with not just a grain of salt but a whole handful of the stuff.
2023 Caldecott Predictions
Action!: How Movies Began by Meghan McCarthy
Whenever the Oscar nominations are released and someone is nominated for portraying a famous figure in history, a debate arises. Is the person being praised for acting or imitation? The same could potentially be said of nonfiction picture books about movies. McCarthy is doing jaw-dropping work with this title. Everything is by hand, without a trace of digital artwork to be seen. Moreover, she’s replicating these highly detailed images from famous films, all with her own inimitable style. Though at first glance this history of cinema looks like a standard nonfiction story, a close examination of the art (how well it interacts with the text and supports the storytelling) reveals a level of true artistry. Then you look at how the book is even constructed and your admiration flows. I know nonfiction has an uphill battle when it comes to the Caldecott (particularly if it’s not a bio or about animals) but I do hope the committee takes time to seriously sit down and consider this one.
Blue by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, ill. Daniel Minter
Or we could just throw up our hands and hand Mr. Minter the Award he so clearly deserves. Again, this is a work of Nonfiction. I’ve always wondered if the marked increase in informational books’ quality would eventually be reflected in awards outside of the Sibert. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Minter’s work, he already won a Caldecott Honor for Going Down Home with Daddy (which he completely deserved). If he doesn’t win for this one then I’ll chalk it up to a committee that’s a bit more nonfiction shy than others have been.
The Circles in the Sky by Karl James Mountford
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the Caldecott committee discusses this book. I suspect that many will be floored by it, and how could they not be? Mr. Mountford’s art makes such interesting use of patterns, color (or lack thereof), and the occasional jolt of weirdness that kind of ties the whole thing together. There may be pushback, though. I can see some committee member saying that what he’s doing here feels bloodless. What they’ll actually mean is that he does a lot of book jackets, and this is in a similar style. But honestly, this story about death and acceptance, aside from being beautifully written, is just a joy to page through. I’d love it if it got at least a little of the attention it so richly deserves.
Emile in the Field by Kevin Young, ill. Chioma Ebinama
No one ever talks about how much of a committee’s time is taken up with trying to figure out the citizenship of the artists and authors up for consideration. Chioma Ebinama is an excellent example of this. As you may know, Caldecott winners have to either be American citizens or American residents. Ms. Ebinama is Nigerian-American and does appear to spend large chunks of time here in the States. Now Emile was a book that took me more than one read to come around to. Here is where it is useful to have friends and colleagues that can point out when you’re missing something. I think I fell into that old trap of figuring that if something was simple it was simplistic. But this book (which reads aloud particularly well) is doing tricks with watercolors you’d never expect. For a fun compare and contrast, try looking at Ms. Ebinama’s adult work and see if you can spot any similarities.
Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings by Laurel Snyder, ill. Dan Santat
Okay, let me back this one up. When we think of Dan Santat and Caldecotts, we tend to think of stuff like Beekle or After the Fall (the book he legitimately should have at least gotten an Honor for and, yes, I’m still mad about that). This book isn’t like those. It’s just a silly little choose-your-own-adventure time story about fairy tale characters. But as it turns out, this is some of Santat’s best work in years. He’s just poured himself into this book, and then you get to the sheer size of the piece. There are just so many different pieces of art working here, and they all have to work in tandem and in different combinations. Caldecott Award winners are often books where the text and image are in conversation with one another. This book isn’t just a conversation. It’s a friggin’ multi-pronged debate! Would love to see it get the attention it deserves.
Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
I’m not a betting woman, but I suspect that Sophie Blackall may not want to win another Caldecott Award proper. And that’s okay. Trouble is, Farmhouse is better than her actual Caldecott Award winners. I mean, I liked them both, but you can’t read through this book and not acknowledge that she’s doing a couple highly complex things with both art and text simultaneously and all at once. I won’t get into it all again (I’ve linked to my review of it above) but this treatise on letting go and letting decay happen is unique in the field.
Hot Dog by Doug Salati
Wow. You know when other people are raving about a book and you have this childish knee-jerk reaction to dislike it out of spite? I do that ALL the time. And then there’s the fact that I’m just not the kind of person to go all goofy over dog books. I like them fine and all, but they don’t charm me. Now Salati‘s been around for a number of years, and even nabbed himself an Ezra Jack Keats Honor in the past. It’s all been leading up to this. In this book you aren’t just watching this dog. You ARE the dog. The heat and claustrophobia and just overwhelming stress of being in a boiling city on a steaming day, you feel that. And then when the dog is taken to the sea, those sea breezes somehow emanate off the page. I felt every temperature shift as I read. It’s a remarkable title and one that I certainly hope you don’t miss. Read more about it at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Kick Push by Frank Morrison
I’m still wondering if Frank Morrison is ever going to get the Caldecott love he truly deserves. Surely the committee can recognize that the man has a style that look like no one else’s. In this book, it’s like someone unlocked the gate and told Mr. Morrison that he could just go wild. so much of illustration in picture books concerns itself with capturing movement on the page. Of all the books I’ve mentioned so far today, this is the one that makes movement its raison d’etre. I mean, just look at that cover. Do you hear what I’m saying?
Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
A colleague of mine told me that he got a “Mel Fell feeling” about this book. Not that the plot, or even the art, is the same. More that this has the distinct aura of a book that Caldecott committees really can’t help but admire. Mr. Denise is taking a very simple story and then working his fingers to the bone to capture things like reflected light (see the cover?), dappled light, light from different points of the day . . . just light in general. Both classic in feel and utterly contemporary, you may as well slap a couple awards on it now to save time.
Witch Hazel by Molly Idle
Bearing in mind that Ms. Idle’s first Caldecott Honor winner (Flora and the Flamingo) was never considered a Caldecott shoo-in from the start, this book seems like even more of a long shot. After all, it’s sepia brown and white. That’s it. No colors beyond those two. Yet for sheer artistry, not to mention a particularly beautifully written story, Idle’s latest is more than a little remarkable. No one curves a line like this woman. No one looks like her. And yes, I know she has another book out this year with Juana Martinez-Neal, but by gum this is the book I like the most.
2023 Newbery Predictions
Aviva vs the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe
Yep. Apparently Arthur A. Levine’s new publishing company is in the business of Newberys. He had TWO Newbery titles in 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to earn him even more. I am speaking, of course, of Mari Lowe’s remarkable bit of magical realism mixed with real world thoughts and feelings. I walked into Aviva unaware of its plotline, and in that first chapter I got scared. It sure looked to me like I’d selected a downer of a book. Yet even when I thought that, I found the writing compelling. Happily, I kept going and quickly found that this wasn’t a title steeped in misery but, rather, a fantastic read with layer after layer of complexity. Take a gander and see if you agree.
The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
New Rule: Give Christina Soontornvat all the things. Oops! Too late! You already have! Much like last year, Ms. Soontornvat apparently does not pause in her daily schedule to indulge in such fripperies as “sleep” and “food”. I say this because she’s still churning out loads of incredibly well-written, high quality books. And the greatest of these, by far, is The Last Mapmaker. Yes, it’s going to be kind of silly if we follow up one Newbery called The Last Cuentista with The Last Mapmaker, but I’m willing to take that hit. Besides, the Newbery was given to The Grey King one year and The High King another, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Marshmallow Clouds by Ted Kooser & Connie Wanek, ill. Richard Jones
Feels like it’s been a while since we gave a Newbery to a work of poetry. I’ve no idea how the committee would deal with a written collaboration. Certainly when it comes to the Caldecott, duos win it all the time. Think, for example, of The Dillons and The Provensens. You don’t see it half as much with writing. Yet here we are with what is, undoubtedly, the finest children’s book of poetry of 2022. I just adore it.
Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi
And speaking of poetry, what have we here? I think Newberys should occasionally be handed out for sheer cleverness of form. What could have been a rote biography flourishes under Zoboi’s pen. Here she has reconstructed Octavia Butler’s life out of biographical moments and small poems that forward the plot. Add in the not insignificant fact that the poetry is really very good, and the construction of a storytelling so artfully put together, and you have yourself a contender!
What have I missed? I always love it when you folks mention your own favorites and well!
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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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