Newbery/Caldecott 2023: Fall Prediction Edition
We’re at the three quarter mark for the current year and it looks like it’s going to be another boffo year for children’s books. I haven’t seen everything being released quite yet but every week it seems like there’s some new, brilliant book to explore.
As ever I bestow upon you the caveat that today’s selections and predictions are based entirely upon my own observations
2023 Caldecott Predictions
Action!: How Movies Began by Meghan McCarthy
I highly favor nonfiction in some of today’s categories. McCarthy has an uphill battle with this book, but I always root for the plucky underdog. She’ll be facing an ancient conundrum come award season, one that is often reflected in Oscar picks: Is her book original in its own right or is it merely an act of replication? Whenever someone wins an Oscar for a biopic, folks will wonder if they won, or if the art of imitation won. The same could initially be said of McCarthy’s deep dive into the history of film. Yet upon closer analysis you will see the amount of technical expertise, love, and sheer drive put into the book by McCarthy. The love of moviemaking burns strong, and the choices she made in the art are consistently giving a nod to kids and keeping things kid-friendly. That’s not something I can ignore, and I hope the Caldecott committee won’t either.
Blue by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, ill. Daniel Minter
It was with great joy that I noted that Martha V. Parravano herself penned the write-up for Blue on the blog Calling Caldecott a week ago. Can there be any greater endorsement of its chances at a medal than that? She had one passage in particular that stood out for me. She said:
“With this book’s text referencing the sky and sea, I appreciate that Minter begins with double-page spreads in which the color blue predominates. These opening pictures serve to immerse the reader in the subject (and indeed we see children floating in the sky). But as the text delves into how rare it was to find blue in nature, historically, and how difficult it was for humans to produce the color, Minter steps away from those blue-saturated pages, introducing other colors, highlighting how very rare blue was. As the text takes us through the history of blue, Minter provides a through line with the inclusion of patterns — on clothing; to represent the rays of the sun, the continents, even chemical bonds; to convey emotion.”
Can you see how likely it is to win?
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, ill. Janelle Washington
I should note that if this book were to, instead, win a Newbery, you wouldn’t see me blink an eye.
When we talk about successful picture books, oftentimes we’re talking about how successfully the art and the text were integrated. Moreover, strong art support strong texts, and vice versa. You might have the most beautiful images in the world on a book’s pages, but unless the writing is good as well, kiss your medal dreams goodbye. What’s remarkable about Joy and Washington’s book is how perfectly integrated the words and the images are. Now apparently Janelle Washington, the papercut artist working on this book, had never done a picture book before. I find this shocking and, quite frankly, heartening if we’re talking about awards. Ever notice how award committees LOVE fresh faces? The fact that the art in this book slays you before the words even touch you is a testament to its power.
Emile in the Field by Kevin Young, ill. Chioma Ebinama
I find it fitting to discuss Ebinama’s art after Washington’s in today’s post. Too often major children’s books awards go to titles swimming in Black misery and pain. When you look through the Caldecott and Newbery winners, count the number of books there featuring Black characters that could be said to be about anything else. That number would not be very high. I’m intrigued by the possibility that EMILE might be a worthy award contender. Its gentle storytelling is nice, but it’s Ebinama’s eclectic and original use of watercolors that caught my eye and made me think this book might have a chance. Another point in its favor? The fact that my librarians are gaga over it. I take their support seriously. As they go, so go the committees.
Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings by Laurel Snyder, ill. Dan Santat
I sometimes throw in a couple wild cards for spice. I’ve already talked in previous round-ups about the fact that Dan Santat has, on occasion, been robbed of awards. To my mind, After the Fall was his finest work to date, but do not fear. There are other books he’s creating that are worth your notice. The idea that a choose your own adventure (oops, I mean “pick your path”) picture book could win an award as serious as the Caldecott is, upon first glance, a pretty goofy sentiment. Nonetheless, I’d stand by it. You can actually tell when Santat is putting his back into his work, and here he isn’t phoning anything in. He’s giving this title 110% and the end result is supremely smart AND kid-friendly. Look, it’s already beloved. Why not complement the gold foil on its cover with an actual gold medal to boot?
Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
I really and truly wish that Sophie hadn’t won Caldecotts already for Lighthouse and that Winnie-the-Pooh book Finding Winnie. If she were an unknown entity, entering the ring for the first time, completely unknown to audiences, this book would be a shoo-in for at least a Caldecott Honor. Instead, one has to worry about the baggage the committee members might carry in with them. They cannot, technically, consider the fact that she already has two, recent, Caldecott Medals under her belt. Still, that’s a hard fact to ignore. Even so, this is her best book, bar none, ever. Don’t believe me? Better read it.
Gibberish by Young Vo
As God is my witness, I didn’t want to be charmed by this book. A single sidelong glance at it and I wrote it off as a variation on books like Here I Am, The Arrival and Pie in the Sky. You know. Books where the language in the book is as incomprehensible to the reader as it is to the recent immigrant. What I didn’t realize was that creator Young Vo decided to take the story in a wholly different direction. When the young protagonist of this story is placed in his new classroom, it’s not simply that the words are “gibberish”. It’s that his classmates are seen through this distinct 1930’s Disney animation lens that had me hooked so fast it would make your head spin. The message of this book is great, but the originality presented in the art may be what pushes it over the top.
Hot Dog by Doug Salati
Nope. I still don’t like dogs. But I adore this book. Salati has more than one picture book out this year, and I suspect that both will show up on the occasional listing of Caldecott contenders. Even so, this is the one to keep your eye on. An almost wordless story that, through pure image alone, puts you so directly into this little dog’s head, you feel what it feels, both the highs and the lows. This book packs an emotional punch that, I swear, may make it the contender everyone needs to watch out for.
I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, ill. Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
How cute would it be if this won something? Both of the women illustrating this book are Caldecott Honor winners. Neither is a Caldecott Award winner. Imagine how they’d have to change the entire nature of the official Caldecott speech! Would they share the podium? Go one at a time? Leave it to Julie Fogliano to do the honors? The thing is, having Molly and Juana work on the book together feels like a gimmick, but it’s also good business sense. These friends found a way to adapt their individual styles to one another. Meanwhile, Julie Fogliano’s text is extraordinary in and of itself. The combination renders this an extremely strong contender in a year of great books. Don’t remove your eyes from this one for a second.
Kick Push by Frank Morrison
Did you know that there are other skateboard-related picture books out this year? It’s true. The trouble is that all other fade in the glare of Morrison’s magnificent book. Books with early pub dates are often placed in a difficult position. On the one hand, they get a lot of early attention in the year, and show up on a bunch of “Best Of” lists. On the other hand, come award season, folks are more prone to forget all about them. I’m not worried about that in terms of Morrison’s latest, since he’s really poured his heart and soul into this art. At the same time, if you’ve been putting off reading it, now’s a perfect time to pick it up at last.
Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
At my library we create a 101 Great Books for Kids list every year. Right now I’m in the process of placing holds on any items we haven’t a physical galley or ARC for. Yet when I tried to place a hold on “Knight Owl” I found myself accidentally typing in “Night Owls” with an “S” which, let me tell you, is a very different easy book series. My suspicion with this book, early on, was that it could easily follow in the footsteps of last year’s Mel Fell. I wouldn’t call it a “slam-dunk” the way that Mel was, but it’s pretty close. And people? They’re kookoo for it!
Witch Hazel by Molly Idle
The trouble is that by including I Don’t Care up above in today’s post, you may skip past this one. “Seen one Molly Idle, seen them all” you might say, even though nothing could be further from the truth. The thing is, it’s tempting to look at the cover of this book and assume that you know everything about it already. There’s a witch and a kid in overalls and . . . well, magic, obviously. But the plot between the covers is unexpected. It’s not about creepy holidays to celebrate but, rather, how one remembers their past and passes on those memories to the younger generation. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.
The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, ill. Leo Espinosa
I confess that it didn’t occur to me that Espinosa might be courting Caldecott adoration with this book until a co-worker mentioned it. I thought it was too steeped in nostalgia. Now I’m thinking that there’s a technical expertise to what Espinosa shows, when he shows it, and how he manages to make something that feels like a relic also feel crisp and fun!
2023 Newbery Predictions
(it’s like the Caldecott but longer)
Aviva vs the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe
Do me a favor. Don’t count the number of books on today’s list that were created, in some way, with the help of Arthur A. Levine. The trouble is that he really does have a keen eye. This book, which is a contemporary title with a Jewish heroine, has stayed with me months and months and months after reading it. Having considered it, I truly believe it’s one of the best little titles for kids I’ve ever read. But don’t take my word for it. Try it out on an unsuspecting kid yourself and see what ensues.
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
As both the previous book and this one together might show you, 2022 has proven to be an unexpectedly fruitful year from Jewish middle grade novels. And about time too! Still, I wasn’t prepared for the levels of praise and adoration that Pasternack’s debut has engendered in my library community. Seriously, I haven’t even finished it myself but I can also recognize that if this doesn’t get a big award, heads may roll.
The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
Did any of you take bets on whether or not this book would remain my Newbery frontrunner? If you said I’d forget all about it, months later, you would have rightfully received a chunk of change. The thing is, I’ve been reading a lot of bloated fantasies lately. Poorly edited ones. Yet no one can beat Soontornvat when it comes to taking the hopes and dreams of the privileged and turning them into something useful. I love this book. And I almost never say that about any book, but this one stayed with me. It still does.
Marshmallow Clouds by Ted Kooser & Connie Wanek, ill. Richard Jones
Poetry is an uphill climb when it comes to Newbery deliberations. I suspect that the most that Kooser and Waner could hope for with this book would be a Newbery Honor. And only that if the committee was feeling generous. Poetry abounds but finding the best can be hard. So good news Newbery folks! I did your job for you! I found the best, eligible title, published in 2022. Check it out and see if you disagree.
This was the book I read in its entirely when I went to Bologna, Italy earlier this year. Leonard Marcus, as I recall, admired it. Personally, I’m a big fan of any storyline in which a perfectly normal looking person transcends racial attitudes and conquers the known world. Zoboi is the perfect companion to Butler. This book? A match made in heaven.
You Only Live Once, David Bravo by Mark Oshiro
Ha! I just realized that there are two different middle grade novels out this year where the main characters have the last name Brave (the other was Tumbled). Now I’ll confess that I haven’t read this one yet. However, I have a supremely talented and smart co-worker by the name of Brian who is my eyes and ears when my eyes are closing and my ears are sleepy. He personally catches large swaths of middle grade novels that are released and considering how many books he reads in a week, the fact that he was head and heels in love with this book is significant. Plus, it has a science fiction bent, and you know I love that!
And that’s it! Tell me what I missed and what you’ve seen and loved!
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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