Final Prediction Edition: Newbery / Caldecott 2023
All right, m’dears. Let’s get this over with. I’ve already done a podcast with my sister on three Caldecott contenders and announced that I’ll be doing a Pre-Game Show before the ALA YMA announcement on 1/30 at 7 in the freakin’ morning (CST, naturally). Bearing all of that in mind, I’ve also watched the Mock Caldecotts and Mock Newberys with a gimlet eye and have come to a couple conclusions. Will these conclusions prove correct? Well, this time last year I was able to call three of the Caldecott winners (though I guessed that the wrong one would get the proper gold) and on the Newbery side I called two of the four (though, again, I have a hard time with the actual winner). That may have been the strongest guessing year in my life!
And now, the usual roster of caveats. Unlike my Spring, Summer, and Fall prediction posts, the Final Prediction Edition follows a familiar format: I will only list the books here that sincerely believe WILL win it all in the end. Not the ones I hope for. Throughout the year I’ve heard objections, debated possibilities, and come to understand what books have a strong chance and what books do not. These are not the books I necessarily want to win (though, happily, that Venn Diagram does intersect pretty regularly) but rather the ones that I believe will win. Vive la difference.
It’s all downhill from here . . . .
2023 Caldecott Predictions
Interestingly, I’m not second guessing my choices here. What I’m second guessing is my selection of the Award winner. I’m torn. So much of predicting a book award comes down to how well you know the committee members. I actually looked up the members to try to work out how their discussions might fall out. It hasn’t helped me. As such, this year I’m reeling in my predictions to a mere mini four. That’s right. I’m only predicting four winners. This, I acknowledge, hurts my chances of being correct, but last year I only predicted five winners and three of those were on par. Maybe magic will strike again?
The Caldecott Award Winner
Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
Man. I’ve never felt so torn on predicting a winner before. In a sly twist, I am MUCH more certain about the Newbery winner than the Caldecott this year. Why? Too many dang good books, that’s why!!! Knight Owl has elements that may either help or harm its chances. It feels like an old-fashioned picture book. If the committee is feeling nostalgic, that’s good. If they’re trying to fight against nostalgia as a whole, that’s bad. It’s an incredibly popular book (it was the only book I saw in my local Barnes & Nobles picture book section that was neither a reprint or a series title). But what if the committee wants to honor the too little lauded? In the end, I think this will win the final honor because it is a compromise title. You see, in years where there are too many strong books to consider, a committee will have to come up with a large enough point spread between their winner and their honorees. And if one faction of a committee loves one book and another faction loves another, and neither side budges, they’ll have to agree on a third book that both sides like. That’s where Knight Owl swoops in. I call it the Moon Over Manifest Effect. Does this book deserve to win on its own? Of course! It has the same kind of energy well saw in last year’s Mel Fell. But when you look at my potential Honors here, you’ll see what I mean. I do NOT envy the committee their debates.
Blue by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter
This is my sister Kate’s #1 choice and, quite frankly, mine as well. Minter already has a Caldecott Honor to his name thanks to Going Down Home With Daddy. I think anyone who saw that book (and his equally stunning but lesser known The Women Who Caught the Babies) is aware that he’s just waiting in the wings for that gold. And look at this cover! Plenty of room for the Coretta Scott King, Caldecott, and inevitable Siebert Awards that are bound to appear there. Now when you serve on a Caldecott committee you find yourself getting very wrapped up in the notion of design. How well does the art interact with the text? Do they comment on one another? How are those page turns? Is anything being lost in the gutter? I like to think that Minter can pass each and every last one of these questions with flying colors (no pun intended). Add in the fact that it’s a work of nonfiction and there are all sorts of implications there. To be honest, I’d like it to win the gold myself, if only so we can see a gorgeous array of blue outfits at the next Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Banquet.
Berry Song by Michaela Goade
Sharp-eyed spotters may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned Michaela Goade’s clear-cut follow-up to her Caldecott winning We Are Water Protectors this year. Unlike that book, Goade’s decided to go this one alone, and so I’ve been watching the buzz around it swell and grow over the course of the year. At my own library we decided to put it on our 101 Great Books for Kids list, but only after a bit of debate about the information about not eating every last berry you happen to find in the wild into your mouth, and where it should or should not have gone in the book. All told, it was pretty unanimously adored, and so I’ve come to appreciate its gifts. It’s a quieter book than some of the others on this list. It has history and family and sumptuous colors. If it wins the gold, I imagine the Banquet dessert will have to be positively FILLED with berries, don’t you think?
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, ill. Janelle Washington
A common complaint of Caldecott winners is that the folks that identify as male tend to dominate the field (while Newberys tend to go to female winners). I’m happy to say that this year it looks pretty darn even to me. Two men. Two women. And one of these women is new to the field.
Though they might deny it until they’re blue in the face, Caldecott committees like fresh faces. That’s why you’ll see artists that have been working in the field for decades (like Floyd Cooper until 2022) go year after year with no Caldecott awards at all while debut artists strike gold if they have books released at the right place at the right time. And this book? Perfectly positioned. It came out just as the Indianapolis Children’s Museum had an exhibit on Emmett Till (and I was happy to note that it was selling great quantities of this book in its gift shop). It came out as the movie Till was released to critical acclaim. Add in the fact that Janelle Washington’s work is this extraordinary kind of cut paper that lays out Mamie’s life alongside Angela Joy’s words like the two came into this world together, and you have yourself a natural born winner. I’ll say this much: If this book doesn’t even honor a Caldecott I will be madder than a wet hen. Swear to howdy.
2023 Newbery Predictions
I’d just like to state for the record that in spite of my previous statement about the ease with which I chose today’s winner, this was still a much easier year to think of Caldecott winners than Newbery winners. That’s no surprise. Because of how much faster one can even read picture books, usually people are more prepared for those debates. Newbery winners are hard, and made even harder by the fact that some committees are perfectly happy to fill the roster with YA fare. Technically the Newbery goes to books written for kids between the ages of 0-14. This is an old-fashioned rule that should have been corrected years and years ago, yet remains on the books. As a result, there’s usually at least one YA title in the Honors (though, interestingly, never the winner proper) that will throw off these predictions. I don’t much care for teen titles on Newbery lists, and I don’t read their books anyway, so expect this list to miss the mark at least once this year.
The Newbery Award Winner
The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
While I am aware that there’s a part of me that wants this book to win if only because then we can follow up 2022’s win of The Last Cuentista with The Last Mapmaker (are you not entertained?), the fact of the matter is that from the moment I read this title, it felt like THE winner. Soontornvat (who is apparently attempting a record for Most Variegated Types of Children’s Books Produced In the Shortest Amount of Time In a Single Year) has already won multiple Newbery Honors these last few years. It just feels like she’s due. Now this isn’t the only fantasy novel folks are discussing as a potential winner this year, so allow me to point out some of its superior features. This book doesn’t have an inch of fat on it. Soontornvat clearly edited it down to the bone, and yet somehow managed to do full-on complex Thai-inspired colonialism world building without bloating the book to 500 pages. Nor does she sacrifice character arcs, emotional resonance, or evocative descriptions and writing. They should use this book in writing schools to show folks how its done. She’s paid her dues. Now let’s see Ms. Soontornvat get the proper win. After all, the book already has a golden circle on it. What’s one more?
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller
And speaking of previous award winners, here we have a former Newbery winner. Keller won back in 2021 for When You Trap a Tiger, which I liked just fine. But this book? This book I LOVE. Can you blame me? It’s a marvelous blend of science fiction, realistic fiction, and insights into bullying that go far beyond the stealing-someone’s-lunch-money trope. You’ve got your reliable/unreliable narrator in place, and the way that Keller parcels out information is so fun to watch. Honestly, this book could win her a second Newbery Medal and I’d be okay with that. I do wonder if the some committee member will chafe at the fact that the book never firmly plants its flag in the realistic or science fiction realms. Hopefully they’ll see that part of the charm comes in not fully knowing what to believe.
Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi
I don’t suppose, by any chance, you happened to notice the Walter Dean Myers Award winners this year, did you? If you had, you would have seen that three of the books on my Newbery prediction post here today won Walters. Star Child was one of the Walter Honors and it did my heart good to see it honored in this way. Particularly since the last time an older biography won anything Newberyish it was back in 2017 with El Deafo (or, if you think that was still too fictionalized, 2010’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice). The Walter award gives me hope that other people are recognizing the sheer skill Zoboi has in combining biographical elements and poetry in this text. The challenge for the Newbery will be seeing if the committee members dub this back and forthing between poetry and biography successful.
Three Strike Summer by Skyler Schrempp
Once the bastion of awards season, historical American novels for kids have NOT fared well in recent years. When was the last time you saw one win a Newbery anything? I’ll tell you when: Wolf Hollow in 2017. Everything since then that you’d call a novel has been contemporary, fantasy, or science fiction. This shift to abundant realism is bound to continue in 2023, I’ve no doubt, but there’s always a chance of one single, solitary bit of America’s past making in on here. And this book has strikes AND the Dust Bowl AND baseball. If I’ve a wild card on today’s list, it’s this book. I’ve abandoned all my other Wild Cards but I’m holding onto this one because for sheer literary quality and fabulous writing and VOICE (my god, the voice) this book goes to 11. The odds are stacked against it, but I think there’s an outside chance that it may have a quorum of fans on the committee. But will it be enough?
Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, ill. Janelle Washington
Oh ho! Here’s something I’ve never done before! I’ve never predicted that a book would win a Newbery and a Caldecott something or other in a given year. And this book doesn’t have the flashy quality that some of the other dual Newbery/Caldecott titles have had. Even so, I find that I can’t get Angela Joy’s words out of my head. I think of what this book is saying about bravery and doing the hard and right thing vs. the easy thing all the time. Heck, I just quoted it in my review of 2023’s An American Story (a.k.a. the 2024 Caldecott winner). Washington and Joy rely on one another so strongly in this book. The words would not be as powerful without this art and this art would not have the oomph that it does without this text. This is, perhaps, the year’s most beautiful example of text and image coming together, and THAT, my friends, is what makes a book a dual winner.
I’m all out of steam, so you folks let me know what you think. What egregious errors have I made? What clear-cut winner didn’t make this final post? Let me know. I’m all ears.
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.
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