Newbery / Caldecott 2024: Spring Prediction Edition
Aww. Can you believe how 2023 is getting away from us already? One minute it’s 2022 and the next minute some over-enthused librarian is crouched on your chest, breathing into your face, demanding, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO WIN THE NEWBERY OR CALDECOTT IN 2024 YET?!?!?”
Yes, that’s right, it’s time to crank up the prediction machine again and start looking into what may or may not win something in the coming year.
As ever, I start with my two caveats. Caveat #1: I am perfectly aware of how incredibly silly it is to try to predict an award when the bulk of titles up for consideration haven’t even been released, let alone read and reviewed yet. Caveat #2: I do not care. And the reason that I do not care is that Newberys and Caldecotts often include a fair number of spring releases. My proof? Well, let’s hop in the wayback machine and look at how well my spring predictions have done in the past:
2014 spring predictions: Zip. Zero. Zilch.
2016 spring predictions: Zero correct, though the commenters do mention two books that would go on to win.
So by my estimation, unless I’m far off, the law of averages dictates that I usually get at least one Caldecott or at least one Newbery right with this yearly post. But which book(s) is it gonna be?
As with every year, it is so much easier to list Caldecott contenders than Newbery ones. Still, let’s give it the old college try. You never know . . . .
2024 Caldecott Predictions
An American Story by Kwame Alexander, ill. Dare Coulter
Oh. Never mind. I was going to do this big long post of Caldecott contenders, but we might as well just wrap this up right here. I am perfectly happy to just give it to Dare Coulter, first time debut picture book illustrator, and call it a day. And who would fight me on that? Seriously? Kwame seems to have a particular talent for pairing his words alongside some of the best artists working today. When his book The Undefeated won a Caldecott, his illustrator (Kadir Nelson) had been in the business for a long time. Not so now. An American Story feels like a companion picture book to that one, though the sophistication of the content makes it just a touch older. Coulter’s mixing of modelwork with illustration perfectly complements the text in ways that make it clear to the reader what precisely is going on. And in an America where vitriolic cries of “Critical Race Theory” spring up every day, giving this book a Caldecott (and, heck, a Newbery too would be nice) would be a fantastic way to make it clear that books like this are NOT going away.
Evergreen by Matthew Cordell
And now for something completely different.
So Cordell’s already won himself a Caldecott for The Wolf in the Snow, and I respect that win. What’s interesting about Matthew, though, is watching him change his style up from time to time. Caldecott committees often reward the artists that do this. but what really gives him an edge is that he’s a damn fine writer as well. At first glance, Evergreen looks like a Red Riding Hood trope, and in some ways it is. It is also, however, a book that allows Cordell the chance to stretch his illustration muscles to their full. He keeps the color palette pretty minimal then fills it with highly detailed (and scary realistic) woodland creatures. That realism, however, shifts imperceptibly into a more cartoonish style when the text demands. Add in the classic feel of the book, and the fact that it gets one great big surprise laugh out of the audience near the end, and you’ve got yourself a real winner and a serious Caldecott contender.
The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of by Kirsten W. Larson, ill. Katherine Roy
In a given year I will probably see a tall tall stack of picture book biographies about strong historical women. The bulk of these will fade into the mists of my mind, memories of them blurring together. For a few, the standouts, I’ll remember them for their care and attention. And in one particular case, I will remember the book because of what it dares to do with both design and an impossible mix of image alongside text. Katherine Roy, in spite of her prowess with the pen, has yet to catch the Caldecott’s eye. She’s more adept at winning those pretty Sibert medals for nonfiction titles. With her latest, however, I’m hoping that we’ve a nonfiction-luvin’ committee capable of seeing just what exactly she’s putting down here. You see, as the story of Cecilia Payne is told on the page, Larson and Roy are mirroring it with the story of how a literal star is born. Roy in particular is doing some sophisticated legwork, as the star’s story begins to merge and blend with Payne’s. Truth be told, this is a rather amazing visual combo, and not something I’ve seen done before. Fingers crossed that the committee sees it the same way that I do (or, at the very least, has verbose committee members prone to explaining why it’s so cool).
Nell Plants a Tree by Anne Wynter, ill. Daniel Miyares
Predicting a Caldecott winner isn’t just about which books you personally like the best. Part of it also means listening to buzz. What are the librarians of America talking about amongst themselves? What are they Tiktoking? What are they recommending to one another? My library runs a yearly 101 Great Books for Kids list, which means I have the distinct advantage of seeing how books play out amongst a sample set of librarians early on. On Nell, the group is unanimous already. I read my co-workers comments and they say things like “This is a winner with more power than first meets the eye; take your time.” The book takes risks with its storytelling, alternating between the past and the present but not necessarily letting you in to that fact early on. One of the things we look for in Caldecott contenders is how well that interplay between text and image works out. Here, the art of Miyares is so interwoven with the verbal storytelling that it would be impossible to extricate one from the other. Miyares has yet to get some Caldecott loving. My suspicion is that this might be the book that tips him over the edge.
The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker
Early in his picture book career Aaron Becker earned a Caldecott Honor for the wordless and epic Journey. Since that time he’s done other picture books and even experimented with the occasional jaw-dropping board book as well. But with The Tree and the River, I feel like Becker’s returning to what it was that made Journey a stand out all those years ago. A surface read and you’ll just figure this is some environmental warning of things to come. Delve even a little more deeply, however, and you’ll see that Becker is saying far more than that. This is about the choices that humans make, some good and some bad. It makes me think of an old George Carlin routine from years ago where he professed to be confused when people said to save the planet. “The planet isn’t going anywhere… we are! We’re going away! Pack your stuff, folks! We’re going away and we won’t leave much of a trace either, thank God for that… maybe a little styrofoam.” And yet, there’s hope at the end of this book, and that’s what makes it so good. That and the fact that Becker has filled it with details that kids will pore over and talk about for decades to come. You want a book that children will read by themselves over and over and over again? This is the one.
The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen
Of all the books listed here so far, this is probably the outlier, and I think Mr. Klassen would agree. Yet Caldecott committees love this guy, and I have to admit that this is one of my favorite of his books. First off, let’s just pause a moment to look at what he’s doing with this cover. It’s subtle, but please look at how he has managed to depict a late slanting sun and long shadows in a wintery time of year. The girl and skull are in the shadow of the tree (which lets her eyes pop nicely) while behind the two of them you get that incredible light effect on the snow. The book itself is filled with details just like this that, when you look at them properly, take your breath away. As for the text, I love that Klassen based it on a folktale he casually read in a school library on a visit once, then misremembered (to the reader’s advantage) years later when writing this. A dark horse candidate and a stunning one.
2024 Newbery Predictions
The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris
An interesting case. Remember McSweeney’s? That kooky little publisher pops up every once in a while with some kind of children’s book that doesn’t adhere to the usual norms. This can be both a good and bad thing, depending on the project. With this book they’re pushing and they’re pushing hard, for that sweet sweet “classic” feel you’d get from something like The Little Prince. I think they’ve described this as a book for “all ages” in the literature, which for some reason always raises my hackles. This is all to say that I walked into this book fully intending to be annoyed. I wasn’t though. Eggers, when he’s putting his back into a project, is one of the rare adult authors that can actually make a smooth transition into the world of children’s books with surprisingly few bumps along the way. Here, he’s done a good job of writing what is, at its core, an animal story. Accompanied by actual famous paintings in which Shawn Harris has seamlessly worked in our main character, the story follows a free dog who serves as “the eyes” of an island park. This book has stayed with me long after finishing it, and as you can see I’m not easily charmed by its ilk. Better put it on your radar then. There’s something to this. Something good. Something memorable. And a lot of goats.
Don’t believe me? Well someone, somewhere put some good money into this book trailer and if I can’t convince you, I suspect that it might. Particularly as it’s read by Ethan Hawke and all:
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
It’s been a year or two since there was a Newbery graphic novel winner, wouldn’t you say? The fact of the matter is that Dan Santat’s book is probably the Newbery frontrunner at this point. Based on his own experiences going to Europe when he was in middle school, it’s the rare GN memoir by a boy (we just don’t have a lot of those) that does a expert job in its thematic elements, character development and more travelogue moments. Dan’s already hooked himself a Caldecott. I’m curious to see if he can be one of those rare folks with a Newbery on the side as well.
The Indestructible Tom Crean: Heroic Explorer of the Antarctic by Jennifer Thermes
Ah yes! This is a dark dark horse candidate, yes it is. Remember how I said that the Caldecott committee would have to have some serious nonfiction lovers to consider the Katherine Roy picture book bio? The same could be said of this Newbery committee. Are they, in fact, even capable of seriously considering a nonfiction picture book biography of a man most Americans have never even heard of before? The likelihood is, I will admit, probably slim to none, but sometimes miracles can come true. And what Ms. Thermes has done here with the life of Tom Crean is nothing short of amazing. This is a guy who kept going to Antarctica only to almost die over and over and over again. It’s not just the subject matter that makes it so good. It’s also the way in which Thermes has found a way to lay out his life. The structure of the book is expertly crafted, and I found myself just shaking my head over the wordplay and clever writing. Like I say, it’s a long shot, but they don’t call me “Bets” for nothing.
My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, ill. Andrea Tsurumi
Shel Silverstein never won a Newbery. Of course he didn’t. He was funny. But if I had my druthers and could have served on a committee the year A Light in the Attic came out, you bet I would have lobbied to give the man something. Shel’s dead now. I can’t do nothing for him. But Chris Harris? That man isn’t just alive. He’s alive, kicking, and his latest book of poetry is legitimately better than his first (I’m Just No Good at Rhyming was nicely done but had some fat-shaming stuff in it that definitely isn’t in this latest outing, I’m happy to report). As I read through these poems, in between my snorts, guffaws, chortles, and other noises, I was repeatedly struck by how difficult it is to do what Harris does here. I’m an author of children’s books. I like to think I have a sense of humor. And I cannot, for even one second, imagine how to write even one of the poems in this book. It is far and away the most amazing thing I’ve seen in years. Seriously. Consider this. Besides, we desperately need funny books for kids to win this award sometimes.
Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow
I’m actually a little peeved at Erin Bow right now. On my flight to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, this was the book in my purse. I was going to use much of the ride to work on my next middle grade novel. But, naturally, you can’t type when the plane is taking off, so I started this book in the interim. To my amazement and mild horror, Bow is one of the funniest writers for kids I’ve ever encountered. Joke after joke after joke after joke lands on almost every page, and I realized that the book I was supposed to be working on would need a major punch up if I wanted to even come close to the sphere of what she’s doing here. What’s amazing too is that this is the story of a kid that has survived a school shooting. How the heck do you get any humor out of something that bleak? The magic of Bow, though, is that she not only manages it, she is one of the few people you could actually say makes you laugh and cry with their books. Some of you may be frowning at this write-up, noting that Bow is (as I like to say) “inconveniently Canadian”. And Canadians can’t win Newberys, right? Well hold on right there, little pardner. Turns out, if you were born in the States, and your book is released in America first, you’re a contender. And Ms. Bow checks all those little boxes (I looked into it for a reason). So buckle up, folks. This one’s going to make a break for the gold as well.
Sincerely Sicily by Tamika Burgess
Last but definitely not least we have another bout of realistic fiction (I’ll try to find some fantasy titles for the summer prediction edition of this list, I promise). I do believe that this is Tamika Burgess’s debut middle grade novel, and we all know how much committees like first timers (just look at the last Newbery winner if you don’t believe me). The storyline follows Sicily who has discovered that she’ll be going to a new middle school that is NOT the one the rest of her friends are attending. Worse, her grandma, whom she tends to adore, just said some seriously nasty things about Sicily’s braids. But one of the real focuses of the book is Sicily’s burgeoning connection to her Panamanian roots and her deep dive into her own identity. How can she be Panamanian-American and Black? I listened to the audiobook of this one and just found it royally enjoyable to follow. Will it win a Newbery something? With its serious subject matter and familial/school conflicts, I’d say it at least has a shot.
And that’s all she wrote, folks! What are you seeing this year (already) that you’d recommend that others read as well? Tell us here! I’d love to get more direction in what to read.
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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