Newbery/Caldecott 2024: Fall Prediction Edition
Oh, we’re down to the wire now. By this point a lot of the review journals at least have received the last of the 2023 publications. I always feel particularly bad for books, specifically longer books, with October publication dates. Year end lists are pretty much submitting their selections right now, which means a lot of those delightful late-in-the-year releases won’t have even been read.
It also means that sites like Heavy Medals is roaring into gear. Be sure to check out their recent post First Impressions aren’t always right: or are they? Beginning of the year 2024 Mock Newbery Survey Results which will give you a clear as crystal sense of what titles people are discussing right now. You’ll see a lot of these books on there as well. Not all of them. But a goodly chunk, that’s for sure.
2024 Caldecott Predictions
An American Story by Kwame Alexander, ill. Dare Coulter
Nope. Not budging. I said from the moment I saw this book that it was the one to beat in the Caldecott race and I won’t be swayed from that position. Of course, since I initially said that, I’ve discovered that Dare Coulter also illustrated the rather remarkable Zora, the Story Keeper by Ebony Joy Wilkins, which I kind of insist you take a look at. The art in that book is inventive. The art in this book is jaw-dropping. So here is where I’m pushing in all my chips. The only question we should be asking is whether or not the Newbery committee is also looking at it with any seriousness.
Big by Vashti Harrison
Credit the National Book Awards for bringing this particular picture book to my serious attention (a sentence I have never in my life even come close to writing before since I often think of the NBAs as the All YA All the Time Awards). Of course I’d read Big earlier in the year and liked it very much, but Caldecott? Then it all sort of fell into place. The inventiveness of allowing the very design of the book to reflect significant moments in the story is both unique but also reminds me of a past Caldecott Honoree, Flora and the Flamingo. Indeed, this book feels like a complementary title to Flora in a variety of ways. I’ve liked Ms. Harrison’s work in the past but never felt like she’d ever had the right text. With its spare language and powerful storytelling, combined with art that forwards the telling in all the right ways, that changes so keep a close eye on this one. It’s not a book to be ignored.
Evergreen by Matthew Cordell
And it only took me eight months to work up a worthy review of it too! I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, but each Caldecott committee has a different tone and tenor, depending on who’s in its makeup. It would take a better librarian than I to look at who is serving this year to figure out the direction in which this particular committee will break. Are they keen on books with a “classic” feel? Will they find a balance and add this to the mix? Or will they feel that with Hot Dog‘s win last year (a book with a distinctive “classic-y” feel) that they want to go in a new direction for 2024? Only time will tell, but no one can deny that this is one of Cordell’s absolute best to date. It has everything! Beautiful art. A twist near the end. A friggin’ message. Plus it nails the ending. Perfect!
Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider by Jessica Lanan
Hrm. Apparently I still haven’t reviewed this one. Note to Self: Do that thing. Now I learned to my chagrin the other day that poor little Jumper here, for all that it’s one of the most stunning pieces of nonfiction picture book wizardry of 2023 (imagine if this AND Big win, both with their gatefold amazingness), it also has a serious handicap in this race. Mainly, some people don’t like spiders. Like, they are incredibly icked out by them. And if even ONE person on the Caldecott committee fears their furry little heads, that could be the end of old Jumper‘s chances at Caldecott glory. But it’s a smart committee this year. Even if someone has arachnophobia, how can they deny the cleverness and wizardry of Lanan’s work? One of the finest examples of science and nature nonfiction of the year, and a beaut to boot.
The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker
Do we ever give Caldecotts based on guts? No? Becker’s the guy who takes big swings when he creates a book for kids. I mean have you seen the man’s board books, for god’s sake? The fellow doesn’t know how to go small. He was ambitious when he created a massive three-part picture book visionary series with Journey, Quest, and Return. Now he’s gone all dystopian on us and the result is amazing. It can be hard writing wordless books, but this one gets it, while also referencing famous picture books of the past like, say, Anno’s Journey. Becker doesn’t appeal to everyone so, again, this will all depend on the makeup of the committee, but I’d say he has a strong chance, even this late in the year.
There Was a Party for Langston, King of Letters by Jason Reynolds, ill. Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey
Yeah. No. The more I think about it, the more I begin to believe that this might actually be our winner. There are a lot of factors going into this that are key. First off, the Pumphreys are due. They’ve been putting in the work, and their style is so unique and innovative (that’s illustration made with friggin’ STAMPS, people!). Next, they’ve been paired with authorial royalty in the form of Jason Reynolds. We don’t really have an EGOT of children’s literature, but if we did, writing a Caldecott Award-winning picture book would be one of the letters (since he already has a Newbery and has served as National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature). Now look at the content. Nonfiction (extra points there for difficulty) but it plays fair and is based on a little known but awesome true story. It works in a lot of issues that are currently on everyone’s mind. And finally (this is so key) it’s overflowing in joy. Joy and dancing and fun, while also tipping its hat to difficult times, but not in a dismissive way. Mmm. Yeah. Might have to change my vote from An American Story to this for the gold. The time is right.
Tomfoolery: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-of-Age of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, ill. Barbara McClintock
Am I cheeky? Very well then. I am cheeky. A book about Caldecott winning a Caldecott. I mean, stranger things have happened. I know I just said that the Pumphreys are due, but if we want to say someone is DUE due, that would be Barbara McClintock. Without so much as an Honor to her name she has been so consistently passed over for Caldecotts over the years that you can only chalk it up to Capable Artist Syndrome (or CAS). This is what happens when you are really good at illustration but you’ve been in the business so long that people just take your inherent skills for granted (paging, Jan Brett). It’s what keeps hugely talented folks from ever winning. Even so, I just think her skills are on fire in this book. Markel’s laying down one of the best biographical texts of the year (I mean, seriously, how do you make Caldecott sound interesting?) and McClintock is doing all these clever things with incorporating Caldecott’s own art into the design. Of course that raises its own question: Does putting his art in the book disqualify the book? Because you’d have to be pretty dead to irony not to find it funny if Randolph Caldecott’s own art disqualified a book from winning a Caldecott.
2024 Newbery Predictions
Eb & Flow by Kelly J. Baptist
I love coming to a book a little late in the year, only to discover how smart and clever it is. So there’s been a rash of middle grade novels out in 2023 where the story begins with a character (or, in this case, characters) getting suspended. In this case the point of view vacillates between the two kids who got in a fight: Eb and Flow. Eb (short for Ebony) has a lot going on in her life, but does NOT like Flow. Maybe that’s why she purposefully dumped barbecue sauce on his shoes. The shoes his dad left him before deploying. And Flow is no innocent here. He reacted violently and there is no end to the people in his life telling him that that was a dead wrong move. Baptist has to juggle about thirty balls in the air, making you sympathize with both, get mad at both, and just generally understand how hard it is to understand another person when everyone’s life is so danged complicated. Plus there’s a moment near the end that just took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, so watch out for that.
The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris
All eyes on this sneaky pete. I think the marketing team of this book probably didn’t do themselves any favors when they kept touting it as a modern day classic. I’ve read too many publicity sheets in my day to fall for that old chestnut. Never mind that it’s true. I’ve probably also mentioned too many times the fact that I’ve a love/hate relationship with Eggers’ children’s books. I adore Her Right Foot. Everything else? I could take or leave it, but somehow, maybe through the input of his students at 826, this works. Again, it’s taking a big swing, but the end result is remarkable. If you happen to love it as much as I do, check out the solid wood cover that McSweeney’s made for it. A surprisingly strong contender.
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
Boy, when a publisher decides to put their back into promoting a book it is really something to watch. Kind of a relief that Santat’s graphic memoir about visiting Europe as a middle schooler deserves the attention. Can you imagine how intolerable it would be if it didn’t? This one came out early in the year and swiped a good chunk of people’s attention from the get-go. It’s a marvelous combination of nostalgia and downright adventure (getting chased by punks on a bicycle should now be standard for all Newbery contenders). You know what I’d like to see? Dan’s Newbery acceptance speech. I bet it would be something to hear. Dibs on a good Newbery/Caldecott Banquet table to watch it!!
The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh
Well, hello there, book I read far too late in the year! You know, they sent me this way back in January but it wasn’t until a co-worker of mine recommended the audiobook that I decided to give it a shot. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing, but don’t just take my work for it. On Heavy Medals Steven Engelfried said of this book, “THE LOST YEAR should be an interesting discussion. Similar in some ways to last year’s MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE, which won a Newbery Honor. Both balance those two plot threads, with a modern child learning about their family’s past.” It’s that balance that makes the book as strong as it is. I guess that the early days of the pandemic are already historical fiction at this point, but what’s so interesting is that it’s a moment of history that the kids reading this book will actually be able to remember for themselves. Meanwhile you’ve two other historical storylines, one in Ukraine and one in Brooklyn, and a mystery threaded throughout. Somehow Marsh keeps everything afloat, culminating in a very satisfying ending. Glad I found out about this one before it was too late!
The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri
I reviewed this book in February of this year, but this is the first time I’m putting it on this particular list. Why? Well m’dears, I’ve been listening to what other people are telling me. And what I’m hearing is that there are a bunch of books out in 2023 that are getting away with a LOT of stuff on their pages, because they can. In an era where the book banners are better organized than ever before, some authors appear to be responding by pushing the envelope as far as that envelope can stretch. This book has a fighting chance at the Newbery, because it takes serious risks on the page. Granted, there are some religious discussions on its pages that may have kids racing for their online dictionaries, but once the assassinations start happening then the plot really kicks into high gear! Of all the books you read this year, I can guarantee that this is the only one you’ll read and say, “I have NEVER read a book like that for kids before!” True story.
Mexikid by Pedro Martín
And here’s my other little rule breaker! You know, of all the books not to get a National Book Award nominee mention, this is the one I was most disappointed not to see. Pedro Martín appears to be this incredible content provider. He’s so prolific in his comics that only a handful of them made it into this book. Don’t believe me? Then check out his Instagram page sometime. There you’ll find Mexikid story after Mexikid story and all of them hilarious and gripping! I can only pray that this book becomes such a huge hit that it gains a large following and Pedro’s publisher begs him for more of the same. The New York Times review that recently came out could help. You know what else would? A Newbery!
The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day, ill. Brett Helquist
A September release of a book isn’t as bad as an October release award-wise, but lord it ain’t great. I’ve done whatever I can to get people to read this book, and I hope it’s working. You know, on the Heavy Medals post I alluded to earlier there was a graph showing what nonfiction people have liked the most this year. I’ll now confess to you that I’ve a personal dislike of YA titles winning Newberys. I just don’t care for it. Technically the Newbery goes to 14 but I’ve always felt that relates to early middle school books and not high school ones. Now the nonfiction that got the most votes was Steve Sheinkin, whom I adore, and his book Impossible Escape. Which is fine, except it’s YA. This book, on the other hands, is straight up middle grade (and got quite a few votes of its own, I’ll tell you). It’s absolutely hilarious but it’s the writing itself that impresses. Day is orchestrating the different elements of the story and also saying a lot about the times in which we live in terms of trusting facts over instincts. We desperately need more books like this one on our shelves.
My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, ill. Andrea Tsurumi
It’s been very gratifying seeing this book show up on the Heavy Medals blog as often as it has! I was desperately afraid that because it was a lot of hilarious poetry, maybe people wouldn’t take it seriously. But if anyone gives it even a cursory glance, I think it becomes clear early on that this is sophisticated literary wizardry the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Now when poetry wins Newberys it tends to be kind of meaningful. You know. Verse novels and poems for two voices types of stuff. Wrack your brain for a moment and please inform me of the last time a funny poetry book won a Newbery anything. No no, take your time. I’ll just sit over here in the corner.
. . . dum de dum . . .
. . . twiddle dee-dee…
. . . . ho-hum . . .
Did you figure it out? Did you realize it’s never happened? I’m not talking droll poetry but laugh-out-loud stuff. Because if they weren’t handing awards to Shel Silverstein then it wasn’t going to happen, but now NOW the Newbery committee has a chance to make hilarious history! Sure hope they’ve the inclination.
Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow
Folks, I’ll level with you. Remember when I mentioned this book way back in March in my Spring Prediction Post? I need to confess something. I thought that this book was so perfectly calibrated to my own particular sense of humor that there was no way in the world that anyone else would agree with me that it had award winning potential. Now here we are in the third quarter of the year and not only has it been cropping up consistently as everyone’s #1 Newbery pick but it just got an National Book Award longlist nomination to boot. Apparently, in spite of the fact that this is clearly A Betsy Book, it is also, inexplicably, an Everybody Else Book too. Remarkable.
The Song of Us by Kate Fussner
Here’s the mystery behind this book: I’m not sure how I discovered it. Maybe because it was being mentioned on Heavy Medals. Maybe it was someone at work on my library’s 101 Great Books for Kids committee, who thought it delightful. Maybe I read a review. Honestly, I have no idea, but in the end this is a surprising inclusion for me. I’m not a huge fan of verse novels (Eb & Flow notwithstanding) and this is one of those books where two characters lock eyes and BOTH fall instantly in love with one another. Meh. Yet the verse is strong, the characters make sense, and the poetry within the book? Some of the best that I’ve read in a very very long time. Here, I’ve a job for you. Find this book and read one of the first poems that the character of Olivia writes at the beginning. Then decide if you want to read more. Honestly, this is shockingly great.
Committees, I do not envy you your job this year. And for those of you reading at home, what have I missed? What’s an egregious lack on this list? What would you like to see featured here? Where have I strayed? What did I get wrong? Would love to hear some alternative opinions. Thanks!
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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