Newbery/Caldecott 2024: Final Prediction Edition
It seems so surreal. In less than a week we’ll know the winners of the American Library Associations Youth Media Awards (which you can watch here at 8 a.m. ET on Monday, January 22nd). Unlike other years, I won’t be watching them with you live online. Not because I’m worried about my own reactions (though I bet some of you remember my guppy-out-of-water expression with some of the winners last year) and more because with the time change I’m gonna be all kinds of sleepy.
Today I’m offering my final prediction edition of both the Newbery and the Caldecott. These are not the books that I am saying I want to win (though I do) but the books that I think will win. I may be completely off base with these, but I have noticed that the books that folks have been discussing this year as potential winners have … well … they’ve all been the same books. Honestly, it’s both rewarding and unnerving. Usually I see a wide range of titles. This year? Everybody seems to like the same stuff. Huh.
Let’s begin, shall we?
2024 Caldecott Predictions
What surprised me about this year was how few wild cards we got in the mix. The one exception, I’d say, is Jon Klassen’s The Skull. That funky little folktale is just sly enough and weird enough to possibly weasel its way onto either a Caldecott or Newbery list (though if it gets a Newbery I’m going to have to give that committee a round of donuts or something in thanks for being quite so out there in their selections).
Caldecott Award Winner
There Was a Party for Langston, King of Letters by Jason Reynolds, ill. Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey
On our recent Caldecott prediction episode of our podcast, my sister made it very clear to me that she disagrees with this decision (don’t worry her choice is below) and I can see her point of view. On a first glance, this doesn’t seem like a very distinctive title. The trick is to move beyond its seeming simplicity to the utterly complex mix of text and image at play. Now the obvious Caldecott prediction for 2024 is An American Story. And since committees cannot take into account previous winners, Kwame Alexander’s previous win can’t count against him. Even so, this little number has something particularly interesting at work. Not only is the art (made entirely with stamps) filled to the brim with cleverness, but there’s a joy to the story itself. This is a book about dancing! Laughter! Friendship! It acknowledges hardship but also celebrates by literally dancing on the ashes of Langston Hughes. I posit that we all had a sucky last few years. People are ready for a book of Black Joy to win a Caldecott Award. That’s my working theory, though there is something else to take into account when it comes to the Kwame/Dare Coulter title . . .
Caldecott Honor Winners
An American Story by Kwame Alexander, ill. Dare Coulter
Remember that in 2023 we saw, yet again, an unprecedented number of book challenges here in the United States. If the Caldecott committee realizes that not only is this one of the most visually stunning books of the year but ALSO that it’ll be a beautiful slap in the face to any book banner who wants to erase Black history from American history books, they might incline this way instead. To be frank, I’m aware that this book is probably the frontrunner. How could it not be? Dare Coulter’s utilizing so many different mediums, while also connected one book to another via the page turn. Ah, if only we could have two Award winners.
Big by Vashti Harrison
It’s funny, but it wasn’t until I was talking with colleagues recently that I remembered just how strong a contender Big is. Like Jumper (mentioned below) this is a book that not only has a gatefold but uses it to a greater purpose. Here, it doesn’t simply support the text but has an emotional component as well. I cannot stress enough how important it is for committees to feel emotionally connected to their winners. They’re not robots, and if they don’t feel personally invested in a book then it isn’t making it to the finish line. Big was helped considerably earlier this year when it garnered a National Book Award nomination. NBAs are terrible indicators of future ALA YMA winners, but this year their choices were strangely on the money. With this book, there are so many elements for a committee to discuss and pick apart, from the layouts to the use of color to the wordless passages to the message itself. Don’t count this one out. It has a fantastic chance.
Evergreen by Matthew Cordell
Generally speaking it’s usually a good idea to include one “classic” feeling picture book to your Honor predictions. This year, that’s definitely Matthew Cordell’s latest. It could also, I should mention, just as easily be Jon Klassen’s The Skull, but it must be one or the other. There is no universe in which they both honor. My money says that Klassen’s book will prove too divisive in the end (for some reason not everybody likes the awesome headless skull body chasing our heroine). As a result, we may see Cordell’s remarkable twist on Red Riding Hood tropes make a name for itself here. He’s also the only illustrator on my list today who has won a Caldecott in any way, shape, or form before. It would be nice to see him have a few more though, don’t you think?
Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider by Jessica Lanan
I’m still mad at myself for not reviewing this book this year. So this is our second gatefold title, but not only that, this is a book that has the GREATEST image under its book jacket. Seriously, I pity those of you who have only ever seen library copies of this book. If you get a chance, run to a decent bookstore (one that actually carries great books like this one) and slip the cover off. You’ll see what I mean. The aforementioned gatefold can be propped up so that you can see precisely how imprecisely a spider is able to see when you take into account 360 degrees. Like previous Caldecott winner Jason Chin, Lanan brings the precision of scientific accuracy to her storytelling. Her attention to macro details is unparalleled. Now this book may run into a small snafu if any of the Caldecott committee members “just don’t like spiders”. It happens. I’ve encountered this objection myself, and it doesn’t hold water when a book is as good as this one. I pray the Caldecott tamps down its arachnophobia and gives Lanan her just desserts at last.
Still with me? Then let’s do our part two with a consideration of . . .
2024 Newbery Predictions
I’m not gonna lie to you. A LOT of dogs died in children’s books this year. I’m no analyst but I suspect that says something about the state of the world today. Never fear though, folks. I don’t believe that there’s a single expired pupper on my own list here today. Now my Newbery predictions are always a bit limited by the fact that I HATE it when YA novels win Newberys. As such, I’m not mentioning a single one of them here today (sorry, Gather). There are instead quite a few graphic novels on my list (which is to say two) and some other books that I think are complete and utter shoo-ins. Books like . . .
Newbery Award Winner
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
Did you even doubt?
Here’s a fun fact for you. If Dan manages the almost impossible twofer of both a National Book Award win AND a Newbery Award win in the same year, he’ll be the first person to have done so since Louis Sachar did it with Holes back in 1998. I’ve been a big fan of this book from the start, and there are a number of reasons why I think Dan’s got a lock on the category this year. First off, this is a book that balances kid appeal and librarians-giving-out-book-awards appeal perfectly. There’s some serious Generation X nostalgia (never rule out the power of Gen X nostalgia). It has humor. It straddles the juv and YA line (the Newbery technically goes all the way to 14, a fact that drives me batty, but that does work in the favor of these more middle school-centric books). Plus, everyone likes it. That’s a rarity right there, wouldn’t you say?
Newbery Honor Winners
The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris
This may be the most unlikely of all my predictions here today. I haven’t heard a lot of folks cooing over this Eggers title, possibly because it came out so early in the year. It will take Newbery committee members that have a longing and love of language to push this one into becoming a serious contender. I almost feel like the fame of Eggers in other spheres works against him when it comes to the Newbery. Another point against it? It features talking animals. Certain types of librarian readers loathe talking animals. I can make little sense of it, but it’s something I’ve observed periodically over the years. Yet who can read this book and not think it remarkably accomplished? A beauty from start to finish and a magnificent readaloud. We’ll see.
The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh
If Dan Santat should be watching his back because of anyone then it should be because of Katherine Marsh. Marsh’s been around for years, and I had a lot of fun this year watching people read this book through. Each time they walked away utterly stunned with that “What just happened?” look on their faces. Marsh wins for technical prowess with this book since she’s weaving together three narrations and two different timelines. She has to put real history in here, keep it accurate, NOT make it sound like she’s giving the reader some exposition dumps, AND she has to make it kid friendly. And famines, for all that they exist, don’t tend to be common children’s book fare. With its additional ties to the COVID pandemic that we continue to live with today AND the current war in the Ukraine, the world “timely” comes to mind. Think of this as this year’s The War That Saved My Life and don’t be surprised if it gets a gold in the end.
Mexikid by Pedro Martín
I would have written this blog post a little quicker but I was too busy reading Pedro Martín’s Instagram page instead. Now if this book doesn’t at least get a Pura Belpre something this year I’m going to have seven different kinds of cat fits. As it stands, I truly do believe that Martín has indulged us with some of the finest writing for kids this year. The humor and history is amazing, sure, but that family dynamic is something else. There’s also the fact that the book manages to work in so many different elements page after page after page. The end result is thoroughly accomplished and (dare I say?) distinguished. Now I know that not everyone gets Martín’s humor. That’s okay. We can pity them from afar. For the rest of us, we know a truly great book when we see it. This is one of the titles I’ll be helplessly rooting for on Monday.
The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity by Nicholas Day, ill. Brett Helquist
I have a good feeling about this one. This is the kind of book that once you start reading it, you literally cannot stop. And if even ONE person on the Newbery committee reads it, I know they’ll do whatever they can to get others to do the same. And once you’ve a quorum of readers, it’s only a matter of time before they Honor the darn thing. Would I like it to get the Gold? Of course, but the last time that happened it was for Lincoln, a Photobiography. I’m a realist, readers. The chances of a straight up work of Nonfiction like this to win a Newbery Award is slim to none. It does have a very good chance to Honor, however. Please note that it also contains large sections near the end decrying fake news and people’s inclinations to believe what they want over what is true. It’ll Sibert, sure, but I want to see the Newbery give it its due too. Please?
Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow
You know, for much of the first half of the year I was pretty convinced that this book was our Newbery Award winner. I’ve been gratified since that time to see it get National Book Award honors and to show up on Mock Newbery after Mock Newbery after Mock Newbery. Now it’s a book that has a slight uphill battle, this I acknowledge. I’ve had librarians tell me that they don’t think Bow sufficiently balances the serious nature of Simon’s traumatic past (surviving a school shooting) with the humor. Personally, as with all humor, I think that p.o.v. is subjective. Bow did a brilliant balancing act, but it’s going to take a whole committee to agree. Let’s see if they do.
All right, folks. Grab your breakfast popcorn on Monday and let’s all see how I do with these. Because the wonderful thing about the Newbery and Caldecott awards is that NONE of these books might win! It’s anyone’s game. Let’s see what cream rises to the top. In the meantime, those of you who want more more more predictions can read some at Heavy Medal and some compiled by ALSC here.
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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