After much consideration and contemplation, I have decided to deal with this year’s final predictions of the Newbery/Caldecott in a cynical manner that’s not too far off from how I chose my Oscar winners. Which is to say, rather than tote the names I want to win the big ALA Media Awards, I’m going to predict the books that probably will win the big awards. There’s a difference to be had there. I may love a book with all my heart, but unless I think it has a shootin’ chance at the award, no go. Of course, there’s a lot of crossover between books that I both like and think should win, but it’s not always a given.
I should mention, however, that more than any previous year when I’ve made these predictions, I could well be 100% wrong about every last one of these choices. Recently the New Jersey Association of School Librarians hosted me as one of their speakers at their annual conference. To them, I proposed the following theory about the last few award years. As I see it, Newbery/Caldecott winners sometimes are indicative of strange little internal trends. For example:
Newbery/Caldecott 2009: The Year of Playing It Safe. As if to scale back from the previous year’s strides, the Caldecott winner was the very classic looking The House of the Night (Wanda Gag tribute) and Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Which is a great title, but it didn’t cover any new ground or challenge us in much of any way.
Newbery/Caldecott 2010: The Year of the Givens. Had Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me NOT won the major awards, I think it is safe to say that blood would have been spilt on the carpeted floors of the Boston convention center.
Which, naturally brings us to the swing of the pendulum the other way . . .
Newbery/Caldecott 2011: The Year of the Wild Cards. I really do believe that our winners this year could be entirely out of the blue. 100% unknown, unpredicted, unforeseen. We’ve already gotten a hint of this when the Oakland Public Library Mock Newbery produced their own Newbery pick, Dark Emperor by Joyce Sidman. No coincidence that. There are a lot of great books out there, and a lot of differing opinions on which ones are the best.
So with that little caveat in my back pocket, here’s at least a tentative grasp on what I think has a shot at the big time.
Caldecott Award 2011:
City Dog / Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J. Muth – And may God have mercy on our souls. Can I confess something to you? I don’t actually want this to win, but as time has gone on I see that it may be inevitable. This is strange to me since I feel like both Mr. Mo and Mr. Muth are stronger individually than together. That, however, is a personal opinion. The masses, as it seems, have spoken and this book carries all the marks of a potential Award winner. There are silent two-page spreads. There’s “meaning”. There’s a dead frog. How could it not win?
Caldecott Honors 2011
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead – Because I think it would be awesome if each year someone with the last name “Stead” wins a major children’s literary award. I kid. Amos McGee is one of those special little books that grow on a soul. It’s a debut, so I don’t think they’d give Ms. Stead a proper award outright, but the buzz grew so carefully around this little title that I keep hearing its name called out as a Mock Caldecott winner. People really love what it has to offer, so while it may be a long shot, I think the Steads have a real crack at getting something shiny this year.
Bink and Gollie by Alison McGhee and Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Tony Fucile – Another bit of a wild card. The trick here is to determine whether or not the Caldecott committee curries the proper amount of respect for an artist that can capture great body language. If they write Mr. Fucile off as a mere animator-turned-illustrator then poor B&G is doomed. If, however, they recognize how difficult this book would have been for any other illustrator and how magnificently he’s turned this into a three-dimensional story with odd little elements here and there, it’ll get there. Somehow.
Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio – Though I do wonder if my own personal love of this book is blinding me to its chances. Could it really get an Honor? For a while there I was hoping it would get the gold proper, but time hasn’t been kind to the old Garbage Barge. Folks are forgetting about it. I fear its moment has passed, but even as I say that I BELIEVE in it. I think there’s something here worth noting and praising. By the way, for those of you concerned about the artist, Red Nose Studio is a single dude. Not an actual studio full of folks.
Wait. Why didn’t you include . . . ?
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska – Because it can’t win, my sweets. The illustrator is Canadian. I know. I was mad too.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse : See – The Quiet Book.
Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs – Well, Zelinsky’s a mad genius and remember that its predecessor (Swamp Angel) got itself a pretty little Caldecott Honor. That said, this book is going to suffer from being a sequel (See: Forge by Laurie Halse Andersen below for an explanation of why sequels are easy for award committees to disregard). It’s gorgeous, but I don’t think that this is its year.
Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat – Because if Adam Rex has taught me anything it’s that technical proficiency and amazing artwork will never get you the big awards if you put in some really funny postmodern humor as well. *sigh* I’d give my right incisor for this book to win something (it’s a very pretty incisor too) but the committees’ continual disregard of Rex has broken my spirit.
The Boys by Jeff Newman – Sadly, none of you guys fell for one this as hard and as fast as I did. I still maintain that this is one of the best little picture books of the year. Visual storytelling at its best. Alas, no one else is buzzing it, so I must give it up for lost. *sniffle*
Flora’s Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan – I wish! Mr. Phelan earned himself a pretty little Scott O’Dell Award last year (check out my prediction for this year’s, below) but he’s never gotten a Caldecott. Without a doubt this is his best chance yet, but unless we’ve a very special committee on our hands, I don’t think it’ll quite make it.
Art and Max by David Wiesner – There’s a first time for everything. In this case, I suspect this will be one of those rare instances where Mr. Wiesner doesn’t just write a book and a committee hands him a shiny award. I was really fond of it, but have you noticed that it’s gotten the cold shoulder in other quarters? Folks aren’t loving this the same way they’ve loved books like Tuesday or Flotsam. I can’t account for it. I can only report what I’ve seen. Pity.
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca – As the founding member of the Bloody, Give Brian Floca a Caldecott Already! fan club, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see this book get a Caldecott of some sort. Unfortunately, if they didn’t give Moonshot an award, what hope has a story about dance? Not that I think it’ll go home empty handed (See: Sibert Award below). I’d just like to see Floca’s nonfiction work appreciated a bit.
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Brian Collier – Where the heck is the buzz for this book? I dare say that this is Mr. Collier’s best work since Uptown, and yet it is faded into the mist. I’d wager that there are a fair number of folks who still don’t know what it is, in spite of its New York Times review. Very depressing. I would have loved to see this one get some real appreciation. Ah well.
Newbery Award 2011
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia – One of those lovely moments when the book I want to win and the book that I think will win are one and the same. It’s definitely got at least an Honor in the bag (knock on wood, knock on wood) but I think it has all the elements to go all the way to the gold. I’ve seen some really beautiful books this year, but none of them have ousted this one from my #1 slot. Let’s just hope I’m right about it.
Newbery Honors 2011
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis – I call this book the Feathers of 2010. And like Jacqueline Woodson’s Feathers, it’s difficult to lob a real complaint at The Dreamer. The most folks have been able to come up with is that the book may or may not be child-friendly. And since child-friendliness is not a real consideration when choosing your novel, the point is moot. The Dreamer is one of those sneaky books that stay in the running a long long time. Committee members will be able to drum up new arguments in its favor, merely by reading passages aloud. However, for all of that I believe it can only really get as high as “Honor”. Folks will really like it, but it won’t have the deep and abiding love that something like One Crazy Summer has to carry it onwards and upwards to victory.
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz – This is a tricky one. It’s by a debut author and it has managed to corral some pretty fabulous buzz. One would think an Honor would be in order. Mind you, if Heavy Medal’s argument that it might hit trouble if someone decides that the Grimm tales incorporated into the text don’t constitute original writing is correct then that might be enough to sink it early. I have faith that the committee will disregard these arguments and honor Gidwitz’s wordplay. Unless they dislike intrusive narrators, of course. Then he’s up a creek.
Keeper by Kathi Appelt – It’s gotten nice subdued buzz, just the right kind a book needs to get it some Honor status. Folks that were disturbed by The Underneath will find this book contains the same lovely language without the darker elements. The writing and storytelling are superb. I think it’s got a real shot, maybe even as a surprise Award winner proper. We’ll just have to see.
Wait. Why didn’t you include . . . ?
Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson – A book I adore and due to the fact that Chains was robbed, ROBBED I SEZ, of its own Newbery you’d think I’d be certain that Forge would make up for past sins. Alas, while sequels have definitely been known to earn the awards their predecessors missed receiving, it’s much more difficult for them. Particularly if they are historical fiction. I’d love to have Peter over at Collecting Children’s Books tell me (as he is the only person I know who could say for certain) how many Newbery Award and Honor books have gone to historical fiction sequels. And no, Criss Cross doesn’t count (I’m picky like that). In any case, I would love for this to win, but I have no faith in the committee.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine – The question here really is whether a divisive book can garner a major award. Mockingbird already has, thanks to the National Book Award, but that doesn’t affect the Newbery’s judgment. Consider too that The Underneath could also be called divisive a couple years ago, yet got both a National Book Award nomination and a Newbery Honor. That said, unless the vast majority of Newbery committee members have strong positive feelings towards this book, I could see it making the last rounds of consideration without actually getting an Honor. I may be wrong, but the quality of the writing here is very subjective and that may not work in Mockingbird‘s favor.
The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman – You’ll notice that I didn’t include much of any nonfiction in my predictions. If I did include one, it would be this book. The content and the author combine to make it the best chance nonfiction work for kids going this year Newberywise. That said, I’ve grown bitter in my old age. Nonfiction fares so terribly year after year. So while I hope that it gets an Honor, I’m afraid it may end up relegated to the Sibert pile (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz – I really thought this one had a serious chance earlier in the year, and I would still not be surprised if it garnered some love from the committee. If I had my way, every book Ms. Schlitz writes would have accolades lobbed at it regularly. In the case of this title, I think the committee will relegate it to the Light & Fluffy category and disregard it accordingly. Could a fairy book ever win a Newbery? Haven’t a clue. But if this one doesn’t win anything, then the answer is no.
The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt – Just a lovely book through and through. Great writing, great characters, great everything. The catch? It’s just not for kids. Teens, if anything. Adults, certainly. There are a fair number of books that are just too mature for the Newbery (A Conspiracy of Kings, The Cardturner, As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, etc.). Great books, each and every one, but titles that will probably get disregarded when considering the mean age of their ideal readership.
Countdown by Deborah Wiles – Ah. That sweet book. I really did enjoy it. Sadly I think the format sunk it early on. It relies on media, and the Newbery isn’t particularly keen on media sometimes. Their loss.
And now some other random awards that are fun to predict, just for the heckuvit.
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca – Though if it doesn’t you’ll hear my shriek of pain echo from New York across the nation.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Syd Montgomery – But that’s a big old “maybe”. I mean, it’s delightful. It even got the almost-impossible-to-attain six starred reviews. But will the committee think the subject matter is too fluffy? Hope not. I adore that book.
The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman – This one seems far more of a Sibert given. Deep subject matter. Great established author. Has a good chance, this one.
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin – Because once in a while they have to give it to someone other than Mo Willems just to keep things fair (We Are In a Book is a shoo-in, I think). Plus this was a really fun book. Great words, great art, great everything. My pick.
Departure Time by Truus Matti – I wish. I hope. I pray. I adore this book. And I worry that it just won’t get noticed at all.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus – Heck, ALA doesn’t even give out this one, but I have an inkling here. I’ve never been able to successfully predict an O’Dell, but they all have a certain kind of quality to them and by gum Preus fits the bill. I read this book and it screamed “O’DELL!!” to me. It could easily go to the aforementioned Water Seeker or something like The Dreamer, but I have hopes. The O’Dell sometimes likes to reward titles that haven’t gotten enough attention elsewhere. We’ll see. This would be my pick.