Smell that? That’s the sweet scent of an upcoming award season. It’s already beginning to drift our way from the future. Things are clearly heating up since we’re seeing two award-based blogs up and running. For Newbery fans Heavy Medal has already come out of the gate swinging. Between the inevitable comparison between Okay for Now and Dead End in Norvelt to a discussion of how to consider Wonderstruck (more on that in a second) and Jonathan Hunt’s plea for a little editing regarding 300+ paged books (there are a couple I’ve read this year that could have used a machete) there’s a lot to chew on already.
On the Caldecott side is Calling Caldecott, Horn Book Magazine‘s answer to the Caldecott void. Not much is up and running there yet, but stay tuned. More is on the way.
For my part, it’s time for the third in our four part prediction series. If you’ll recall, back in the spring my heart was captured by the newest Penderwicks and The Secret River. Mid-year came along and suddenly I was making eyes at Tony Abbott and Philip Stead. Now fall has arrived and it’s time to cool things down a bit. The big contenders are separating themselves out. Things are in motion. Favorites are garnering fans. And me? I just figured out this year’s theme.
See, every year I like to apply a big generalized stamp on the Newbery/Caldecott year. I throw titles at them like “Wild Card Year” or “Breaking Boundaries Year”. Technically, according to my formula, this year should be another Breaking Boundaries year, but I’ve decided to give it a different name. After looking at the contenders I’m calling 2012 The Year of the Bridesmaids. Which is to say, I could easily see the gold going to two fellers (Gary D. Schmidt and Kadir Nelson) who have always won Honors but never the medals outright. But let’s just see what I think of some of the upcoming contenders:
2012 Newbery Predictions
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Still the one to beat. After the initial lovefest a small backlash arose from people complaining about two major parts of the novel: The Broadway elements (or maybe just the New Yorkers have complained about that) and the dad’s seeming suddenly-I-love-purdy-flowers turnaround. Personally, I think these elements will give the Newbery committee a lot of stuff to chew on, but books that do well in Newbery voting are the ones with heart. And Schmidt really does get the reader emotionally involved. Will that be enough to push it over the top? I’d have thought so, but then I read the one book this year that may have what it takes to give Doug Swieteck a run for his money. A little number I like to call . . .
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – And suddenly everything’s up in the air! Surprisingly few folks have read this one at this point in time, which is surprising considering that it’s out this month. Still, those I’ve spoken to who have read it have been wowed. Seriously wowed. In terms of an emotional punch, the ending of the book socks you right in the gut. I’m looking forward to hearing some debates about this one. Surely there will be objections to it, and I want to know what those will be. Because frankly, at this point, I’m sort of gaga over it.
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming – And then there’s this little number. Nonfiction always gets the short end of the stick when the Newbery season comes around. Still, this book has a couple advantages. It’s infinitely readable and interesting, it introduces you to aspects of Amelia’s life you won’t find in any other bio for kids (the whole self-promotion detail), and it (this keeps coming up) packs an emotional punch. According to her bio on the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival website, “Candace Fleming awarded herself the Newbery Medal in fifth grade after scraping the gold sticker off the class copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond and pasting it onto her first novel—a ten page, ten-chapter mystery called Who Done It?“ Which may be the best thing I’ve ever read. Candace, you can put that in your Newbery acceptance speech someday.
Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor – Surprise! Here’s a fresh new face for my listy list (pay me cold hard cash and I will promise never to use the term “listy list” ever again). This one comes after a query from my pal and co-writer Peter Sieruta. According to him it has a kind of Newbery feel to it, and I can see where he’s coming from. It’s a thoughtful one and it has all the requisite elements. Orphans. Surprise fathers. A scrappy granddad. I’m not sure it’ll quite make it to the finish line, but it may at least get some good discussions rolling in Mock Newbery talks across the country.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (not to be confused with Newbery Honor winning book The (Mostly) True Adventures of Homer P. Figg) – I keep this one here though I know it remains a dark horse candidate. Personally, I think it can do no wrong. I have heard complaints about it, but they’ve struck me as pretty minor (example: Jack lies at the beginning of the book but later says he never lies). To my mind the plot was tight, the writing excellent, and the story truly compelling. Plus it’s different from every other fantasy out there. And that includes . . .
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – Its darkness could hurt it in the long run and it chooses to end with a quiet ending rather than (you guessed it) an emotional punch. Still, the writing is extraordinary and who can resist the incorporation of so many Andersenian elements? I would not be surprised if this book did a sneaky creep towards the gold when folks were looking the other way. Then again I said the same thing about A Tale Dark and Grimm and look where that got me.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – I’m about to read this one but sources I trust (read: Monica) have informed me that it is utterly worthy and entirely breathtaking. So I’ll give it a go. Some debate arose over whether or not Ness is even eligible for a Newbery, but apparently he is. Ho ho! Off to give it a looksee then . . .
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm – Ignore the pink bra strap on the cover! Ignore it, I say! Boy, you’d think that with a book of this caliber and Holm’s batting average (three Newbery Honors to her name) they would have done better than to slap a stock photo on this book (we know it’s a stock photo because it nearly ended up on Egmont’s A & L Do Summer). Once I stuffed its jacket in my refrigerator’s crisper I discovered that this book not only stands on its own (technically it’s a sequel) but it’s also hugely gutsy. Holm dares to make her trusted adult figures not just wrong but criminally so. The sheer amounts of unfairness in this story just ripple off the pages. Emotional punch? It’s got that and a couple slaps besides. And you know . . . if this is truly The Year of the Bridesmaids then maybe Holm’s the one who’s going to get the gold after all . . .
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – I maintain that you can’t discount Lai. A debut author, this is one of the rare contenders that can be read by kids on the younger end of the scale. Folks who read my prediction lists are pretty aware that I’ve a bias against any and all Newbery eligible YA, so I always hope for younger fare. This could do it. And speaking of younger . . .
Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon – A picture book! Well, why not? It happened to Jackie Woodson and it could happen to Patricia McKissack. The topic’s stellar, of course, but the writing is on another level. If I were to hold up one picture book for serious consideration, this would have my vote. Even if you take all the pictures away, it stands entirely on its own. Just sayin’.
And possibly . . . The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Lunch-Box Dream, Small Persons With Wings, and Dead End in Norvelt. That said, I’m wavering on these. I love them dearly, I do, but there’s something about each one that may sink it sooner rather than later. Dunno. I have been known to be wrong.
2012 Caldecott Predictions
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson – Oh. Did you think that when I mentioned earlier that Kadir might win it all that I was referring to his Joe Louis book A Nation’s Hope? No, I thought that a season ago but a number of folks I trust convinced me that the text of that title would probably sink even its Caldecott chances. Heart and Soul on the other hand might do just fine. I am having a devil of a time getting my hands on a copy (Harper Collins must be hoarding them since there’s not a single review of it on Goodreads as of this posting) so I don’t know for sure yet, but from what I understand it avoids the problems that dogged We Are the Ship and kept it from Caldecott glory. We all know that Kadir deserves to win one of these days, but he keeps getting bogged down by his authors. Perhaps if he is entirely on his own then . . .
All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino – This one has been fascinating to watch. The buzz started early in the year and I wondered if it might ebb away by this point. Instead I’m hearing its name mentioned more and more. Yaccarino has never won a Caldecott in any form, in spite of his fabulous style. This book might be the one that has enough of that personal family connection to distinguish him from the pack at long last.
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka – I hate to say it but I’m almost convinced that this book’s Honor is a sure thing. I’ve seen grown women practically cry over this book. Me? I’m unaffected but that’s more because I’m not a dog book lover. I can appreciate, though, the artistry Raschka’s poured into this one. If it does anything well, it’s emotion. Canine emotion, but emotion just the same.
Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon – Sometimes I entertain the fantasy of a book winning both the Newbery and the Caldecott at the same time (the only time we came close in recent memory was A Visit to William Blake’s Inn back when I was four). In any case, the Dillons already have Caldecotts to their names, but it’s been a while since they had any serious entries. Earlier this year I thought The Secret River, also illustrated by the Dillons, might have a shot. Now I see that of the two Dillon titles, this is the stronger piece. The only question is, how strong?
Perfect Square by Michael C. Hall – I still love it, but it’s been around since the beginning of the year. Can such early publication hurt a book’s chances at the end? Supposedly not, but one can’t help but wonder . . .
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg – I still love this book, dammit! I want it to win something! And not just a Sibert either. My fear is that much like its subject, the book will be passed over for fare that doesn’t star an elderly woman. Here’s hoping just the same.
Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes – This is one of those beauties that automatically gets to be in the running by pedigree alone. And it truly is a lovely book. Krommes has The House in the Night to her name Caldecott-wise and Sidman’s good luck for her artists (just look at Song of the Water Boatman if you disagree). Together they could potentially take it all home. Potentially . . .
Then there are the other books like Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green or Paterson/Dalton’s Brother Sun Sister Moon. These are books with potential but I’m just not feeling the love for them. Smith’s is being discussed at Calling Caldecott, and for me the book feels like nothing so much as Drummer Hoff. Still… I dunno. Emotional punch? Not there for me. Meanwhile Blue Chicken, Me…Jane, Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat could do well but I’m not sure that they’ll get to the finish line.
And finally . . .
What the Heck Do We Do About Wonderstruck?
Because that’s the million dollar question floating around today.
Back when Hugo Cabret was released there wasn’t much serious talk about its Newbery chances. If we’re being honest there weren’t a lot of people proposing it for the Caldecott either before it swooped in and won the gold. Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick’s newest book, is different. We already know that there’s Caldecott potential there since he did it before. What surprises me is that the book is being seriously debated in terms of the Newbery!
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Selznick outdoes himself with the writing in this book, making a product significantly stronger than Cabret. Over at Heavy Medal the debate has raged on. I was willing to discount the book as a Newbery winner as recently as yesterday. But then I read Nina Lindsay’s thoughts on the matter.
“With other examples of illustrated contenders for the Newbery, the ‘trick’ for considering them is to cover up the illustrations so that one can focus solely on the worded text. That doesn’t quite work here, because the worded text doesn’t tell the whole story. Must it, under the Newbery criteria? I don’t see where the criteria call for that.”
She doesn’t? I had assumed that it was there. Jonathan Hunt put it another way:
“I don’t see anywhere in the Newbery criteria where it states that the text and the text alone must convey the entire story. What they do say, however, is that if we give recognition to WONDERSTRUCK it must be for the text, and that in order to do that there must be distinguished features in the text . . . I’d also like to say that when we cover and/or ignore illustrations, it’s not to pretend as if they do not exist, nor to demand that the story make sense without them, but rather to gauge how we respond to the text without their presence.”
So there’s apparently Newbery potential here, if you’re willing to consider it in that light. Now what about a Caldecott? After all, the book’s pictures here are different than those in Cabret. Or, to put it another way, over at Calling Caldecott Roger Sutton said:
“… I wonder (heh) if Wonderstruck is as eligible as Hugo. The words and pictures interact very differently in Wonderstruck than they do in Hugo. I hope Lolly and Robin take this on.”
I tell you, you guys have informed my reading for the coming year. I apparently need to get my hands on With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo and Joanne Rocklin’s One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street before my final prediction list.
So what have I missed?