When you consider the fact that whole hoards of librarians will be traipsing Texas-ward this week so as to attend the Midwinter American Library Association Conference, this post is pretty much coming in at the last possible moment. Even as we speak committee members are girding their loins (or whatever it is committee members gird) in preparation for the debates. Oh, the debates! They will have to keep their wits about them. They’ll need to prepare. To make sure they’ve considered every possible sling against the books they adore, and to conjure up a few slings 0f their own against the ones they abhor.
But not me. Nope. Here in my ivory tower (slash marble edifice) I am content to just throw out a couple names here and there based entirely on my own opinion and the opinions of the countless librarians I’ve watched closely throughout the year. I’ve peeked at the various Goodreads lists (you can find different Newbery lists here, here, here, here and a Caldecott one here), checked out blogs like Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott. I’ve also watched various Mock Newbery and Mock Caldecott decisions from around this great nation. The result?
Well, last year I explained that 2011 would be The Year of the Wild Cards. That was my not-so-subtle method of covering my butt when I got my predictions wrong (and, for the record, paved the way nicely for Moon Over Manifest to get the gold). When it came to my predictions themselves, I did mention A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, but I said that Dave the Potter wouldn’t get anything because it had been forgotten by the masses. Silly me. On the Newbery side I mentioned One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (though I said it would get the gold) and entirely failed to even mention any of the Honors. So as you can see, my predictions are entirely haphazard.
With that in mind . . . here’s how I see 2012’s winners shaping up:
And the gold goes to . . .
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming – The more I think about it, the more sense this makes. Now this isn’t a surefire thing by any means. A nonfiction book hasn’t won a Newbery Medal proper since Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman way back in 1988. In the intervening twenty-four years some stellar top-notch informational fare has garnered Honor after Honor, but the gold itself has proved elusive. Now do you remember last year when I said that Newberys and Caldecotts sometimes follow specific patterns? The pattern goes: The Year of Breaking Barriers followed by The Year of Playing It Safe followed by The Year of the Givens followed by The Year of the Wild Cards. I’m not saying I necessarily believe these words myself even (committees are always different and don’t exactly plan on “playing it safe” or choosing a “wild card” when they join on). But if I’m going to play devil’s advocate, let’s say I believe it. Using my own logic, a nonfiction award winner would break down old barriers hither and yon. It would give the nonfiction authors of children’s books hope. It could pave the way for publishers to put out more and more great fact-based texts for kids. Maybe it would inspire the Barnes and Nobles of the world to give their nonfiction sections some front and center attention!
As for the book itself, my opinions on it are well documented. Here’s what I’ve really noticed about it, though. When folks discuss the best books of the year, darned if they can come up with anything to say about this book that isn’t shining and positive. Even the folks at Heavy Medal were hard pressed to find objections (the best they came up with: Uh . . . the sidebars are kinda distracting?). But would that normally be enough to give it the gold right there? Not really, but in this year there are some peculiarities that I think will yield it as the winner.
And don’t think I haven’t noticed that if this book wins it’ll give Random House a third consecutive gold three years running. The thought occurred.
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – In my last prediction selection for 2012 I wondered if this year would be The Year of the Bridesmaids. Which is to say, folks who normally get Honors might actually take home the gold proper. I thought Schmidt had a clear shot early in the year. Then I served on a committee or two myself and saw what happens when folks discuss this book. Things get heated. Things get divided. Things get confusing, and it’s all because of that darned ending.
Look. I’ll level with you. Gary has a very good chance of getting the gold this time around. Personally, I enjoyed this book even more than his last Honor, The Wednesday Wars. But when it comes to Newbery Award winning books, envision the following situation: It’s 2 a.m. The committee members have been going back and forth about the books for hours upon hours. They’re exhausted. They’ll do anything to get a clear cut winner. So what happens? They find anything that will sink a book down to Honor level, anything at all, and use that problem to separate it from the pack. That’s where Okay for Now suffers. It has an ending that I’m sure at least one committee member, and probably more, will dislike. When that father started discussing how pretty the flowers were, that was the moment when the book officially shot itself in the foot. I hope that I’m wrong, but my deep and abiding suspicion is that once again Mr. Schmidt will find himself getting a phone call that makes him happy but not ecstatic. Speaking of which . . .
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm – Here we have a woman who has honor upon honor to her name but no goldy gold. Man what I wouldn’t give for them to hand her the real thing for once. In this particular case she’s written a book that has more guts than 90% of the stuff published for kids today. I also am enjoying the idea of two books with the name “Amelia” in their titles getting medals. If we rope in Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia series and the Amelia’s Notebook books by Marissa Moss we could have a fantastic Amelia-based reading list, don’t you think? In any case, in spite of its cover (a new paperback jacket is on the horizon!!) this deserves all the love the committee has to spare. The only reason it won’t win is that folks will probably bring up the fact that the number of bad things that happen to Amelia’s family move this book from merely implausible to downright bizarre.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear the name of this book bandied about these days. In the end, I don’t know that it’ll be an Honor. Historical fiction often comes down to personal taste more than anything else and the heat and heart that keeps the public’s love for Okay for Now blazing may not be the same heat and heart that proposes this for the gold. At the very least, I do hope that they committee considers it for an honor.
Wait! Why the heck didn’t you mention . . .
Icefall by Matthew Kirby – I love it too so put down your snowballs. But he’s not quite there yet, folks. I admit that Mr. Kirby’s writing is gaining the high ground and that soon he may have to reinforce his bookshelves so that they may hold the countless honors and awards he’s liable to stack there. That said, Icefall is great but can it call itself one of the most distinguished of the year? Maybe yes. Maybe no. It won’t really surprise me if it gets an honor, but my gut feeling is that this is not yet Mr. Kirby’s year.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Which could turn out to be the surprise dark horse in this race. Its National Book Award win was a good example of how well it stands up when it comes to committee discussions. However, when was the last time a National Book Award title won a Newbery gold? It’s been a while. Somehow I suspect this will end up on the outs when the day is done.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – There are too many factors working against this poor little book. If the question of whether Ness can even be considered doesn’t sink it then the age level might. There might be the occasional committee member who believes it’s above the 14-year-old age limit. I personally adore it, but I can see it getting sunk and sunk good.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick – I know that Heavy Medal had an extended conversation about whether or not a book that tells itself partly in pictures is able to win a Newbery. Ultimately this is a question for the committee itself and my suspicion is that they’ll ere on the side of caution. It would be fitting for my Year of Breaking Barriers to end much as the last one did: With a Selznick win. However, even when Hugo Cabret took home gold it was Caldecott gold. Not quite the same thing as Newbery gold, you can be sure.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – *sigh* I want it to win but my heart was broken by A Tale Dark & Grimm not getting a mention and I fear Ursu is in the same little boat that Gidwitz was. This suffers from being a bit of a divisive book, never good when you’re dealing with committee talks. Then again, The Underneath was divisive and look how well that did.
And now for your viewing pleasure, we shall do the same darn thing with the . . .
Heart and Soul: The Story of American and African Americans by Kadir Nelson – Imagine a year in which a nonfiction title won both the Newbery and the Caldecott. Whatta scoop! The Caldecott fares better than the Newbery when you consider when such a book last won the gold. If we don’t count 2004’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (which, though a true story, is often cataloged in the fiction picture book section) then we go back to 2001’s So You Want to be President? Coincidentally that book was recently re-illustrated with new text to correct the now outdated portion that discusses how no one who isn’t male and white has ever held the post. It was updated to show Barack Obama striding into a room. And now we have Kadir Nelson’s book which mentions that very thing at its end.
Nelson is part of the reason I initially labeled this a Year of the Bridesmaids. He gets an Honor every once in a while but never the proper gold. Some folks thought he was a shoo-in the year We Are the Ship was released, but my theory as to why that book was never honored had to do with the interaction between text and image. Often the pictures did not correspond in the least to the story going on. Harper Collins, the publisher of Heart and Soul, may have been aware of this since his latest book takes care to reflect images that have a connection to the text. Are they imperative to the writing itself? That’s the committee’s call (and could potentially sink it in the end). Not quite a picture book, not quite fiction, not quite nonfiction, this is a “not quite” book that may earn itself quite an award.
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka – This is my I-have-no-opinion book of the year. There’s always one. This one has seriously touched some people, and not just dog lovers either. Raschka’s books fluctuate between being arty and kid-friendly. This is far more of the latter, but has enough of the former to give it some serious consideration.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith – Adults think it’s heavenly. Indeed, this could even be a shoo-in for the gold itself. Smith’s trouble the last few years has been connecting with kids. Adults go goofy for his work and indeed he began his career by straddling the line between adult humor and kid-friendliness. This book about an old man’s life has cool imagery which may indeed nab the interest of child readers, but will the story be one they want to read again and again? Whether kids like the book is not an official consideration of the Caldecott committee, but it may at least be in the very back of their minds relegating this to honor status.
All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino – Memoirs always fare pretty well when it comes to this award and Yaccarino is long overdue for some shiny medals. He may have struck gold with this clever family story, doling out equal parts heart and humor. I would not be at all surprised if the committee recognized this for that very reason.
Wait! Why the heck didn’t you mention . . .
Perfect Square by Michael C. Hall – I’m torn (no pun intended . . . well, maybe a little intended). On the surface it appears to have the word “Caldecott” glowing from every page. There’s just something about it that gives me pause. I’m hard pressed to say precisely what that is.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – You could argue that if I’m calling this a year of breaking barriers, Klassen’s book would certainly do that if it won. That said, it would take a very daring committee to give Klassen his due. It’s not impossible. It’s just highly unlikely.
Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon – It was brought to my attention that the tribes mentioned in the book may have been portrayed as historically inaccurate. There is also the problem of showing white slavers going into Africa to fetch slaves, a problematic image since apparently that didn’t happen. I don’t have any of the history on hand to consult, but the nature of these questions may be enough to show that the committee will have to deal with them and will probably in the end decide that the book isn’t strong enough to fight these concerns.
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg – Because when push comes to shove, little old lady adventurers suffer the same prejudices today as they did when Annie went over that waterfall. She deserves ever honor in the book. She won’t get a jot.
There are, naturally, other books out there that will come up. These are just the ones that come to my mind immediately. Come next Monday we’ll see for ourselves what we shall see.