For the final prediction edition of the 2013 Newbery/Caldecott Awards be sure to see my latest post here.
If we feel like getting technical about it the mid-year point really would have been around the time of the last ALA Conference. Alas, I’ve put it off until now. No longer! With my ear planted firmly to the ground I’ve been snuffling about (weirdo mixed metaphor alert), talking to folks, trying to get a sense of where the buzz lies. Buzz is a pitch poor method of predicting this award, but it’s all we’ve got, guys. It’s all we’ve got.
On to the maybes!!!
Let’s break this up in a new way, this time around. Usually I just like to list the names and the books and leave it at that. But a wave of creativity has crested over me and what the hey. Let’s go with the flow. It is summer, after all.
In my last prediction post I listed five books with real potential. Of those titles, only two came out in the spring. The first of these, and the one that folks mention the most often, was of course, Wonder. Usually when a book of this caliber gets this much attention early in a year (heck, it even appeared on my Top 100 Chapter Books Poll at #65) then there’s a backlash to contend with. In this particular case, Wonder hasn’t had to deal with the kind of scrutiny a book like Okay for Now had to suffer. That said, before he died Peter Sieruta came up with a list of questions that we need to seriously ask before we just hand a Newbery over to Wonder, no holds barred. Still, even after we consider that list, nothing has quite toppled Wonder from its throne . . . and yet . . .
The other spring release I mentioned was The One and Only Ivan. Sadly, Ivan’s not getting the support needed for a true Newbery break for the gold. Early good word sustained it for a while, but the buzz has at the moment died down significantly. Seems that there are other books out there from the spring getting more attention. Books like . . .
Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. I’m woefully behind in my reviews or I would have tackled this one already. Regardless, this book’s really remarkable from start to finish. I like to hold up the cover and then pronounce, “It’s about two girls who bury a corpse in their backyard. It’s Shallow Grave for kids”, which is a kickin’ description, if not entirely accurate. I mean, the burying the dead body part is true. But the tone is far less Shallow Grave (or Heavenly Creatures maybe) than Great Gilly Hopkins. Pennypacker takes some dark subject matter and makes it heartfelt. She also proves that she can move beyond the picture books and early chapter fare that made her name (and what a fun name it is to say) over the years.
Another spring release with a bit of buzz is Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. You know, at some point here I’m going to take a look at who is on the Newbery committee to assess its tenor. Tenor assessment is key when making these predictions (Fun Fact: It also doesn’t work AT ALL). You want to figure out what kind of personality your committee has. Is it a cheeky committee? A traditional one? In the case of my favorite 2012 mystery, I’m afraid Turnage’s book, for all its brilliance, is divisive. Divisive books have gotten Honors in the past (The Underneath, for example) so it remains to be seen whether or not the committee goes for it or not. Gleep!
Late Breaking Nabbers
Now I mentioned three little books in my last edition and by gum I’m going to mention them again because as far as I can tell the buzz on these has only gone up a bit. Of the three the book with the MOST buzz at the moment, much to my surprise and delight, is Splendors and Glooms. When folks would ask me what books I thought stood a chance I might mention something only to be interrupted by the person interjected, “What about Splendors and Glooms?” The book that I worried might be too much for the librarians of my acquaintance has turned out to be one that has charmed and delighted more than a few. Librarians like it when a book dares to try something literary and different. I don’t know if it’ll continue to be a contender, but at this point anyway it’s in the running and not even breaking a sweat.
I mentioned Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin to an editor recently and she asked me, “Does it stand on its own or is it more of a sequel to her last book?” I assured her that Lin’s title is entirely capable of standing on its own. What’s more (and as I may have mentioned this in my review) it’s her best book yet. Cyclical in its storytelling, weaving classical Chinese myths into the narrative seamlessly while also keeping the voice and writing fresh and contemporary, this book is a gem. Watch your back, Wonder.
As for my beloved Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Obed, I’m not sure why but I seem to still be the only person to have read it. No ARCs appear to have been available at ALA which is a real pity since I feel this late breaking November release has a serious chance at Newbery gold. I’ll review it one of these days and give you a reason for this love of mine.
Of course the true Newbery contender, and maybe the only real rival as I see it to Wonder‘s throne, is fellow Random House release by former Newbery Award winner Rebecca Stead. That book would be Liar and Spy, a clever departure from Stead’s previous forays into science fiction. Now she’s created a kind of Harriet the Spy meets Rear Window novel with yet another M. Night Shymalanesque late breaking twist to the tale. The book’s smart as they get, kid-centric to its core, and a real piece of work. Once it’s available, you need to jump on that train and read that book up good. Yep.
A June release that I consider my dark horse candidate of the season would have to be The Unfortunate Son by Constance Leeds. Saddled with a cover only a mother could love (I intend to do a Great Books With Crappy Covers post soon) getting folks to read this book is like pulling teeth. I had to beg and bribe the librarians in my own system to give it a chance and if they don’t start reading it I may have to place it in a paper bag and booktalk it that way. Too bad since the writing floored me. Absolutely floored me. Look, here’s how I’ll sell it to you. It’s about a boy born with only one ear and a villain, long since dead, with tiny thumbs. TINY THUMBS I SAY! Add in a story that reads like an episode of Law & Order (think of it as a 14th-century police procedural, but in a fun way), crazy carved fish, a guy named after an Egyptian god . . . man, I cannot do it justice. If I hadn’t reviewed it professionally I’d review it for you know. Just read the bloody thing!
And then there are the books that I either haven’t read yet or haven’t made my mind up about but may stand a good chance. Buzz has circled around Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, Step Gently Out by Helen Frost (had to put a picture book in there somewhere, didn’t I?), and even No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (which I think is too old, but that’s an argument best left for Jonathan Hunt to pick apart at the seams). Any of these might do well.
I think you probably know that when it comes to predictions I’m much more at home with the novels than the picture books. Crazy since of the two, picture books are so much faster to read. This year I feel a little more confident than I have in the past. Still, let’s break it all down in an interesting way.
But worth mentioning again. At this moment in time Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is still my number one pick, and the sheer number of five stars on Goodreads is heartening. Seeger has never managed to grab that Award proper and this would be a more than worthy choice to do so. And I swear I’m not just saying this because it would make my Newbery/Caldecott Banquet outfit that much easier to design. Not that it would hurt . . . .
As for Baby Bear Sees Blue, whatta beauty. This book has the advantage of referencing a picture book classic (Blueberries for Sal) but unlike that McCloskey title this one’s a lot easier to read to a large group of preschoolers. It’s also a one-on-one winner of a book. I still can’t quite tell what the buzz around this one might be, but I’ve yet to hear a detractor, and that’s always a good sign.
Trendwatch: Caldecott winners inventing new styles.
One of the more peculiar trends this year involves illustrators inventing new ways to illustrate books, just because it suits them to do so. I have seen two such books this year, and darned if I know why they’ve gone these routes. Still, it’s a nice trend. First we have David Ezra Stein and his new artistic form called Steinlining (which is pretty much worth the price of admission right there). This fall is Because Amelia Smiled is being published with Candlewick and involves an artistic style that involves drawing with crayons on wax paper . . . it’s very complicated. I don’t quite understand it myself, but the results are quite nice.
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip Stead is illustrated by Erin E. Stead making this a Stead Vs. Stead year. Her And Then It’s Spring, you see, is a huge contender in its own right. The book is by the same team that brought you A Sick Day for Amos McGee (#18 on the Top 100 Picture Books Poll) so right there you know it’s a contender. For this particular story Ms. Stead apparently ground up her pastels, added some water, and made a unique paste with which she illustrated this book. It’s a new kind of art (much like Mr. Stein). Plus the woman draws a helluva bear.
I’ve a friend with some excellent taste who lets me know when she’s hot on a book. I’m not saying she’s a perfect prediction machine, but her taste is definitely something I watch. In terms of this year she clued me onto Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s Oh No! (a popular title for children’s books these days) coming out this fall. It is a gorgeous little number, though I’ve already heard grumbles in some quarters from folks who feel that the perspective in the book does something strange near the end (buy me a drink and I’ll show you what I mean). Regardless, it’s a true contender, even if it doesn’t make it to the finish line.
My friend was also quite keen on Matthew Cordell’s Hello, Hello. This was interesting to me since I saw Mr. Cordell present it at the last ALA Conference and yet it didn’t occur to me that it had some Caldecott potential to it.
Mind you, my heart belongs to the illustrators that have yet to nab any Caldecotts, honors or otherwise, yet are proven players and talented to their cores. If Adam Rex were to get an Honor for Chloe and the Lion and Dan Santat for Oh No! Not Again! (and don’t think I didn’t notice that both books are Mac Barnett’s) I could be a happy woman. In fact, Barnett might have a real chance at a sneaky Honor this year. His Extra Yarn with Jon Klassen could be that surprise wild card none of us see coming. On the other hand, considering that 2013 will be the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award, wouldn’t giving Chloe and the Lion something make a lot of sense? The book, after all, is about the very nature of creating picture books in the first place! Only in a perfect universe, I suppose.
Finally, there are always the folks that I wish lived in the States so that I could include them on this list. Had I the power I’d be mentioning Sadie and Ratz from Australia’s Sonya Hartnett as a Newbery contender and Suzy Lee of Singapore’s upcoming Open This Little Book (which will blow. your. mind. when you see it) as a Caldecott win. Alas.