And then it was summer. When you put out a spring prediction list you can rest safe and sure in the knowledge that there’s an entire second half of the year you haven’t seen. Now we’re in the thick of summer and while I’ve seen a good-sized chunk of the coming year, there are certainly a fair number of books still waiting to be read. Heck, we haven’t even had our big ALA Conference yet. With all that in mind, Travis at 100 Scope Notes recently summed up what the Goodreads folks are predicting. Not one to go quiet on the subject, here’s what I’m thinking about in terms of some of the contenders:
Doll Bones by Holly Black – How convenient that Ms. Black appears first alphabetically on this list, since her book is the frontrunner as far as I’m concerned. The more I think about it, the more I like it. At this year’s SLJ Day of Dialog (a day before BEA when SLJ and a host of publishers present their wares for the librarian public, punctuated by great panel discussions) we discovered that not only is Ms. Black a preeminent writer, but she can give a helluva good speech when half-inclined to do so. And while the ability to write a Newbery acceptance speech is not something a committee can consider when choosing a winning book, it certainly can’t hurt in the long run!
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – I’ve always liked it but it wasn’t until I started touring bookstores, promoting my own picture book, that I realized that it wasn’t just me that was loving it. Independent bookstores, big Barnes & Nobles, libraries across this great nation, EVERYONE is gaga for Blakemore’s latest. Maybe my comparing it to Tuck Everlasting wasn’t so crazy after all . . .
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – I’m sure you could make a very strong case for the fact that Monica is a friend and my including this book at all on this list is an indication of clear bias. I would like to point out, though, that I am friends with many many people who are authors. Folks who have books out this year and those books are NOT on this list. The fact that this book is should be a clear tip-off that there’s something special about it. And with Robert Byrd’s illustrations, it’s hard not to think of it as the second coming of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes – Henkes may well be one of the nicest men working in the children’s book business today (and that’s saying something) but while I respected his previous Newbery Honor win Olive’s Ocean it didn’t get me here *thumps chest*. This book is different. Written in what I consider to be the second hardest children’s book genre there is (#1 = easy books, #2 = early chapter books) Henkes somehow manages to write something touching and real all at once while at the same time making a boy that feels remarkably “boy”. There’s just something about Billy. I can’t think of another kid quite like him. Wouldn’t be surprised at all if this took home the gold.
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli – Tried and true, Spinelli. The talk continues to circle about this one. The cries of “is it kid-friendly enough” erupt from time to time as well. For a fun time, compare and contrast this one at length with Doll Bones. They have more similarities than differences, after all.
Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tonya Lee Stone – By this point in the proceedings I should have seen at least one other Newbery-worthy bit of nonfiction for 2013. Unfortunately, so far nothing doing. Stone’s book is still spectacular and very well done, but whether or not this is a nonfiction loving committee remains to be seen. As far as I can tell, if anything won their love, it would be this.
The Center of Everything by Linda Urban – Initially I couldn’t find any backlash to this one. Now it’s started up and it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Some folks are calling it boring or something they couldn’t get into. We’re allowed to write slower book for kids, though, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Urban gets better with every book. Take that as you may.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – I believe it was Colby Sharp who commented on the Travis post, “I’m going all in *pushes giant stack of poker chips to the center of the Newbery table* with The Center of Everything (Urban) and The Real Boy (Ursu). The year of the ‘U’!” Some folks are saying it’s stronger than her previous fantasy novel Breadcrumbs. Personally I liked it just fine but my love of Breadcrumbs was sort of overwhelming so it’s hard for me to find anything to compare. I only recently finished this one so I’ll need some time to chew on it.
Because there are so many more picture books published in a given year than works for older readers, Caldecott predictions have always been a bit more of a crapshoot than their Newbery compatriots. With that in mind, I still managed to cull it down to a couple folks that I think are doing truly extraordinary work this year. We’ll see what comes of it all in any case.
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – Actually I had read this one prior to my previous prediction list. I hadn’t mentioned it, possibly because it was too obvious. It took its appearance on the recent Horn Book – Boston Globe Book Awards to snap me out of this funk. Jonathan Bean is one of those illustrators that seems as though where they walk the Ghost of Caldecotts Yet to Come float in their wake. The fact he hasn’t won one yet appears to be more a trick of fate than his own fault. Give it time. He’s due.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, ill. Bryan Collier – Like many picture book artists, Collier’s talent waxes and wanes with each subsequent book. That said, I haven’t seen him work with present day reality this well since his remarkable Uptown all those years ago (stop me now or I might start wailing about its current out-of-print status). This is a Little, Brown & Co. ringer and should be treated as such. It discusses subject matter we’ve rarely seen touched on (how to cope with a caring father who one day disappears from your day-to-day life) and Collier matches Beaty’s pitch perfect text blow-for-blow with his own art. One to watch.
Journey by Aaron Becker – Candlewick is keeping this one close to their chest, no doubt. We couldn’t find F&Gs at BEA and there was no explicit promise we’d see any at ALA either. That said, I managed to convince an all-to-kind bookstore employee into showing me her copy and it really is quite stellar. You would never in a million years guess that this was Becker’s first picture book. Imagine what you would find if David Macaulay and Crockett Johnson ever had a lovechild. That’s Journey for you. I’m almost convinced that I’m making sense.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – See: Journey in terms of how likely it is that you’ll get a copy of this at ALA. Knock Knock may be Little, Brown & Co.’s ringer, but Peter Brown is rapidly becoming their ace in the hole. Brown’s moved from novelty to powerhouse in the course of a few scant years. When folks were crying out for The Curious Garden to get an award it seemed charmingly optimistic. His recent Honor for Creepy Carrots changed all that, making him one to watch. And if he was ever going to be watched closely, it would be for this truly original and gorgeous little book. It may also contain the only naked centerfold in the history of picture books. Granted, it’s of a tiger.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – It’s not that Ibatoulline isn’t always gorgeous. He is. Even when he’s illustrating books that make me a bit queasy, he does a stellar job. But doing a stellar job is only so good as the material at hand when you’re a picture book artist. Until now, I almost feel like Ibatoulline was just waiting around to meet his match. That match (pun probably unconsciously intended) has now been met in the form of Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman. I’m as tired of European immigration stories as the rest of you, but this book really does have something special going on. It’s a little longer than your regular picture book fare, which probably means it has as much of a shot at a Newbery as it does a Caldecott. Hmmm…. stranger things have happened . . .
Locomotive by Brian Floca – And speaking of picture books that are a little longer than usual, meet Floca. A man who believes in making a good book, and the devil take the page count! I’ve been waiting for this book since Moonshot was unfairly denied its Caldecott Award (the fact it got next to nothing burns to this day). Now we have a definitive look at railroad history and Floca’s on fire from page one onward. Deserves many close, intense looks before the year is out.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: LeUyen Pham deserves a Caldecott. She just does. And while her art is always fun, this book truly shows her sheer range. From the accuracy of the clothing to the pitch perfect incorporation of math into the images, there’s a level of sophistication to this title you don’t normally find in picture book fare. Because it’s fun it might be easy to discount on a first glance. Don’t. Pham has something going on here and it’s hot as all get out.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – For once, I’d love something three-dimensional to win this award. Is that such a crazy thought? Year after year the Caldecotts go to the two-dimensional fare. Paints, inks, you name it. So imagine if shadow boxes captured the committee’s attention the way this book did mine. The result might be some credit for Berger who really knows how to make the inherently ridiculous poignant and beautiful.
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea – Okay. I’ve had time to think about this. My justification (above and beyond the fact that I just happen to really like this book) is that Shea is actually doing some pretty sophisticated work here. Apart from the millions of tiny details and the amazing incorporation of text with image there’s also the simple fact that the narration does a believable turnabout, culminating in a change in artistic style. Still with me? No? Well, I’ll be a lonely island decrying its chances then. Someone should.
And yes, we’ve left out your Navigating Earlys and the like, but anything not seen here was probably considered at length. Unless it’s something I haven’t read yet (glances at the Kathi Appelt book on her shelf guiltily). That’s why I do four of these prediction sessions. Gets the blood flowing.
So what do you like?