ATTENTION!!! If you are planning on watching the live feed of the Newbery/Caldecott announcements during the ALA Youth Media Awards presentation, come half an hour earlier and check out my pre-game show where I will join cohort Lori Ess in discussing the potential winners. Afterwards we will note which Mock Newberys, Mock Caldecotts, Mock Printzs, etc. got it right nationwide. For more information: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2014/01/20/introducing-the-first-ever-absolutely-fantastic-slj-pre-game-and-post-game-show/
Now that Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott have been revving their proverbial engines, my idle speculations and fantasies get a bit more oomph. The nice thing is that nothing Heavy Medals has discussed so far strikes me as a serious contender (except the Spinelli, of course). I’m also choosing to post this the same morning that the National Book Award longlist is announced at 9 a.m., so it would probably have made a certain amount of sense to wait another day. Then again, the National Book Awards are like oil and water to the ALA given awards. They rarely mix.
It should also be said that out of all my prediction editions, fall has the worst track record. Spring, for whatever reason, tends to have the best so you can always go back and read that one if you’ve half a mind to do so. Last year around this time I had discounted Ivan (I later recanted), dismissed Three Times Lucky, and the only thing I got right on the Newbery side was a mention of Splendors and Glooms. Not exactly groundbreaking or insightful. Caldecott fared slightly better with inclusions of Green and Extra Yarn but I said of This Is Not My Hat, “No, I’m afraid his work on Extra Yarn has a better chance. This one is a visual stunner, but not quite there on the writing side.” [enter sad trombone music here]
So with that knowledge in your back pocket . . .
Doll Bones by Holly Black – I’m not changing my mind on this one. Nope. Not happening. Still the one that I want. I’ve seen other folks mention that it does what Hokey Pokey did, but many people prefer Black’s singular take. In an interesting sidenote, my assumption that the creepiness of the doll would outweigh the fact that it is, in fact, a doll was apparently misplaced. I felt positive that significant numbers of boys would pick this up thanks to the word “Bones” in the title and the fact that the doll looks half inclined to smother you in your sleep. I guess she should have had the creep factor increased, though, since a run through of patrons with the book out in my system shows that the ratio of girls to boys is about 8:1. Bummer. Hopefully a nice bright shiny medal would overcome that problem.
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – It’s possible that at first I mentioned Blakemore’s book because it was early in the year and the surprise of it shocked me into an inclusion. Time has passed since I picked it up. At least half a year has gone by since I read it, and yet the characters are as fresh and clear in my mind as they were when first I picked up its pages. It’s science fiction, a format that has only won the Newbery Award proper five times before (I’m counting The Twenty-One Balloons – you are free to try to determine what the other four were) so that’s against its favor certainly. Still and all, I think it can, I think it can, I think it can . . .
Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – It’s official. 2013 is officially a bad nonfiction year for the Newbery. While it is possible a The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan or a Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone might slip in, the odds are not as strong as I would like. The closest we can come to a possibility is Edinger’s fictional take on a nonfiction event. Concerns that I’ve heard surrounding the book verge on the mildly ludicrous so far, so it may turn out to be a serious contender. One to watch a little more closely, certainly.
Salt by Helen Frost
As it happens, I wouldn’t actually call this book the most talked about story about historical Native Americans of 2013. That honor falls upon Susan Cooper’s well-meaning and unfortunate Ghost Hawk. But where Ghost Hawk feels more like a too long amalgamation best suited to an adult readership, Frost (who has never received sufficient praise for her books, though they come up in Newbery discussions all the time) nailed it here. Salt utilizes her verse format to a good end, the history is dead on, and the characterizations manage in their brief amount of time to ring real and true. One to discuss, at the very least.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes – I’ve raved about it in the past and the book will hit shelves on 9/17 so soon you’ll all be able to see what I’ve been talking about. I guess the name of the game for me this year is “succinct”. I’m tired of overblown unedited novels for children. Give me something that manages to contain heart and hope without 300+ pages. To my mind, Henkes epitomizes what the Newbery should really be about. He captures a soul on a page. No mean feat. This might be my frontrunner now.
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli – I was tempted to drop this one from the list, but I just can’t seem to do so. I know it’s impenetrable for some. And maybe by the time we hit the end of the year I won’t be able to truly believe it has a fighting chance, but there’s something about Hokey Pokey that keeps me from abandoning it. I suspect it’s the plum good writing. Hard to ignore that sort of thing.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – If you read the recent comment section at Heavy Medals regarding autism and the fact that, as Jonathan Hunt says, there are “no less then three high profile books that we will likely consider here: NAVIGATING EARLY, THE REAL BOY, and COUNTING BY 7s” then this is just another trend. However, this is the only one of those three that I’d consider the real contender. Navigating Early must contest with its size, the reported math mistakes, and the question of whether or not Early constitutes a convenient literary foil or a real character. Counting By 7s, by the same token, has to handle questions of race (the main character seems so arbitrarily assigned to a race other than white that it feels like an editorial note rather than the writer’s plan) even as it contains what may be my favorite character of the year (the guidance counselor). Compare these then to The Real Boy which manages to cleverly weave in adult themes (the addiction to magic, fear of losing a child leading you to foolish choices, etc.) in an interesting and child-friendly setting. What’s more, the character development feels like it’s at the heart, rather than the periphery, of the fantastical elements. Yeah. This one’s a keeper.
Potential Wild Cards: This is preee-cisely the kind of year likely to garner Honors for books like The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, or the TWO Patricia MacLachlan books The Truth of Me and White Fur Flying. I wouldn’t blink so much as an eye if any of these suddenly won it out of the blue. But I haven’t committed to any one of these three as a surefire winner yet. That may be telling in and of itself.
Fun Fact: I kid you not when I tell you that one of the top search terms leading folks to my blog this year is the term “Far Far Away too scary Newbery”. More than any other YA novel of 2013, this one is the one folks keep mentioning in terms of Newbery potential. I had a very visceral reaction to the book, which colors my interpretation of it. The ending was so dark and bleak (I have this thing against child torture) that it really made the entire outing unpalatable to me. This is not to say it is poorly done. And there are scenes (pleasant ones) that have stayed with me. That said, I do believe that the content renders it for the 14+ crowd, and I’ve nightmares of parents reading the plot description and handing the book to their nine-year-old readers saying, “Look, honey. It’s a Newbery winner about fairy tales. You love fairy tales!” So I do hope it hasn’t a chance in blue blazes. The Printz may be another matter entirely.
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – I wonder. It’s a personal story and it could just be that when it came out early in the year it blew us away. That said, I feel like it stands out. A huge point in its favor is the fact that it’s really kind of unlike anything else I’ve seen before. The idea of seeing a family making their own domicile . . . it has the potential to blow the minds of the children that read it. Worth considering at least for a little longer.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, ill. Bryan Collier – The greatest point against it may be its release date. Slated to come out on December 1st, it risks being wholly and entirely forgotten by the Mock Caldecotts by dint of its late release. Heck, when Calling Caldecott released their list of books to read, Beaty’s title was nowhere in sight (not that it could have been with that date). Bear in mind that Collier won a Caldecott Honor not that long ago (and for nonfiction!) and here he’s actually expanded his style. It’s not straight realism at work. In fact, I think it’s his best book in years, above and beyond the message itself. Don’t you forget about this one.
Journey by Aaron Becker – If there’s a frontrunner, this would be it. If you need a refresher there is this absolutely lovely book trailer out there to remind you. Becker’s a debut author/illustrator, but that’s hardly unheard of in terms of the Caldecott. Debuts have won before. This one’s wordless and Caldecott committees sometimes go goofy for that particular format. My money is still riding on Becker then. It’s my only surefire bet on this list.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Little odd that I haven’t reviewed this one yet. Note to Self: Right this wrong. By this point I’ve read this book to my 2-year-old countless times and it really does stand out. I think I may have mentioned before that the only real objection I’ve heard about it (aside from the last 2-3 pages, which is entirely subjective) is that the style is similar to Jon Klassen. Pshaw, sez I. That wordless two page spread is nothing but Miss Rumphius all the way, and that ain’t small potatoes.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – Now I’m making the assumption here that Mr. Ibatoulline is living in America, but that could be far from the truth. Mind you, I’ve mentioned this book in two of my previous round-ups and no one has raised this point as a potential objection to his win. Could be nobody knows where he lives. If he does live here, I don’t see how this isn’t in the top five of the contenders.
Locomotive by Brian Floca – You all know well and truly my love for this book and my fears that like his other nonfiction books it will be passed over by the Caldecott committee. Some days it feels like only the Sibert loves Mr. Floca. That said, this is his best work yet and it would be a crime against man, woman and child if it were forgotten. *fixes committee with a cold hard stare*
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – I’m probably just whistling in the wind on this one. Nothing this factual and fun could win a Caldecott, right? But if “distinguished” is what you seek, look ye no further. The incorporation of math within the art is extraordinary. It should really get some love.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, ill. Eric-Shabazz Larkin – Unlike the Newbery, the nonfiction picture book side of things is remarkably strong this year. Melissa Sweet’s A Splash of Red could sneak up on us and The Tree Lady certainly caused my jaw to drop and then bounce across the floor. But in the end I harbor the greatest fondness for Martin’s latest. It isn’t just the fact that she’s one of the rare nonfiction writers to have penned a nonfiction Caldecott winner, but Larkin’s art is really lovely. It’s not just the pictures either. The incorporation of text and the design of certain words just felt good every step of the way.
The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan, ill. Sophie Blackall – Am I crazy? Or do I just want Blackall to win something one of these days? I think the three-dimensional effect here is worth mentioning, particularly since its use makes sense in the context of the book. And speaking for working in more than two dimensions . . .
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – You’ll figure out at this point that this list basically just consists of people who haven’t won the Caldecott before that I feel really deserve it. I like repeats sure, who doesn’t? But what I really adore is when the deserving who have worked in the field for years get their just desserts. And this book is more than just dessertable.
Potential Wild Cards: I wouldn’t take your eye off of Uri Shulevitz if I were you. His Dusk is one of those books that sneaks up on you, and could easily blow the competition out of the water if the committee were so inclined. It would take a brave committee to commit to Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner, a fun book but one that even my comic book minded husband had some difficulty following. And I’d love it if God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marla Frazee won the day, if only because it’s a funny one. Unlikely as all get out, but Frazee has a serious charm offensive. She could pull it off.
So what do you like?