Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Just when you had a spare moment to catch your breath after all that award craziness, I come in with my wheelbarrow of 2015 predictions ready to dump them on your proverbial lap whether you want them or not. And on a holiday that has NOTHING to do with children’s books at that! How’s that for gall? If I were to take a guess I’d say you weren’t crazy about the prospect of having to consider what is and is not “distinguished” so early in the year. Well, I feel your pain but I just can’t restrain myself. For evidence of my inability to restrain myself in other years see my lamentable predictions including:
2013 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (Doll Bones and One Came Home) and one Caldecott right (Mr. Wuffles). That ties me with my previous year of three successes. As you can see, I’m better on Newberys than Caldecotts.
And I know I say this every year, but this year is REALLY strong in terms of Newbery contenders. I swear I haven’t seen this many potential Newbery books this early in the season in quite a while. The Caldecott, in contrast, is a little more up in the air. I have no idea where it’s going. In any case, here’s what I suggest you might want to read sometime soon:
2015 Newbery Predictions
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
If Doll Bones taught us anything it’s that horror has a real shot at a major award when it’s paired with a larger, all-encompassing theme. In this case, the relationship between lies and stories and how people use both as crutches with dealing with their own personal traumas. Heavy stuff? Not under Auxier’s hand. I expect a fair amount of buzz to surround Auxier’s second title, and serious discussion at that. There’s a lot to pick apart here.
Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood
Back in 1998, Blackwood captured hearts and minds with The Shakespeare Stealer. To this day it remains his best known work, and the title that has proved to have enough legs to keep it on countless summer reading lists every single year. It’s been a long time, but I think we’ve finally found a Blackwood book that surpasses Shakespeare in quality and excitement. Throwing everything and the kitchen sink into his narrative (phrenology, P.T. Barnum, automatons, Edgar Allan Poe, and a kid hunchback, just for starters) this is a fabulous historical fiction read that will keep readers turning page after page after page. Definitely one to keep a very sharp eye on.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
A debut author, no less! This may just be optimism on my part, but I recently finished Lamana’s book and I was quite taken with it. I’ve read a LOT of Hurricane Katrina middle grade novels. Almost all of them (though not the I Survived series title set there). With the sole exception of Ninth Ward, almost all of them involve a boy and a dog. Seriously. Look at Zane and the Hurricane, Buddy, and Saint Louis Armstrong Beach if you don’t believe me. So it was with great relief that I read one where the doggie presence was mercifully brief. Lamana tackles the Hurricane from the perspective of a kid with a large family and the result is a book that slices you from throat to sternum, removes your heart, and throws it out the nearest 251th floor window. Let’s just say my fellow subway riders weren’t quite prepared for the crazy pregnant woman sobbing (repeatedly) over this. It’s not flawless, but I think it’ll make for some grand conversations.
The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
We are definitely going to have a conversation about this book. Maybe multiple conversations. Maybe multiple conversations over the course of several months whereupon we pick apart, dissect, and generally go to town on what Loftin has accomplished here. It’s a tough book but an interesting one, particularly when you take into consideration its magical realism elements. I’m going to watch how others feel about it with great interest. Honestly, it’s like nothing else I’ve seen in quite a while.
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
Beowulf for kids. Do I have your attention? Because I should probably clarify that while what I just said is 100% accurate, this is just as clearly a zombie novel set in a Floridian swamp. Wilson has always flirted with big subjects and his remarkable Leepike Ridge went inexplicably unnoticed for all that it was Odysseus modernized. Boys of Blur is a tidbit more obvious with its references (it actually comes out and talks about Beowulf from time to time) but also unafraid to tie big ideas into exciting premises. There’s as much internal strife in our young hero as he deals with his abusive father’s hometown as there are flesh-eating Grens. Your eyes should be closely trained on this one.
2015 Caldecott Predictions
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Muth is back and he went all adorable on us when we weren’t looking. Sometimes the safest way to try and predict something as elusive as the Caldecott Award is to look at previous winners. Certainly Muth did well back in the day with his 2006 Caldecott Honor winner Zen Shorts. In this book he puts a clever twist on the only haiku format, favoring feeling over form (with understandable reasons behind both). I could easily see this one getting an Honor this time around.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
My own personal favorite, I confess. For all the hundreds of picture books I’ve already read this year (lunch time is picture book reading time where I work) few take my breath away. This is one of the few. Soman’s ability to hone water to his liking will leave you dumbstruck. A good story and killer art make this one of my top picks.
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
You know what I was chanting to myself as I looked up the information about this one? I believe it was something along the lines of “Please let Evan Turk live in America. Please please please let him live in America.” This is because I desperately wanted him to be eligible for the award. And guess what? Not only does he live in the U.S. but he’s a local! A New York City resident (more info here, in case you’re curious). We’re already seeing some marvelous picture book biographies and works of nonfiction this year, Turk’s art elevates what was already a pretty cool story. It’s not just the fact that it’s hugely accomplished. Turk manages to weave in materials and elements that bring to mind books like When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry (not something you’d usually say about a nonfiction text). Hugely rewarding to read, this one’s a keeper. Bear it in mind.
Firefly July and Other Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
If the Caldecott Honor win of Red Sings From Treetops is any indication, Caldecott committees love them their seasonal poetry. Add in the artistry of Melissa Sweet and you’ve got yourself a winner. Sweet made a surprise Caldecott Honor win a couple years ago when she illustrated the William Carlos Williams book A River of Words for Eerdmans. Since that time she’s been snatched up by all the big publishers, but her books (while always beautiful and well done) haven’t quite had the oomph to push her back into Caldecott territory. Perhaps it’s poetry that makes for her finest fits. Whatever the case, if you want to see Sweet at her best, this is the book to watch.
So cough it up. You may have some favorites of your own, this early in the game. Anything I should be reading that I haven’t gotten to yet?