Sloooooowly the predictions begin. As I post this I’m hitting the sweet spot right between Book Expo and the annual American Library Association conference. Which is to say, this is the moment in time when some folks have seen the fall galleys from BEA while other folks are about to see them at ALA. On maternity leave, I am hampered significantly by what I see. Most galleys are being sent to my workplace where they are out of my reach. So while I’ve still seen a wide swath of things, I know that there are books I’m missing. The fall prediction edition will be more complete, I am certain. Plus, by that time we’ll see Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott back up and running and predicting as well.
Meantime, I’m not the only one making predictions these days. If you missed it, Travis Jonker did a heckuva great post when he predicted this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated. These are books that might not be eligible for the Caldecott but that would be complete and utter contenders under different circumstances. Worth your glance.
And now, some thoughts on the matter!
2015 Newbery Predictions
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
I’ve been very happy with the buzz surrounding Auxier’s latest. When I reviewed it back in March I suspected that it had fine, outstanding qualities worthy of award consideration. That suspicion has since been confirmed several times over by the multiple starred reviews and the online conversations I’ve observed. Typical of the dark fantasy trend in middle grade in 2014 (aside from Snicker of Magic, everything’s pretty gloom and doom this year) Auxier’s book does what Doll Bones did last year, blending classic horror elements with deeper themes and questions for young readers. His is a book that asks kids to question the nature of storytelling and lying (another 2014 trend, and a prevalent one that I intend to explore more thoroughly). At the very least, I predict that this will be showing up on many many Mock Newbery lists this year.
Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood
This is actually not garnering the buzz I’d expect of it this year. Surprising since the release of a new Blackwood is a cause for celebration. My suspicion is that the man has been out of the middle grade field for so long that new crops of young librarians are unaware of his work. This is a true pity since Curiosity hits all the pleasure points of a Brian Selznick story. With a killer cover and some superb writing, my hope is that the buzz is just on a low-boil and will be turned up significantly as we near the award season. Perhaps this is my dark horse candidate this year, but I don’t think you should count it out. It could definitely pull a Paperboy or Breaking Stalin’s Nose surprise win out of its hat.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
For years I’ve wanted a Lisa Graff book to make it onto my prediction lists, but every time there was just something holding me back. No longer. The remarkable thing about Absolutely Almost is that it dares not to be remarkable. Or rather, it celebrates kindness over being special. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself for the review I’ll write of it but Graff has accomplished here is something incredibly difficult. Plus I love the idea of a major award going to a book that celebrates Captain Underpants like this one does.
The Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Another dark horse, and maybe one of the more divisive books on this list. Loftin makes a lunge for magical realism with her story, which is a very difficult thing to do in middle grade novels. The controversy surrounding it concerns The Emperor and what he did or did not do to the story’s heroine. To my mind, any child reader who goes through this story will only recognize that he stole the girl’s voice by recording it. End of story. But because this book can be read very differently by adults vs. children, that may inhibit its chances. Only time will tell. The writing, few can argue, is superb.
The Greenglass House by Kate Milford
One of my favorite books of the year. Pure pleasure reading through and through. I’ve heard it described as “Clue meets The Westing Game” and that’s not too far off. We haven’t had a Westing Game kind of book win a Newbery in a while, unless you count When You Reach Me. It would be awfully nice for a mystery to win once more, and Milford’s talents at creating a whole and complete world within her pages is stellar. Definitely a contender.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
There are only two books out this year that I think are surefire Newbery contenders, and this is one of them (you’ll meet the other soon). Preus is a marvel. This book, again, taps equally into darkness and storytelling vs. lies while also managing to pluck all the use out of fantasy and yet remain fairly historical fiction-y. It’s a quick read and a gripping one. Additional Bonus: Lockjaw!
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
Good buzz is surrounding Wilson’s latest, which is excellent. I’ve already felt a little pushback to it, but the strong writing is working very well in its favor. It’s not a sure thing, but if any Wilson book can finally make a decent lunge for the Newbery it is this. Already I can predict that Heavy Medal will have a hard time with it (I would LOVE to be mistaken about this, though). Plus it probably has the best book trailer of the year thus far.
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The frontrunner, as far as I can tell. No question. There is nothing one can call a sure thing when it comes to Newbery or Caldecott books. Heck, a couple of years ago I would have said that One Crazy Summer was a shoo-in. Shows what I know. That said, if this book does not win the Newbery proper then there will be blood in the streets. Gushing torrents of scarlet red blood. In a year of #WeNeedDiverseBooks what a capper it would be to give the Award to what is, not only, the best book of the year but also one that stands as a necessary piece of African-American history. Not that the committee can think in those terms. All that they can do is say whether or not the book is one of the most distinguished of the year. Spoiler Alert: It is.
That’s what I think in terms of the frontrunners. But there are plenty of other books that people are discussing. Consider, for example, Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin. She won a Newbery Honor years ago. Will she be able to recapture the magic with her latest? Maybe, but not with this particular book. It’s nicely done but as a woman hepped up on postpartum hormones, it tried to make me cry and didn’t quite get there. That’s telling. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is another fantastic and fun read (and pure science fiction, which is very rare indeed). It feels like a slightly younger When You Reach Me, which is a fine and fancy pedigree. But Newbery? I didn’t feel it. The Riverman by Aaron Starmer was definitely one I was thinking of when I first read it, but when I heard it was the first in a series that changed my interpretation of the ending. Will the committee feel the same way? The writing is, after all, fabulous. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana was a book I loved earlier in the year. I still love it, though in the wake of other strong contenders I’m not sure if it’ll make it to the award finish line. And, of course, there is Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Forget what I said about Nightingale’s Nest. THIS is the most divisive book of 2014. The writing is very accomplished and it’s got great lines. Plus it’s nice to see something But Newbery? To win it’ll have to convince the committee that the (totally unnecessary and occasionally infuriating) cutesy parts are overwhelmed by the good writing. Its win relies entirely on the tone of the committee. I don’t envy them the debates.
Phew! Moving on . . .
2015 Caldecott Predictions
Um . . no idea. Honestly, I haven’t felt this out to sea in terms of the Caldecott in years. I’m just not feeling it this year. There are some superb books but surprisingly few of them grab me by the throat and throttle me while screaming “CALDECOTT!!!!” in my ear. I always fall apart on Caldecott predictions anyway. Last year at this time I only mentioned two of the eventual winners, not even mentioning the other two (and HOW on earth did I fail to mention the glorious Flora and the Flamingo, I ask you?!?). This year I just keep coming back to the books I mentioned in my spring prediction edition. Fortunately, a couple additional books caught my jaded eye . . .
Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, ill. Jonathan Bean
Bean wowed the world last year with his Building Our House, a winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. But you know what Caldecott committees really like? Variety. That’s why his latest change of style is so exciting. The beautiful simplicity of Underwood’s text, which manages to tell a complete story with a minimum of words, is matched page for page by Bean’s art. The pairing results in a particularly strong product and since Caldecott committees are extraordinarily interested in books that pair art and text well, it seems to me we may have a winner on our hands here.
A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, ill. Floyd Cooper
A Floyd Cooper. An honest-to-god Floyd Cooper prediction. Considering the man’s output, this may strike some as surprising. No one ever contests that he’s accomplished but he’s one of those perpetual Caldecott bridesmaids never brides (see my post on such folks here). It doesn’t matter how gorgeous his art is, he gets passed by time after time. Except . . . something about this book is different. My librarians, for one thing, who have always been Cooper-tepid are GAGA over this. It’s not just the fact that the text manages to do the whole Live Your Dream storyline without getting cheesy. There’s some stellar art at work. This is a bad scan, but if this book does well I think it’ll be because of this image:
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by Tim O’Meara
Speaking of always bridesmaids . . . but this book. I mean, just wow. Not that a Caldecott committee has ever, to the best of my knowledge, awarded three-dimensional art (scholars, correct me!). But that’s the wonder of this book. It isn’t JUST three-dimensional art, but two-dimensional as well. The book itself celebrates the very concept of being an artist (a swell thing for a Caldecott committee to reward) and as I learned last year, Ms. Morales has residency here in the States so she certainly could win this thing. Some folks don’t like that it isn’t a straight biography but something a little more artistic and esoteric. Pfui to them, sez I. You simply cannot read this and not find it stunning.
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Never count out a Muth. Though this book has far less lofty ambitions than his past Caldecott win, it has heart and lovely watercolors. This could easily be sidelined altogether, or go for the big gold. Certainly hard to say at this point.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
It’s my personal #1, which makes me worry for its future. When I get emotional about a book I find it sometimes hampers my view of its award chances. That said, no one doubts the sheer beauty of the art here. Soman’s always been someone to watch, even when working on something as popular as the Ladybug Girl series. Can he win hearts and minds with bears? I say yes.
Firefly July and Other Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
We know Sweet is automatic Caldecott bait, but you’re never quite sure which of her books will attract the committee. This book isn’t afraid to be long and strong on the poetry. I’ve heard grumbles in some quarters that the poems don’t always necessarily pair with one season or another, but that’s nothing against the art. Still, it might affect its chances in the end.
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
If any debut deserves love it’s this one. A remarkable combination of art and heart, with different styles and a heckuva great take on the subject matter. Turk’s one to watch and this book is already one of the year’s favorites. Even if it doesn’t win, it bodes well for the artist’s future.
In terms of books getting some nice buzz, I’ve heard some folks mentioning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. I love me a good Santat and Dan certainly poured his heart and soul into this one. So why don’t I think it’s a surefire winner? Hard to say. The art is certainly nice enough. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes hasn’t shown up on a lot of lists, but Anne Isaacs has a way of writing books that catch the eye of award committees. My own librarians are very taken with this latest effort, and Hawkes should at least get a mention if only for the sheer disgustingness of his desperadoes. Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson is one of those books that should, by rights, be a Caldecott contender. Indeed there are some stirring images here. Unfortunately there’s something off about this particular Nelson book. It’s hard to pinpoint but it lays in the art. Nelson’s due for a big gold someday. This, however, probably won’t be “the one”. Breathe by Scott Magoon is absolutely lovely and I would love Magoon to get an award one of these days. It definitely belongs to the whale trend of 2014. Will it get an award? It may be too subtle for that. We’ll see. Finally, Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans, is the book getting a lot of the buzz. I loved the story and the art but while I found it lovely and funny by turns I didn’t feel the award hum at work. I think Appelhans is definitely one to watch. You’re just going to have to keep watching.
So! What did I miss?