The Summer Prediction edition of my Caldecott/Newbery ponderings is always a tricky beast. If the spring edition is looking primarily at books coming out in the spring, summer, and early fall, then the summer edition is looking at almost the entire year. However, at this point I’m still relying more on buzz than the considered opinions of colleagues and friends. Once we get to the fall edition I’ll have heard a lot of debates surrounding the books up for consideration and I’ll have a better sense of what folks feel about them. Until then, here’s what I’ve seen this year that I think deserves a closer look.
2016 Caldecott Predictions:
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
So this is a bit of a strange inclusion on my part, but you’ll get a hint of the background on this book from this recent Seven Impossible Things profile of the book and Ms. Bagley.
Here is my thinking on the matter. When we hand a book a Caldecott, we say we’re doing it to celebrate the art. I understand that. I get that. But if we’re being honest, the books that win are the ones that really reached into our chests, grabbed our hearts, and had the gall to make them pump a little harder. Boats for Papa has the 2015 distinction of being The Official Weeper of the Year. Which is to say, it makes folks cry. A lot. And YET it is not a Love You Forever situation where the writing is clearly for adults rather than kids. So Ms. Bagley is to be commended for the text. The artistic style, I admit here and now, is not for me. But when you are a children’s librarian you must let go of your own personal prejudices towards one style of art or another (if I had my way every Caldecott would go to Sebastian Meschmenmoser, regardless of citizenship or whether or not he has a book out in a given year). And while the style of Ms. Bagley is not to my own taste, I believe that in terms of conveying the storyline, the characters, and the heart of the writing, it does a stellar job. Still, I’d be interested to hear how other feel about it all.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
This is the book I most regretted not mentioning the last time I did a prediction post. I’ve admired Mr. Lopez’s work for years (and honestly feel that The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred deserved far more attention than it ever received). This book is one of those tricky little amalgamations of fact and fiction that will end up in the picture book section of the library while still managing to be CCSS aligned, to some degree. I read it to my three-year-old and she was astonished at the idea that girls could ever be told they couldn’t do anything. Plus it’s just so beautiful. The art is the man’s best work. I’d love to see this get a little attention.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
A straighter nonfiction title. Sometimes I wonder if the amount of background a Caldecott committee hears about a book affects their thinking come award time. Perhaps not. After all, I once attended a pre-ALA Youth Media Award lunch that feted some Caldecott committee members and was showing off books like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and The Dark. Neither of whom won a thing. Now if you knew the background behind Ms. Blackall’s art for Finding Winnie, you’d see how meticulous her work is on the book. Yet even without that knowledge the book is a beauty. The endpapers. The red sunrise with the ships sailing to England. The shot of a man, his bear, and Stonehenge itself. Oh, it’s a contender.
In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van. Illustrated by April Chu
Periodically debut illustrators receive Honors (and, once in a great while, awards proper). I know I keep harping on this book but I just think what the illustrator did to complement the text is just so darn brilliant. It rewards multiple readings. Sure, it may be a dark horse contender, but it’s a strong one just the same.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson
It was a little surprising to me how many marketing dollars were placed behind this particular book. Robinson has traipsed mighty close to award territory in the past. With this book he may not be paying a direct homage to Ezra Jack Keats but that was certainly the flavor I detected emanating from the pages. Even after all these months of seeing it I’m still having difficulty piecing my thoughts about it together. All I know is that it’s worthy of discussion.
The Marvels written & illustrated by Brian Selznick
This could just as easily fit on the Newbery Prediction category but since Hugo Cabret won a Caldecott lo these many years ago, this could walk a similar line. Separating itself into a wordless series of pictures in its first half and a text only novel in the second, it may be an even harder sell to the committee than Cabret was. Particularly since the text both within and outside of the pictures is sometimes the only thing that gives them form and function and meaning. But it’s rather remarkable, and committees have a way of rewarding books for that very quality.
The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle
Cut paper is a difficult art. Again, we’ve a debut on our hands, and in judging the book one must determine how much credit to hand to the quality of the paper being used (which, as you can see, is rather luminous) and how much to the actual cuttings. To my mind, this book is pretty much without parallel. Just amazing.
Night World by Mordecai Gerstein
Much of the reception to this book is going to hinge on how well people react to the ways in which Gerstein has painted pre-dawn light. One point in its favor: It contains a true moment of awe. When the dawn arrives it’s a jaw dropper of a moment. That’s what you want in an award winner.
Water Is Water by Miranda Paul. Illustrated by Jason Chin
One might rightly ask, why this Chin of all Chins? After all, it’s not as though Jason hasn’t been making similarly stunning books for years. The fact that he’s never gotten award love (at least in the Caldecott area of things) is a problem. I find that sometimes award committees have difficulty rewarding realism that isn’t surrealism (Wiesner wins awards but James Ransome, for example, does not). Here, Chin brings to life this infinitely simple, but incredibly clever, explanation for very young children of the water cycle in its different forms. And he does so with his customary beauty and skill. It’s worth considering at the very least.
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
I’ve mentioned this one before with the note that I’m not usually a fan of Zagarenski’s work. And though I’ve seen that some folks don’t enjoy the storyline quite as much as I do, I’m going to keep this one the list. Of Zagarenski’s work (she is quite fond of floating crowns, you know), I do think this is her best. And if her previous books have won Caldecotts then ipso facto . . .
2016 Newbery Predictions:
Caldecott predictions are generally much easier to include on lists of this sort than Newbery predictions because reading a picture book takes all of 5 minutes, max (unless we’re discussing the aforementioned The Marvels, and then God help your soul). This year I’ve found a lot of books to love but few to seriously consider in this category. However, there were a few exceptions:
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
Let it be known that hype makes me wary. Exceedingly wary. So when I walked into a Penguin preview earlier this year and found they’d decked themselves all out in a circus-themed hullabaloo my warning signals lit right up. And sure, author Cassie Beasley was charming with her Georgian ways. Yet she read a passage from this book that would have had a lot more impact if I’d read the book already. So I put it off, and put it off, and all the while my fellow librarians were reading it and telling me in no uncertain terms that it was remarkable. I finally picked it up to read it. The verdict? It really is lovely! See my interview piece on Ms. Beasley about the difficulty in writing a non-creepy circus for more info. I also recommended it at Redbook, so win a copy here if you’re curious.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
I’m still pondering this one, months and months after I read it. I think the supernatural element didn’t really need to be there since the three stories stand perfectly well on their own together. But I can also tell you that every detail of this book has been etched into my memory. And if you’ve any acquaintance with said memory, you’d understand why this must be a remarkable book.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
I had to do some research with my fellow librarians on this one before I could include it here. Not because it isn’t good. There is a vibrant undercurrent of truth running so strongly beneath this narrative that it almost hurts to read. The relationships between the three sisters is one-of-a-kind and powerful. In fact, if you’ve some free time in NYC on Saturday, August 1st we’re going to have a Children’s Literary Salon discussion between Jeanne Birdsall and Rita Williams-Garcia on their series and how it is to write about sisters.
At any rate, I had to determine whether or not the book stood on its own. I’ve read the first two books, so I was in no place to judge. So I handed it to some children’s librarians that had never read One Crazy Summer or P.S. Be Eleven. Their verdict? It works very well without prior knowledge of the previous books. Which means, it’s a true literary contender.
Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead
I’m just looking forward to the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet where all they serve (once this wins the award) is cinnamon toast and vanilla milkshakes. We’ve hashed the middle school vs. YA elements of this book before, so I’ve no particular desire to do it again here. I will say, however, that if Stead wins it may be the first time in the history of the award that the Newbery goes to a literary agent.
Actually, I debated placing this in the Caldecott category. After all, Pizzoli did a rather remarkable job of finding a way to keep his subject anonymous but still visible from page one onward. Yet it is the writing I think about when I consider the book. Synthesizing a single man’s life and turning it into a child-friendly narrative is no mean feat. Pizzoli did it with great cheer and fervor. A nonfiction title that deserves some Newbery love.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My continuing to include this book in the ranking may be due in part to affection more than anything else. Still, I can’t help but think this has all the right elements in place. If kids can get past the cover (a detriment to getting even my staunchest librarians to read it) they’ll be amply rewarded.
Honorable Ineligible Mentions
Every year I read a couple books that I think should win Newbery or Caldecott awards. Yet, for one reason or another, they are ineligible. Here are my favorite ineligible books I’ve read in 2015 thus far.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel. Illustrated by Jon Klassen
How have I not reviewed this book yet? To my mind it’s the strangest, most wonderful, creeeeeeeeeepy book of 2015. If Oppel wasn’t so inconveniently Canadian we’d be having a very serious debate about this book. By the way – apparently Canadians can serve on the Newbery committee but cannot win the award. How is that fair? I demand new standards, doggone it!
Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Illustrated by Jon Klassen
The bad news is that this book is ineligible for a Newbery in 2015. The good news is that this book is eligible for a Newbery in 2016. Once you read it you’ll be convinced of its worthiness. That said, how is it that Jon Klassen keeps getting to illustrate all the best novels? Did he sacrifice a cow to the book jacket gods? Or is it just that the man has exquisite taste? Hmm.
This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary. Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Canadian. Again. Morstad has also illustrated Laurel Snyder’s Swan, which could also have been up for consideration. I’m very pleased that folks are finally discovering Julie Morstad, by the way. I still think her board book The Swing is just one of the best out there.
That’s all she wrote, folks! I read most of your suggestions last time so if I missed something it may not have been accidental. That said, I know I’ve not read everything out there. What are your favorites thus far?