Mmmm. It’s that time again. The summer is beginning to cool its jets and with fall on the horizon I need to present the third in my yearly four-part prediction series. What was that fantastic quote Travis Jonker came up with the other day? Ah, yes.
“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.” – Lao Tzu
And like Travis, we’re just going to run roughshod over that one. As ever, I will remind you that my ability to predict these things is a bit on the shoddy side. You might be better off reading the Mock Newbery and Mock Caldecott lists of Goodreads. That said, I can give you something those lists can’t: Scintillating commentary!! Unless you’re reading Heavy Medal or Calling Caldecott (both of which have just started up again). Then you’ll get commentary from a variety of different voices. Anyway . . .
Let’s do this thing.
2017 Caldecott Predictions
Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead
I think I’m going to stick with this one. Here’s what usually happens when I mention this book on a prediction list. I say I don’t find it very kid-friendly and then someone responds that they know several kids who love it. They just happen to be older kids. One forgets that not all picture books are aimed at three-year-olds. Stead’s book pushes the boundaries. It may, in fact, be one of those very rare picture books written for a middle grade audience. With that in mind, a consideration of the text and image together takes on a different light entirely.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo
Not fish, nor fowl. Is it nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, poetry, or a picture book? The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards placed it squarely in the picture book category (those judges must have been awfully smart, don’t you think, huh huh, don’t you think, huh?) though like Ideas Are All Around it’s for older readers. A bit of a trend here, eh? Maybe. After all, the last few nonfiction Caldecott winners (Finding Winnie, Locomotive, etc.) were on the older side as well.
Miracle Man by John Hendrix
Chant it with me! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Now last time I did a prediction edition I mentioned the whole question about whether or not a Jesus book could win a Caldecott anymore (since, y’know, the first 1938 winner was Animals of the Bible). Now I’ve found out that I’ll get to talk with The Horn Book Podcast soon about religion and children’s literature in the 21st century. That should help me straighten out my thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, I’m keeping this one in the mix. As I mentioned before, it’s the wildest of my Wild Cards, but I think it may have an outside chance.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Speaking of the Horn Book Podcast, there was an interesting discussion the other day with Jules Danielson of the 7-Imp blog about whether or not publishers should include information about how the art was made on the publication page of a picture book. Roger Sutton was asking if knowledge of how a book is made adjusts your interpretation of the art. I mentioned this to a friend and they pointed out that in 2016 we’re seeing a crazy amount of eclectic and interesting art in our contenders. From the Moroccan influence and mixed media of Evan Turk’s The Storyteller (we’ll get to that) to the found wood of this book, it has never been a better time to get creative with your medium. And anyway, this book just blew me away. Technically a bio won the Caldecott last year, but there’s no rule saying it can’t happen repeatedly. And how awesome would it be for a Steptoe to win the Caldecott again? Javaka completely deserves it with this book.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Okay! So graphic novels have been winning Newberys left, right, and center lately, right? Which is to say, Newbery Honors. On the Caldecott side, This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki essentially blew our minds when it won a Caldecott Honor two years ago (and it was YA!). This 1930s reinterpretation of the Snow White story is far younger than Tamaki’s book, and done in an elegant black and white style. It is, in its own way, very sexy but still child appropriate (I’ll have to review it sometime to figure out how that’s even possible). Phelan’s never won any Caldecotts that I can tell, but he’s also become more and more accomplished as the years have gone by. This book would be a risk for the committee, but it would also be a wonderful way of praising Phelan’s evident expertise.
The Storyteller by Evan Turk
Sometimes a Caldecott winner says something about the times in which we live. Turk’s book talks about the roles stories have in our lives. It folds a story within a story within a story and then backs out again without tripping up once. Visually it’s a stunner, with smart writing to match, but more importantly it’s speaking to the times in which we live. We are desperate for stories these days. This book speaks not just to that need but the solution. Aw, heck. It may even have a chance at a Newbery. Look at the art when you get a chance, though. It’s truly beautiful.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales
This book was already mentioned on Heavy Medal’s Ten Picture Books That Can Win the 2017 Newbery Medal. On the Caldecott side of the equation it’s already received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. It’s one of those books where the art slowly grabs you. There are circles within circles, connections upon connections. A long discussion of the book yields treasures. You will see things you missed many times before.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Someone told me recently that this book is scientifically accurate. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the premise is that a single cat is viewed in a multitude of different ways by different animals. I haven’t looked into the veracity of this claim yet, but if true then it’s just another feather in the cap of a remarkable title. Word on the street says that Chronicle paid a pretty penny for the manuscript. From everything I can see, it was worth it in the end.
2017 Newbery Predictions
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet
You know, you guys should really listen to that Horn Book Podcast sometime. It was Roger Sutton who mentioned this book and piqued my interest in it. I already had a copy at home since it came with rather peculiar swag. With the book came two little cut out stencils. One of a cloud. One of a whale. Aside from pitying the poor intern that spent at least a day cutting these out, it did interest me. Good cover. Good title. And Nesbet? That was the author behind that Cabinet of Earths series, right? Well I’ve been reading it and on some level it reminded me of The War That Saved My Life. Not the setting so much as just the pure enjoyment I’ve received while reading it. Roger said something similar himself. Nesbet has taken 1989 East Germany and just riddled it with interesting details and great writing. Y’all have to check this out.
It’s been (checks calendar) six days since this book was released. Have you read it yet? Have you, have you? Because I’d really like to talk to somebody about it. I think 2016 is going to be The Year of Difficult Writing for me. So many authors are taking risks, doing things no one’s done before, and creating art in the process. Mr. Bryan is no exception. I’ve never seen anything quite like what he’s done here. Naming this book as even an honor would be a powerful statement.
I actually did a double take when I reread my Summer Prediction Edition and found, to my shock and horror, that I had not included this book on the list. I must have read it right after I posted. In fact, I know I did since three or four readers named it as a top pick. Whole lotta religion in this one. And blood and guts too (this is Mr. Gidwitz we’re talking about) but talk about risks! He’s basically taking Christianity and Judaism and discussing them in a context almost never seen in middle grade historical fiction (fantasy? fiction?). Gutsy. Blood and gutsy.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Pax. Let out of the gate early in 2016 with a huge marketing push to match. It worked in terms of sales, of course. This book has already become a New York Times bestseller (no mean feat for a book that isn’t part of a series written by a man whose name rhymes with My Own Pen). It was the earliest book to garner Newbery buzz as well. Indeed, there’s a reason Heavy Medal chose it as one of the first books of the year to discuss. Love it or hate it, there is a LOT to chew on in this novel. It could either sweep the awards or not even get an Honor nod. Though, if I were a betting woman, I’d say it’s a clear cut Newbery Honor book.
Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming
The Newbery is not awarded for difficulty. If it were, Fleming would be a shoo-in. Instead, she’s written a middle grade nonfiction biography of a figure forgotten by most kids today. A biography hasn’t won a Newbery since 1988 (Lincoln, a Photobiography, in case you’re curious). So the chances of Fleming winning for this book are slim, but I’m a fan of the underdog. The writing is extraordinary, the topic impossible, and the take clever. We’ll see if the committee agrees.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Like Pax, this is one of those shoo-ins for discussion. Also like Pax it came out early in the year. Will the committee be burned out by the time they actually get around to discussing it? Considering how much there is to discuss about the book, not likely. If it wins the Award proper that will be DiCamillo’s third Newbery Award (not counting Honors). Something to chew on.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano
Mmm. Poetry. Slightly less rare than middle grade biography winners. After all, verse novels have won. Monologues done in rhyme have won. Even straight up books of poetry have, technically, won. One thing I have learned about this book is that not everybody shares my love of it. Like humor, the worth of poetry can prove subjective. Still and all, there’s a groundswell of support for it out there. One of the loveliest books of the year, by far.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Also known as the book I had to flip to the back of because it became too tense for me not to know how it ended. They keep comparing it to To Kill a Mockingbird in the ad copy, which I feel is a bit unfair. Any book compared to Harper Lee’s classic is going to end up with a raw deal. It’s an interesting take on prejudices and has, by far, the most evil bully in a book I have EVER read. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable in the same way as the Nesbet book, but it was deeply compelling and beautifully written.
AND NOW . . . THE BOOK THAT IS GOING TO BE SUPER FUN FOR THE NEWBERY COMMITTEE AS THEY TRY TO FIGURE OUT IF IT’S EVEN UP FOR CONTENTION OR NOT . . .
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, narrative and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi
Haven’t heard of it? I bet not. I have not yet begun to sing its praises on this blog, having just read it, but this is without a doubt one of the most amazing books of the year.
Now this should be an open and shut case of a book that simply can’t be a Newbery contender. See how I mentioned that there was a translator or two involved in this book? Right. Books eligible for the Newbery must have originally been published in the United States. Case closed, right? Maybe not. This book is about the life of a celebrated Japanese poet for children who was rediscovered not long ago, and became famous thanks in large part to one of her poems circulating after the tsunami of 2011. It pulls no punches and reproduces original translations of her poems throughout the text.
So the book itself was originally published in the States, right? But the poetry spotted throughout the book comes from a Japanese anthology of Kaneko’s works. What this means is that even if the poetry has never been translated in this way before, technically the poems have been translated overseas before and therefore the book is not a Newbery contender. I think. If true this is a pity since I truly believe that anyone who reads this book will be utterly blown away by what they find inside. In any case, the author of the poetry is dead and I believe that may be an impediment to its Newbery qualifications as well. Ah well. Check it out when you get a chance. It’s really quite remarkable.
Okay, folks! Lemme have it! What did I miss?