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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Newbery/Caldecott 2020: Summer Prediction Edition

I write “summer” in the headline here in spite of the fact that the temperature outside in the Evanston/Chicago area is hovering around the low 60s. And still onward we proceed!

It seems fitting that with the Newbery/Caldecott/Legacy Awards Banquet on the horizon this weekend in Washington D.C. that I should produce a list of some of the titles you might want to take a look at while on the conference floor. But before I begin, I would like to have a word with Canda.


Dear Canada,

Please export to America the following author/illustrators: Matthew Forsythe (Pokko and the Drum) and Sydney Smith (Small in the City).

While we do appreciate your lending us Christopher Paul Curtis and Jon Klassen (we’d totally send him back, but apparently he was lost in the mail, so I think that means we get to keep him now) we are perturbed by the fact that you keep producing talented creators that are unable to win Newberys and Caldecotts by dint of their whereabouts (i.e. not in the United States of America).

Also, if you could talk to Australia about passing on to us Caroline Magerl and Remy Lai, that would be awesome.

Most appreciatively,

Betsy Bird

Right. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s go about making predictions that will, in the end, only break our hearts when they turn out to be way off. And yet, there’s is an off chance that one or two of these books really will make it to the finish line. Which ones? Let’s see if you can figure it out . . .

2020 Caldecott Predictions

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, ill. LeUyen Pham

I don’t think librarians would consider themselves particularly superstitious folks, but try bringing up the possibility that an artist, who has been around for a while, might win a medal. You’ve never seen so much wood knocking, salt over the left shoulder throwing, lucky rabbit’s foot carrying antics in all your livelong days. Now Ms. Pham has been around for a while. I always keep this little tally in my brain of the books a person should have won for already. Technically, she should have won a Caldecott for The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman, but if she wins for Bear Came Along instead I’d be perfectly fine with that. Now I am not always the best at understanding rudimentary principles of good book design (which may account for my past prediction failures). But from what little I’ve been able to absorb, this book is beautifully put together. There are wordless sequences, action, adventure, characters you love and identify with (Team Frog!), and then there’s Morris’s overall message, which isn’t preachy or didactic in the least. Now where’d I put that salt shaker again

A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin

Sure. Last year Lin won a Caldecott Honor for A Big Mooncake for Little Star. Would it be too soon for her to win another medal all over again? Nope. In fact, and please don’t quote me on this one, I do believe that this book is even better than Mooncake. Sacrilege to say, I know, but there it is.

Elvis is King! by Jonah Winter, ill. Red Nose Studio

I have a couple books on this list that I’m fairly certain can’t win because the committee may not take them seriously enough. This is one of those. Models, in general, do not win illustration awards. They deserve to, but too often they’re forgotten. For example, we all remember Yuyi Morales’s magnificent Dreamers from last year, but how many of us remember her model work on Tony Johnson’s My Abuelita? It was amazing and while it did get a Pura Belpre Illustration Honor, I think the Caldecott committee should have shone a light on it as well. This year, Red Nose Studio presents us with his most complicated work yet. The sheer level of detail keeps you gasping. I love how scenes change from distant to close up, how he replicates movement, everything. Don’t dismiss this one quite yet.

The Full House and the Empty House by LK James

Teeny tiny publisher. Debut author/illustrator. Picture book that feels like it should have some grand sweeping moral but, instead, lets you interpret everything on your own terms. This is one of those books that make me feel honored to be working, in some way, in the field of children’s literature. It also makes me feel so grateful for the way in which Newbery and Caldecott Awards are chosen. Not every award is going to go to one of the big five publishers (remember Crown?). Maybe, just maybe, there’s room for the little guy once in a while.

Going Down Home With Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, ill. Daniel Minter

I included this book in my Spring Prediction Edition earlier this year, but it wasn’t until I reviewed the book that I realized why I’d done that. This is, far and away, Minter’s best work to date. It flows from page turn to page turn. The emotions are real, the story is strong, and the chickens are awesome. That’s right. You heard me. Best chickens in a picture book in 2019. Aw, yeah! I said it! Come at me!

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

Talk about a slow burn. This one creeps up on you. It looks so simple on a first glance. Then, after a while, you realize what Portis is doing. Watch the focus of the book. How she zooms in and pulls back, and does it so effortlessly that you’d be forgiven for missing it. The book can be read by older readers (if you do the full text) or younger (if you just read the large font-ed definitions). I mean, I’ve loved Portis’s art for years, but now that she’s paired with Neal Porter I think she’s been given a form and a direction that’s truly amazing.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, ill. Zeke Peña

There are two books that my library’s 101 Great Books for Kids Committee cannot stop talking about and one of them is this Quinero/Peña pairing (the other book is Magic Ramen, but I’ll talk about that some other day). There are a lot of remarkable elements to this book, but let’s just look at it as a whole. The plot is just a girl zooming around with her father on his motorcycle. That’s it. And yet, in the nooks and crannies of that rote description, you are sucked into an entire world. Peña has a gift for making a setting real. And the setting is, in a way, a prominent character in this book. Read it several times to see what you couldn’t on a first go.

A Stone Sat Still by Brenden Wenzel

It’s the book you’ve been waiting for all these years. At long last Wenzel has produces a companion picture book to his Caldecott Honor winner They All Saw a Cat. In spite of his previous win I am not inclined to recommend books from award winners. I may move them up in my To Be Read pile a little faster, but if I don’t like what an author or illustrator is doing, no amount of shiny medals in their roster is going to convince me to recommend their book. This book? I recommend it wholeheartedly. It has some surface similarities to Cat but the art is truly out of this world. Best of all, it manages to work in a subtle ecological theme to the whole endeavor as well. This is a book that could easily win the Caldecott Gold and I wouldn’t even blink. It’s just that strong.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson

Just because Kadir is overdue for a Caldecott Award (he’s won two Honors for Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom) that doesn’t mean a thing. Committees cannot consider whether an artist deserves an award based on their own personal merit. Everything comes down to the book in hand. Now when the committee considers this book they’re going to sit down and have a long conversation about whether or not the images interact with the text adequately. My suspicion is that it may Honor (isn’t it nice that the publisher put that circle on the cover – might as well just write in Please Place Award Sticker Here on it) in the end. I certainly hope it gets that much, at least. It’s extraordinary.

Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

That’s right. There’s more than girl traveling at high speeds on the list today. I liken this particular book to Where the Wild Things Are, but only if Max had ditched his little boat so as to acquire a sleek, silver roadster. With minimal text, McClintock conjures up whole worlds here. I truly believe she should have gotten some recognition last year for Nothing Stopped Sophie, but math books rarely fare well. This book showcases McClintock’s particular talents to a fine degree. Also, this book is ideal for the young fry. Limited words and fine tuned art.

Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, ill. Zachariah Ohora

What? WHAT? You don’t think it has a chance or something?

Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

It’s not a prediction list until you can work in at least one Laura Vaccaro Seeger book. Eschewing die-cuts and single word text, this book looks like something for your average fluffy bunny lover. But inside this is lovely, thought provoking, deeply touching tale about the discoveries of the young rabbit and the bear that will have to leave him (for hibernation) soon.

2020 Newbery Predictions

Eventown by Corey-Ann Haydu

Sometimes I worry that if I review or discuss a book too early in the year, it could end up forgotten in a couple months time. Happily, these prediction posts get to keep such books just a bit in the limelight after their release. I was impressed by Haydu’s work on this story. Then again, I’ve a weakness for books about group-think and seeming perfection. This may well be the best book club book for 9-12 year olds I’ve seen so far.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

What is the mark of a book that one might call “distinguished” and Newbery-worthy? Sometimes I’d the sweeping language. Sometimes it’s the emotional toil it takes on the reader. But sometimes, if you are lucky, you might debate someone who believes that the more a book unpacks complex ideas in a straightforward manner (without talking down to the young reader) the more likely it is to win awards. Ramée’s book is a slow burn. It starts off like any other middle grade novel and then, slowly over the course of the plot, it morphs into a book about taking personal responsibility, as a child, for social change in the 21st century. I may have to reread it just to figure out how the author managed to turn complex ideas into kid friendly ones. Remarkable.

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Sometimes folks will mutter that a certain type of book is “Newbery bait”. Like its mere prose is catnip to adults on committees. So yes, this is a book about grief and disaster. But the healing felt real, and I’m giving the book extra points for selecting this title (“The Line Tender”) in particular. It’s one I can always remember.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

I am by no means the first person to point out that this book would make for a brilliant book club title. I’ve come around to the notion of giving Newberys to comics more often. There are many other things that make librarians (even on commitees) happy. This is one of those very rare books starring a black boy without superpowers that’s also a comic. Go on! Try to find a kid, any kid, who doesn’t relate to it.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

I almost never include books on this list that I haven’t read. That said, the buzz surrounding this particular book is so strong that I have succumbed. I include it here today because it is probably the top verse novel being considered for the Newbery this year. Certainly it wins in the Most Newberyish Sounding Title challenge. I’ll be reading it soon, but I just wanted to get it onto your radar as well.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

More comics! More, I say! And again, I would point out to you that Meconis does a magnificent job explaining everything you need to know about the characters. Our heroine befriends a captive woman on an island where every woman is a prisoner (whether she wants to be or not). I’ve mentioned before the degree to which I was blown away by this book, so I just wanted to bring it up here. Alternative history at its finest.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Let the record show that the likelihood of this book winning a Newbery is slim. That said, A Tale Dark and Grimm didn’t win any Newberys either when it came out and it was similarly smart. For my part, I was entranced by this book from page one onward. It’s just two little foxes confronting every fear you could imagine. It’s terrifying and delicious. I hope the committee at least gives it a read.

Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin

Because once in a great while, a weird weird book deserves to win.

That’s all I have on my end. What have you liked?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Every one of these books deserves recognition. I don’t know if you remember a popular book, now out of print, called “I Can’t Said the Ant,” by Polly Cameron. The woodcut style pictures in “The Full House and the Empty House” seem strikingly similar. I wonder if this is the result of influence or coincidence, or maybe no one else sees the similarity.
    I like the way that you refer to heartbreaking predictions. Truthfully, I am trying to avoid that. Last year was especially full of angry recriminations, even denigration of some of the winners’ work. I was disappointed in a number of cases where outstanding books were not honored. There are dozens of excellent books in every category; the nature of awards is that not every candidate is recognized. Having said that, I asked myself what happened to “Sweep,” and to “All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah.” Apparently the judges did not see the tremendous innovation and beauty in those books that I, and other readers, did. I will admit to wondering what other non-literary factors could have been at work, but if you allow yourself to entertain that possibility, it could potentially invalidate any award. So I will just continue to read and write about all the wonderful books which gifted authors and illustrators produce for kids.

    • And there is always the comfort that many books, like SWEEP and ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY HANUKKAH can receive other awards, like the Sydney Taylor. Some folks lament how many awards are out there, but when you consider how many books are being published it seems only fair to me.

  2. Monica Edinger says:

    How about some nonfiction for Newbery? I nominate This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy (2019 Boston Globe Horn Book nonfiction winner:0

    • I did think about my lack of inclusion of nonfiction, but nothing is singing to me yet. I haven’t read the new Sheinkin or Heiligman books, though. I think I shall finally have to read this Boyce/Levy book of which you speak. Time to put on my big girl hat and get past the cover.

      • Ha! From the cover, I assumed it was fiction and didn’t give it another thought. But I started reading yesterday; I’m 50 pages in and VERY impressed. I even forced a coworker to listen to me recite one of the poems this morning–it’s that kind of book!

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

    Pay Attention, Carter Jones

    Time Sight

  4. This Promise of Change is a brilliant book. I am not sure what they will do about a book on which two authors are listed. Boyce lived the experience which Levy chronicles in poetry, and it is a writing award, so I wonder how this would affect its potential as a winner. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. What Levy has done in this book, using free verse, but also highly demanding forms, will reach readers whether or not it is recognized, and Boyce’s courageous actions are unforgettable.
    As for “Sweep” and “All-of-a-Kind Family” winning the Sydney Taylor, I was thrilled. I would have liked them to be recognized outside of the Jewish book world as well as within it, but, again, those books will live forever.

  5. Brian Wilson says:

    Great choices! I’m one of the people on the top 101 books committee who adores My Papi Has a Motorcycle. And I also love A Stone Sat Still and Going Down Home with Daddy. Bear Came Along thrilled my preschool crowds when I performed it in storytime. Oh those waterfall spreads. I’d love to throw some love Frank Morrison’s way for The Roots Of Rap with its vibrant colors and energy. I caught a quick glimpse of Oge Mora’s Saturday and it’s fabulous. And I love Micha Archer’s intricate collages in Daniel’s Good Day. What a great year! I don’t envy those on illustration committees this year—all the books you list are winners. On the Newbery side, I know it won’t happen but I’d love for Geoff Rodkey’s cautionary tale We’re Not from Here, the snappiest genre book I have read so far this year, to get some awards love. Oh I want The New Kid to win some awards big time. It is both witty and stinging, one of the best middle grade novels in recent memory. A Good Kind of Trouble also packs a punch. Those two books make intriguing companions and deserve any accolade they receive.

  6. Becky LeMond says:

    I’m reading THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE. Still not very far in, but I LOVE THIS BOOK so far! She is a remarkable character…reminds me of another favorite character, Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL, but…dare I say I like Coyote even better? So far, I do. I read a review that mentioned the story popping right off the page. That’s a great description. Please check it out if you haven’t already. I’m really rooting for this book to take the Medal!!! 😊

  7. Can we also please ask Canada for Julie Morstad and Renata Liwksa?

    Every book that Red Nose Studio does I hope for some sort of recognition-the models are stunning and capture such emotion and movement. Someday! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    I don’t know if it will much love, but I am loving Sarah Jacoby’s illustrations in The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown. There are some very beautiful spreads there.

  8. Susie Highley says:

    The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatramen

  9. Susie Highley says:

    Darn autocorrect. I know it’s Venkatraman; I’ve even met her and was able to express my admiration in person.

  10. Madeline Schnurr says:

    The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

  11. Maggie Bokelman says:

    100% agree with This Promise of Change. I expected it to be well written, but was completely caught off guard by its literary merit. I don’t think it should matter one iota that it’s co-written. So, if it wins, two authors share the award. (Unless there’s something specific in the award criteria that says the book must be written by a single author that I am not aware of.)