Aside from the comparative simplicity of the text and the interdependence of text and illustrations, the biggest problem the committee faces in evaluating easy readers for Newbery recognition is that most publishers simply do not submit them, leaving committee members to find–and champion–them on their own. That’s easy to do when you have big names like Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes, David Macaulay, Grace Lin, and Kate DiCamillo. But unless a lesser known name generates some starred reviews (and easy readers as a whole tend to be understarred compared to their younger and older counterparts), the committee will likely have a difficult time noticing such a book.
Mo Willems has his 19th and 20th Elephant & Piggie titles out this year, A BIG GUY TOOK MY BALL and I’M A FROG. David Macaulay has the 3rd and 4th entries in his How It Works series, TOILET and EYE. BEST FRIENDS FOREVER by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee is the third book featuring Bink and Gollie. LING AND TING SHARE A BIRTHDAY is the second book featuring these Chinese-American twins. Not that I’m going to argue for these, but if you feel the need to have the best easy readers of the year–Newbery criteria be damned!–you will also want to seek out BENJAMIN BEAR IN BRIGHT IDEAS by Phillipe Coudray, ODD DUCK by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon, and FAIRY TALE COMICS edited by Chris Duffy.
However, PENNY AND HER MARBLE by Kevin Henkes probably has the best shot at being the long shot. We considered PENNY AND HER DOLL and PENNY AND HER SONG previously and the nice thing about only having one Penny book this year is that it doesn’t divide the Penny fans into factions. Moreover, this one happens to be better than either of the previous books with the introduction of Penny’s ethical dilemma over stealing the marble. Henkes is so attuned to the inner workings of young children and his treatment of this issue is superb. The one thing that gives me pause is the external circumstance that sets up the whole situation. If you wanted to give a marble away to some child, would you really leave it on your lawn? This seems unrealistic and silly, but if we see this fuzzy logic once in a novel, we see it a dozen times. It seems magnified here because of the brevity of the text. I understand that, of course, but it doesn’t make it any easier for PENNY AND HER MARBLE to claim one of my October nominations.