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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Past Winners and Trend Bucking

Remember that year when the Caldecott winner was a significantly longer book than the Newbery winner?  It was 2008 and Brian Selznick got the Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret while Laura Amy Schlitz got the Newbery for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village.   That felt like a big deal at the time.  Ten years later we’ve seen more books that are less “traditional” award winners recognized.  Graphic novels and picture books keep popping up where least expected!   Are we going to keep seeing more of this?

I, personally, love to see our committees taking the terms and criteria to heart while expanding the way they are considered.

So, what does this mean for this year?

babymoneySelznick’s latest (co-written by David Serlin), Baby Monkey, Private Eye, is getting a lot of buzz.  I’ve heard it mentioned as a potential Newbery, Geisel, and Caldecott contendor.  Looking at it for Newbery, though, I’m not so sure.  This is an almost 200-page Easy Reader with an index, an art guide, and a biblography.  It’s charming, hilarious, lovable, smart, and fun.  But do the design and illustration make this book?  Is the text, itself, distinguished? I think the book is distinguished, but for me, not Newbery distinguished.  What do you think?

Other non-traditional Newbery titles that’ve been on my mind are Love by Matt de la Peña, who nabbed the 2016 Newbery Medal with a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street,  They Say Blue, the debut picture book by Jillian Tamaki whose graphic novel This One Summer snagged a 2015 Caldecott Honor, and The Day you Begin by the always-amazing always award-winning Jacqieline Woodson.

Do you think any of these have a shot?

day you begin love they say blue

Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. In the last few years, I definitely think we’ve started to look more deeply at the dark horses in the race – especially since de la Peña nabbed the Medal for LSoMS. I’ve read all the titles in this post, and think that, of all of them, de la Peña has the most significant shot at nabbing some kind of Newbery love for Love (buh-dum-CHING).

    Baby Monkey is great – definitely a favorite read-aloud, but there’s nothing nuanced about the writing that would land it in Newbery-ville, especially when pitted against other titles in the crowded field. A friend told me that it isn’t eligible for the Geisel because of its page count, but I haven’t investigated the criteria to verify that. The message of The Day You Begin is important and heartwarming, but the meter felt a bit off to me, and, when compared to Love, it just doesn’t rise to the top. Although we can’t compare to titles outside the current comparing year, I personally feel that Love is far better written than LSoMS, and would be delighted if it was recognized. They Say Blue has astonishing artwork (certainly a Caldecott contender), but the writing was only meh to me.

  2. Oooh, I’d totally forgotten that the Geisel award has a page limit! The book needs to be between 24-96 pages, and Baby Monkey is more than twice that. That’s disappointing to me, as it’s one of my favorite early readers this year. I have to agree that I don’t think that based on text alone it rises to the top. It’s the combination of words and pictures that make it so charming. The entire joke about the monkey not being able to put on his pants is missing. One of my favorite parts of the book is when he’s so sleepy he forgets to put his pants on, and while the text does acknowledge that (and I suppose the argument could be made that the lack of an exclamation mark is a textual clue that something is not quite right), it’s the visual image that has had classrooms of students yelling out “No! Wait! He forgot his pants!” even before I turn the page for the text. The impact just isn’t the same. I guess I’ll just have to put all of my Baby Monkey hopes into the Caldecott basket.

  3. steven engelfried says:

    I would add THE STUFF OF STARS by Marion Dane Bauer into the picture book Newbery conversation. The poetic language describes the history of the universe, culminating in the birth of a single child. No easy trick…. The text works perfectly with amazing illustrations by Ekua Holmes; I hope it will be in Caldecott conversations too.

  4. And I’d add Juan Felipe Herrera’s Imagine.

  5. Leonard Kim says:

    I had a couple of picture books among this summer’s suggestions. In addition to THEY SAY BLUE, I loved the texts of Linda Urban’s MABEL AND SAM AT HOME and Philip Stead’s ALL THE ANIMALS WHERE I LIVE. Actually, I think Stead’s VERNON IS ON HIS WAY may have a better shot at Newbery consideration, since I think those skeptical of Stead’s kid appeal may find it more palatable. I’d also suggested Latham and Waters’ CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? though that probably belongs more in a poetry discussion rather than picture book. Though not tops on my personal list this year, Julie Fogliano almost always belongs in this discussion, and she has A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS. And what about Grace Lin’s A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR?

    That said, I don’t know that I feel there is a picture book out there that obviously contends this year. Graphic novels on the other hand…

    • We definitely will discuss The Prince and the Dressmaker!! What other GN’s you would like to talk about?

      • DaNae C Leu says:

        Roxanne, I put THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM on our list, but someone questioned it eligible abilities. I guess some of the collaborators don’t meed the Newbery criteria? I’m going to read heavily from graphic novels in the next week as I search for nominations for our State list. I would be happy for more suggestions as well. I just got one yesterday that I’m forgetting the name of, something about killing Hitler.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM is one of my favorites of the year. I’m pretty sure all of the contributors are Newbery-eligible (they all seem to be US residents). One is deceased, but the Terms and Criteria allow posthumous awards. DaNae, what eligibility questions have you heard?

        I also suggested PETER AND ERNESTO, another favorite.

      • Leonard, I think it was a residency issue, but I”m not sure. I didn’t pay too close of attention. I will trust your research and any follow-up here.

        ERNESTO is so great.

      • I’m on the TxLA Little Mavericks committee, so reading LOTS of graphic novels for K-5 this year, and Cardboard Kingdom is a standout. The others that blew me away were City on the Other Side, and Making Friends. I didn’t read any with an eye towards how the text stands alone, though, so I’d have to go back to see if I felt like they were Newbery material.

  6. DaNae C Leu says:

    Thank you for all the picture book recommendations. This year as a Newbery club activity I’m considering putting the students in groups and asking them to go through the criteria using different picture books. I will need a number of titles to make it work. (Hoping my budget can stand the strain.)

  7. BTW, I just spent part of my day reading BABY MONKEY to Kindergartners and second graders. It couldn’t have been more will received. They loved how predictive it was (Geisel) Where thoroughly engaged with the expressiveness of Baby Monkey (Caldecott) So utterly distinguished for its audience (Newbery?)

    Every element works. It simply gets the award for best book of the year.

    • I have to be honest, on my own first read of BABY MONKEY, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Then I read it to my own children. Completely changed my perspective.

  8. I think Baby Monkey has a much better chance for the Caldecott. It works really well with page turns and details of the illustration. I don’t think the words alone are nearly as distinguished feeling. I feel kind of the same way about They Say Blue. The book’s impact comes from the colors on the page even more than the text. The Day You Begin and Love are more distinguished in the writing beyond the illustration.

  9. Brenda Martin says:

    Personally, if THE DAY YOU BEGIN did not have Jacqueline Woodson’s name on it, I don’t think we’d include it in this discussion. Despite the fine message, also strong sentence-level writing, and the strong EDI content, it’s really a bit of a muddled mess. At some points it seems like fully like a message book. But there is a weak narrative, too. in Angelica and Rigoberto becoming friends. But does the depressed white boy jump into the lake? He’s never seen again. Even on the final spread, at least one of the children is omitted by Lopez (which, granted, is more of a Caldecott concern). I’m pretty certain the Newbery committee can find a stronger picture book to consider than this one.

  10. Kathi Appelt says:

    I think a trend-bucker might be a picture book biography. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A VOICE LIKE THAT, by Chris Barton. The poetic language, the narrative voice, the structure–all recommend it. Definitely worth a look.

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