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Always a Bridesmaid: The Newbery/Caldecott Honor Winning Crowd

It’s almost time for me to start thinking about my mid-year Newbery/Caldecott prediction list (also known as The Arbitrary Arbitrariness of the Arbitrariums).  In doing so my mind has been inclined to think back over the years to past winners.  In discussion with a friend the other day, the conversation turned to Jerry Pinkney.  Specifically, how for years he was the Susan Lucci of the Caldecott. Time and time again Mr. Pinkney would get Honors (no small shakes) and would be passed over for the big gold, until at long last he was lionized (so to speak).  So I wonder to myself, who are the folks you think of first when you hear the words “They wuz robbed!”?

I’m going to note that this kind of post is not really my specialty.  We are definitely in Collecting Children’s Books territory here, and my co-writer Peter Sieruta could undoubtedly give you the history of Honor Only winners throughout the years.  For my own part, here are a couple contemporary names that occurred to me:

On the Caldecott Side

Bryan Collier – His work on Dave the Potter, Rosa, and Martin’s Big Words, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr. Collier is a force to be reckoned with.  The fact that all three of these books were nonfiction fare is interesting as well.  Seems the Caldecott committees are fine with honoring nonfiction insofar as it goes, but they often stop short of giving it the shiny gold.  Not always.  But often.

Marla Frazee – Her honors are relatively new, all things considered.  Yet both All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever won Honors in two consecutive years in a row.  For the Frazee fans amongst us this was a huge victory and confirmation that she is the national treasure we all knew her to be.  The gold so far has eluded her, but since her recent track record is so very good we hold out hope.

Kadir Nelson – Probably the most obvious amongst those listed here, though I had been under the impression that Nelson had received more than two Honors.  Not the case.  And while Henry’s Freedom Box and Moses got Honors, books like We Are the Ship didn’t win anything (in the Caldecott category anyway).  Now Nelson has a fall Harper Collins title called Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans that may prove to win him over to the top  . . . or disappear without so much as a trace.

Mo Willems – If Kadir Nelson stretches to one side of the artistic spectrum, Mo Willems sits comfortably at the other.  Having won Honors for Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, Mo is probably the best known of any of these illustrators.  Yet while he sells like nobody’s business (and wins Geisels left and right), Caldecott committees have yet to give him the shiny shiny.

On the Newbery Side

Nancy Farmer – I wasn’t initially going to include Ms. Farmer, but then I counted the sheer number of Honors she has received.  The House of the Scorpion, A Girl Named Disaster, and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, all garnered them, but in the last eight years she hasn’t been catching the committees’ eye.

Jennifer Holm – Catching committees’ eyes is the name of the game for Jennifer Holm, though.  She’s sort of a Newbery Honor standard.  Our Only May Amelia, Turtle in Paradise, and Penny from Heaven, are her Honors, but for a lot of us it’s pretty clear that she’s just biding her time.  There’s a Newbery gold waiting for that kid.  Plus, she’s still so young that you know she has time to get full notice.

Gary Schmidt – When discussing potential winners of the Newbery this year, the conversation inevitably turned to Schmidt’s much (justifiably) lauded Okay for Now.  As the person I discussed it with said, “Well what else could even win the Award this year?”  They have a point.  And yet the same has been said in the past for Schmidt’s two Newbery Honors The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Megan Whalen Turner – Though she has only a single Honor to her name (for The Thief) every time Turner produces a novel, legions of fans (both old and newly acquired) clamor for a proper Award.  Handicapped by the books’ age range and the debate of whether or not each one stands on its own, it still would not be surprising if someday Ms. Turner swept the gold once and for all.  Indeed, we would expect no less of her.

Jacqueline Woodson – After Tupac & D Foster, Feathers, and Show Way (to say nothing of her Caldecott Honor for Coming on Home Soon) firmly establish Ms. Woodson as a woman waiting in the wings for a big win.  I imagine it will be soon, though like Ms. Holm she’s a relatively young author.  So she has time.

Are there any other folks, Honor winners or not, that you feel get consistently passed over by the committees each and every year?

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. Heidi Stemple says

    What about Jane Yolen? Devil’s Arithmetic was passed over and not even given a mention, though it is still taught in practically every middle school in the country. I would say that, it is not only a really amazing book, but it is an important book. There are others that were passed over, Armageddon Summer, Sword of the Rightful King, Girl In A Cage, to name what I think are possibly the best of the bunch. My opinion is, admittedly, not exactly unbiased. I am Jane Yolen’s daughter. But, I think that there are people who may agree with me. While her shelves are filled with awards of all kinds, the one that is missing is the Newbery.

  2. Brian Floca

  3. As I have mentioned before, I think Kadir may receive attention from the big C with his Joe Louis book with Matt de La Pena. The artwork forces one to turn the page, shows off his artistic talent, and complements Matt’s fine text. The artwork makes the book as big as Joe Louis. The subject is, however, boxing. Does the subject matter subconsciously influence a committee? Having served on the Caldecott, I’d like to think it does not, except in so far as books do or do not penetrate the committee’s decision to pick up and really examine a title in the first place (which is why blogs like yours and reviews and other buzz is so important for the members who ARE lurking).

  4. Christy Heins says

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Eric Carle ever won a Caldecott medal OR honor. 🙁

  5. How about Peter Sís for the Caldecott one of these days? I wouldn’t mind seeing Steve Jenkins, Denise Fleming, Lois Ehlert, or Lane Smith, for that matter. And Shaun Tan should probably add a Caldecott to his numerous awards–I’d give a Caldecott to The Arrival in a heartbeat (target audience questions be damned).

    For the Newbery, maybe Kathi Appelt, Rita Williams-Garcia, or Joyce Sidman. And certainly Jane Yolen; amen to that, Heidi.

    Of course, Betsy, your picks are exactly right! I’m especially rooting for Kadir Nelson, Jennifer Holm, and Megan Whalen Turner.

  6. I love Kadir Nelson! It is hard to believe that he hasn’t won a Caldecott. But then, there is only one Caldecott and so many phenomenal illustrators. This has me thinking of other illustrators I love who haven’t won the Caldecott. I have also been thinking about illustrators who won the Caldecott but for the wrong book. I feel like Kevin Henkes and Chris Raschka would both make that list.

  7. In addition to the authors you listed in today’s blog, there are a few more perpetual Newbery Honor winners who are still writing and could still win the top prize:

    Patricia Reilly Giff has had two Honors: LILY’S CROSSING (1998) and PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS (2003.)

    Jim Murphy has had two Honors: THE GREAT FIRE (1996) and AN AMERICAN PLAGUE (2004.)

    Walter Dean Myers has had two Honor Books: SCORPIONS (1989) and SOMEWHERE IN THE DARKNESS (1993.)

    Laurence Yep has had two Newbery Honors: DRAGONWINGS in 1976 and DRAGON’S GATE in 1994.

    Gary Paulsen has a trio of Honors: DOGSONG (1986), HATCHET (1988), and THE WINTER ROOM (1990.)

    Zilpha Keatley Snyder has three Honors for THE EGYPT GAME (1968), THE HEADLESS CUPID (1972), and THE WITCHES OF WORM (1973.)

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I knew I could rely on you, Peter. The Snyder Honors are particularly interesting.

      And yes, Shaun Tan cannot and will not ever win a Newbery unless he picks up and moves to the States. Which, to be honest, I do not see happening.

      Folks who win for the “wrong” books are a whole blog post in and of itself.

  8. It dawned on me just the other day that the reason Shaun Tan didn’t win a Caldecott for Arrival was that he’s an Australian.

    My early pick for the Newbery this year is Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt. We shall see what else comes up…

    And I would LOVE to see Kadir Nelson win gold. He’s probably who I think of as far as the wuz robbed category.

    And of course I’m solidly in the Megan Whalen Turner camp, whenever her next novel comes out.

    The one I would LOVE to see win gold with any book she writes is Shannon Hale. Her honor for Princess Academy was actually my least favorite of her wonderful books (though still wonderful). Her GOOSE GIRL and BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS were both my personal favorite books of the years in which they came out.

  9. One thing’s for sure, if I ever have a book published, I’d far rather win a Newbery Honor than a Printz Honor. Newbery Honor winners don’t have to give a speech!

  10. Stephanie says

    Barbara O’Connor is one to watch.

  11. Echoing a number of names that have already been mentioned: Nancy Farmer, Megan Whalen Turner, Jane Yolen, Shannon Hale. I haven’t been as much of a fan of her newer books (with the exception of the Kate and Cecy books), but I always wished Patricia Wrede had gotten some recognition for the Enchanted Forest series, which were surely some of the most delightful fantasy books I read in middle school.

    I was about to ask if Hilary McKay had ever won anything and then remembered she’s British. Guess that answers that question!

  12. Mark Flowers says

    Yeah, Snyder had the misfortune to go up against Mrs. Frisby, Mrs. Frankweiler, and Julie of the Wolves. Rough. BUT – she got three honors in 5 years, and then nothing! C’mon Newbery! She’s still writing great stuff.

    Yolen, Myers, Giff – hard to believe they’ve never won.

  13. Reka Simonsen says

    Donna Jo Napoli has written incredible books for twenty years and never received a top honor–I think she’s long overdue, though I don’t know if she has a book out this year. I remember a lot of people feeling that Folk Keeper should have won something, so I do hope the committee makes up for that and recognizes Chime, which is absolutely amazing and worthy. And yes, please give Megan Whalen Turner a shiny gold sticker one of these years!

    But as for your annual predict-o-rama, it would be so nice if that happened a month or so down the road, once far more people have managed to get their hands on the fall ARCs at ALA, or have had a chance to read what they just got at BEA. It seems unfair to the fall books to predict anything before the second, and often bigger, half of the year’s books have made their debut.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Well, that’s why I do my predict-o-rama four times a year. One in spring, one in summer, one in fall, and one in the winter. That way I can taper it and change it as the books come out throughout the year. It’s also interesting to see how titles fall out over time.

  14. No! Carle never won a Caldecott, but he did win something lifetime achievement-ish. Bah!

    I, for one was rather upset when my 2002 favorite, Noah’s Ark won an honor to My Friend Rabbit. Though I since have come to appreciate the genius of My Friend Rabbit, I thought that Mr. Pinkney wuz robbed that year, among others.

    I am also a huge fan of Kadir Nelson’s (and Matt de la Peñ’s) and am rooting for A Nation’s Hope, but have to agree with Ed and his boxing book theory.

    Another glaring Caldecott omission is Jan Brett, IMHO.

  15. Deborah Wiles for a Newbery one of these years.

  16. I’m with Margaret – Brian Floca!

  17. Oh yeah, the Aussie thing! I hereby withdraw my Shaun Tan “nomination.” 🙂

  18. Genevieve says

    Yes, definitely Brian Floca!!