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Newbery / Caldecott 2013: The Fall Prediction Edition

For the final prediction edition of the 2013 Newbery/Caldecott Awards be sure to see my latest post here.

A little late but still got it out before the end of October and the imminent arrival of Frankenstorm.  I spent a goodly part of yesterday preparing for the hurricane by baking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Now you know where my priorities lie.

The year has passed like a blur and there’s an interesting consistency to the books being discussed for Newberys and Caldecotts.  Newberys anyway.  This may be an entirely Wild Card Caldecott year as far as I can tell.  There are no sure fire winners.  Only worthy contestants.  Let’s begin!

Newbery 2013

The Unfortunate Son by Constance Leeds – I stand by this one.  It was weird when I put it on my last prediction list and weirder still that I’ve not removed it.  But the fact of the matter is that when we think of the word “distinguished” and apply it to writing, Leeds’ book stands up time and time again.  If you haven’t read it yet, I think you’ll have to grab yourself a copy and take a gander.  Shield thine eyes against the brown-ness of the book jacket and enjoy the stellar writing.  Yes, it’s a wild card, but such a lovely fun one.

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin – In spite of having one of the more difficult names to remember, I think this is my current front runner.  Yep.  I think we’ve got a gold medal winner on our hands.  It isn’t just the fact that it’s better than its predecessor (which won an Honor back in the day).  It’s the fact that Lin seamlessly weaves her folktales into the narrative in such a way that you half suspect she made them up (she didn’t).  It’s the fact that the writing is cyclical, referring back to itself and to the characters both telling and listening to the story.  It’s the fact that it’s masterful.  Nuff said.

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Obed – My pet beloved, and STILL it is not out yet.  Is there any way to curse a book more than to release it in November?  Talk is minimal about it, though it has gotten starred reviews already and Travis Jonker gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up over at 100 Scope Notes.  Consider this one the stealth contestant.  Nobody will see it coming . . .

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Normally when a book breaks as early as this one did in the year it is either forgotten or less discussed by the year’s end.  Not the case with Wonder.  This is a case of a book coming out in the right place at the right time.  It managed to simultaneously touch people on an emotional level, wow them on a literary one, and (most important of all?) it falls under the sway of the current Anti-Bullying craze sweeping the nation.  Whole schools are adopting it as their One Book reads.  I had a discussion with someone the other day about how many award winners win simply because of timing.  Could Smoky Night by David Diaz or The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein (or even Johnny Tremain for that matter) have done so well if they hadn’t be published precisely when they were?  By the same token, Wonder at least has a VERY good chance at a Newbery honor.  Note that it didn’t make it onto the National Book Award finalists, though.  That may be why I’m not so sure of its gold chances.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker – If the book is sunk by anything at this point it may be the ending.  Not the happiness found there, mind.  I was a-okay with all of that.  Rather, the lack of attention the press takes in the story and the mildest of mild slaps on the wrist to the characters.  Still, in terms of character development this is maybe the strongest children’s novel of the year.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz – Shaking off the rather ridiculous notion that the book is boring (how much more blood would it take to be exciting exactly?) what has surprised me time and time again about this book is the reaction from patrons and librarians.  I expected to be the one lonely voice howling in the wind about its loveliness.  Instead I find myself just an average alto in a very large chorus.  Nina at Heavy Medals thinks it’s a love it or hate it title, but I have been surprised at how few folks I’ve run across dislike it or think it’s anything less than fantastic.  I recently did a Wolves of Willoughby Chase event and when asked who is akin to Joan Aiken, Ms. Schlitz’s name popped immediately to mind.  For writing alone, this should win something.

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin – Just as folks like Jonathan Hunt have their own tendencies when they talk about potential winners (he pushes YA, nonfiction, and easy/picture books) my personal bugaboo is the YA novel that wins a Newbery.  The award goes until the age of 14 so, technically, many is the book that could win.  However, I’ve always disliked it when a book meant for an older audience wins the day.  We have the Printz and though it does not receive the same press as the Newbery, I feel it covers the tween crowd quite nicely.  There are always exceptions, which is why I’m not exactly sitting down to rewrite the Newbery criteria.  Case in point, Bomb.  What I love about this is that while it does have an older audience in mind, the content is the kind of thing I’ve had many many 10, 11 and 12-year-olds asking me for over the years.  They want bomb info.  This book delivers and, amazing as it is to say, Jonathan actually agrees with me on this one.  Wowzer!

Crow by Barbara Wright – I have a co-worker with a near supernatural sense of ALA Award winners.  A year ago she kept harkening back to A Ball for Daisy.  Kept saying how worthy it was and how the wordless sequences really put it over the top.  This year she’s been getting the same feeling about Crow.  I will admit to you that it took a long time for me to pick this Reconstruction-era tale up but when I finished I was glad that I did.  It is worthy?  No question.  What may sink it is the question of kid-friendly reading.  Technically this is not a serious consideration on the part of the Newbery committee, but it’s still something they take into account.  Then again, my co-worker is so rarely wrong . . .

Not Mentioned (and why!):

  • The One and Only Ivan by Katharine Applegate – I was very fond of this one but I’m not sure if I’m ready to stick my flag into it and declare it a whole new world. It does some great things and like Wonder is very timely (the real Ivan died this year). Trouble is, it relies on a plot point that I’ve heard contested in more than one circle, so I’m not sure if it will get all that far.
  • The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine – I was actually a big fan of this one. Really well done. Just didn’t quite have that little extra something to make it a Newbery.
  • No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson – Too YA.  Though if we consider the sheer lack of multiculturalism this year I’d be more than happy to have it seriously considered.
  • Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead – Love the book but I’m not sure of its long term staying power. A good one to be aware of in any case.
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage – I adore it but this has turned out to be a hugely divisive book. Please, oh please, dear sweet committee, prove me wrong!


(this kind of thing is so much easier to do when the New York Times Best Illustrated List has already come out)

And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead – In a year that could conceivably be considered Stead vs. Stead vs. Stead (this, Phil’s A Home for Bird, and the duo’s Bear Has a Story to Tell) of all the Steadifying of 2012 this book remains my favorite.  It’s not just Fogliano’s delightful but careful and subdued writing.  It’s how Ms. Stead has chosen to portray the sheer swaths of time left waiting for something to grow in the spring.  This is a book about restraint (a notion foreign to most small children).  Let us hope the committee is not the least bit restrained and gives is a glorious little award.

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder – As a woman who spent her young adult life certain that she would become a professional photographer (ah, crazed youth) my heart is still firmly in the court of photography.  There is, naturally, the question of whether or not a book complemented by photographs constitutes “illustration”.  In the fine art world photography has always been pooh-poohed as a lesser art, and some of that prejudice slips down even to the world of children’s literature.  Indeed, no work of pure photography has ever won a Caldecott (the only near exception being Knuffle Bunny‘s mix of photos and images).  Certainly I always thought that if any photographer got such an award it would have to be Nic Bishop.  If it happened to go to Rick Lieder instead, however, I would not mind a jot.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen – The last time I mentioned my predictions I failed to include this little gem.  The response from the artists out there was a universal cry of support.  Mr. Klassen is very big amongst his fellows.  That being said, there is some concern that the heroine of this book does not hold her knitting needles correctly. I can’t seem to find my copy but if true then this could potentially disqualify the book.  FYI.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger – I refer you now to Lolly Robinson’s discussion at Calling Caldecott where she waxes rhapsodic about the various traits worth celebrating in the title.  To my horror, however, she pointed out a small mistake.  It sounds like a mild design issue and hopefully not a dealbreaker.  Just the same, it could well reduce what I once thought of as the Caldecott frontrunner to an Honor.  Or maybe not!    I’m still counting on getting a green Newbery/Caldecott dress out of this.

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff – A smart mix of tribute and original storytelling/art.  One of the younger Caldecott contenders seen here, and I think that’s important.  It is restrained in its text, but to just the right degree.  Hopefully the committee will see it for the smart little book that it is.

Not Mentioned (and why!):

  • Z is for Moose by Kelly A. Bingham, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky – Hugely popular it is. Lots of fun as well. I’m just not certain it outshines the other potential candidates this year, that’s all. Still a stellar piece of work, no matter how you slice it.
  • This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen – No, I’m afraid his work on Extra Yarn has a better chance. This one is a visual stunner, but not quite there on the writing side.
  • Oh No! by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann – Great book but alas someone showed me a perspective problem near the end that may sink it for the committee. Doggone it.

And your thoughts?

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. Thanks for the list – good to have focus with so many books out there.

    One quick correction for Oh No! the author is Candace FLEMING – who just so happens to be married to Eric Rohmann. She is the best author yet to visit my school. A true delight who manages to thrill kinders and connect with 6th graders in a very real way.

  2. I think Gerstein’s THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS is one of the GREAT Caldecott Winners. It may be that the time it was released gave it an extra advantage with the adult committee members. But it’s a book that worked brilliantly with children that year, and has been working brilliantly ever since. It’s a superb adventure story, for one thing; a child may be in first grade and know nothing about the fate of the towers, and still be enthralled by the book. It spans the age range from kindergarten to adult. The pictures are not only ravishing, but carry the narration brilliantly; the perspectives and aerial views can make an acrophobe dizzy. And the book is full of mischief, courage and joy. The fact that it’s also a healing book for adults–for whom it is forever linked to the tragedy of September the eleventh–is almost icing on the cake.

  3. Betsy, why is Three Times Lucky divisive? What are haters hatin’? (I loved it, doy.)

  4. Unspoken: a story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole is my current favorite picture book.


  5. My money’s on Extra Yarn. But some of the greatest pb’s this year are from non-U.S. authors – I wish wish wish we had an international award!

  6. Since I’ve only read Splendors and Glooms, my comments clearly focus on this one extraordinary work. I am a HUGE fan of Laura Amy Schlitz and I’ve waited for this book with bated breath–and boy was it worth the wait! Splendors and Glooms is a page turner; I was hooked immediately. It’s beautifully written, wonderfully creepy, along with suspenseful, dramatic and humorous. Splendors and Glooms will keep both young readers and adults reading with anticipation to the end.

  7. I am not familiar with the other authors besides Laura Schlitz. Splendors and Glooms is certainly her best work to date. It will captivate adolescents, teenagers and adults alike. It is beautifully written and totally engaging. While a bit dark, it really is a book about love, and the freeing of one’s self through love for another. I agree with your assessment and would love to see it on the podium.

  8. so far this year I’ve read Wonder, Lions of Little Rock, Liar & Spy, Mighty Miss Malone, and The Humming Room I’ve been a little underwhelmed so far this year. They are good books, to be sure. But I am starting to get mighty burnt out of the typical MG lit that seems so predictable. It seems to me I’d like originality to be rewarded a bit more than it currently is i the market. That being said, I’m just a parent on a budget that doesn’t include hardbacks with nary an ARC in sight relying heavily on my local library.

    Looking forward to Starry River of the Sky and Splendors and Glooms next on my list. Wish I had better access to nonfiction, dying to read Twelve Kinds of Ice and Bomb. Brought home a Black Hole is Not a Hole this week. Enjoying it so far.

    Thanks for the post, Elizabeth.

  9. Scope Notes says

    I’m with Brenda on Unspoken – amazing work by Henry Cole. Roger Sutton brought up an interesting point about the use of the quilt in the book on his blog this week, which I could see having a negative affect on the books Caldecott chances. But man, is it lovely. I second your support of Step Gently Out, Betsy – that would be an out of the box, but very deserving choice for Caldecott. My first thought about the possible knitting needle issue in Extra Yarn was “really? That seems like a bit of a nitpick.” Then I realized that if there’s any group you don’t cross, it’s the knitting community. They don’t mess around.

  10. Oh No! is a gorgeous book. I would love to see it get some recognition. I’ll also throw in “Hello. Hello.” by Matthew Cordell. It has a lovely (timely) message to it.

  11. I spent a few years knitting while holding my needles incorrectly, until a nice yarn shop clerk noticed and corrected me, so it can be done. Extra Yarn is a definite favorite this year.

    Love Three Times Lucky! And Starry River of the Sky. I think there are some great contenders this year.

  12. Ah Travis, hadn’t thought of the “quilt issue” and its possible impact. Too bad. Still, my colleague who teaches ELA and with whom I collaborate on a wordless book unit, is using it to support her students’ work in social studies. I will be sharing it with the regular language arts teachers for cross-curricular use. Oh, the possibilities are endless!

    I agree with Dan about Hello hello! It is a gem.


  13. Honestly surprised to see you mention Wonder as wowing anyone with its literary merit. Wowing those looking for “guidance counselor fiction”, I can understand but literary merit? I will probably cry if this get’s recognized in January. (These will be the same tears I shed when I saw votes for Wonder on last spring’s top 100 poll…)

    I want to hear more about this potential problem near the end of Oh No! It’s already a big read aloud hit in my classroom.

  14. It seems that many among us are quite interested in finding mistakes in the Caldecott contenders this year. Whether it be the incorrect positioning of knitting needles in “Extra Yarn”, the blowing scarf when nothing else is blowing in “And Then It’s Spring”, or a dimming firefly in “Green”, I feel that where art is concerned, artistic license is free to abound. For example, with a book as painterly as “Green”, variations of any kind only add to its charm. The genius of that book is that it crosses boundaries. It is a concept book, and it’s a poem about nature, appreciation, and sustainability. The fact that the artist was able to successfully connect each museum-quality painting astounds me. I still can’t figure out how she did it. Brilliant. There are so many wonderful books this year, but for me, “Green” is a standout. It is transformative. It works on so many levels- art, design, poetry, and most of all it works on a very emotional level, encouraging all of us to savor and care for our environment.

  15. My take on Extra Yarn: maybe the knitting needles are also magic?

  16. I would like to say that nitpicking on how an illustration depicts knitting as the only criticism of a marvelous book irks me. It’s looking at the pebble and not the whole beach. I really hope the judges don’t think that is an issue, though after reading that recent article in the Horn Book about Caldecott judging, minor details like that might seem to be a concern.

  17. Great post! I think you are spot on with Caldecott.

    I’m rereading Ivan for the fifth time. Still not seeing that plot point issue.

  18. You know, you have set my expectations for TWELVE KINDS OF ICE so high I’m also afraid to read it.

    I like both these lists lots with a few of exceptions: I wasn’t a fan of UNFORTUNATE SON. I had to force myself to finish it. I’m also not excited about SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS. I’m burnt out on that sort of book. Completely. And I liked WONDER a lot as a story, but I don’t think it is written well enough for the Newbery.

    I’m actually feeling sort of blah toward the whole thing this year. Don’t know if its the books or me. Probably me. Hopefully it’s a quickly passing fever.

  19. What about another Klassen title, “House Held Up by Trees” by Ted Kooser? It’s simply gorgeous!

  20. lalibrarylady86 says

    I was very pleased & impressed with The Lions of Little Rock but I’ll give it a re-read to see what the “problems” are.
    The whole Wonder phenomenon – it’s a feel-good story but I agree with Eric above on the question of “literary merit”. Twilight may be a very popular book but that does not make it have “literary merit”.

    My Caldecott choice is still Extra Yarn – knitting needle position or not. The illustrations not only complement but are essential to convey the story. They make the story become truly alive. Isn’t that what the award is supposed to be about? Not the minutiae of what is wrong but what is wholly right.

  21. And I don’t give a fig about the detail of a hidden perspective problems–Oh No!

  22. I’m putting my oar in for KEEPING SAFE THE STARS (Sheila O’Connor). Gorgeously written – I couldn’t put it down. And WONDER. Just perfect, in my view.

  23. The knitting thing was really bugging me at first, but once I thought about it in the context of something important to me, baseball, it made a little more sense. If a baseball player was holding the bat incorrectly in a picture book I would be upset. I think that I can now see why that would be an issue to the committee.

  24. I always enjoy these Caldecott prediction posts! I just cannot believe that Oh No! has a perspective issue that would undermine it’s chances at a Caldecott. Really? What is the concern? While I think Oh No! is great, I am tentatively rooting for Extra Yarn because it feels like it offers something newer than does Oh No! I also like A Home for Bird for the same reason. Of the Stead’s books, A Home for Bird seems like the most novel offering. (Is novelty a criteria that the Caldecott committee considers?) Then It’s Spring is beautiful. I love Erin Stead’s illustrations, and the Caldecott does go to the best illustrator.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Ah. Well as I heard one person point out, you get a p.o.v. shoot from the animals in side the hole and they clearly have a limited view out of it. Yet somehow they know that the tiger is approaching without apparently seeing it near the end. Is it a do or die issue? Obviously not. I mean, animals have extraordinary senses of smell, yes? But when it comes down to those wee hours of selection and committee members are grasping at straws to find some reason, any reason, to disqualify one of the candidates, that is precisely the kind of thing that sinks the ship in the end.

  25. Thanks for the post–lots to think about! I’m up in the air at this point. Now, I still have quite a bit of catching up to do. I’ve read many books for which I have high regard and affection–The One and Only Ivan, The Lions of Little Rock, etc–but I don’t have a clear favorite. At least, a favorite in regard to the Newbery criteria–I’m a fan of Kristin Levine and would love to see a Virginia author (especially a northern VA author) win. But that’s not a valid reason to have a Newbery favorite. 🙂

    As for Caldecott–I love Baby Bear Sees Blue. I think it’s tremendous–can’t find a fault with it.

  26. Criticizing Extra Yarn for the needle positioning, or And Then It’s Spring for the blowing scarf, is like knocking Sendak for getting the flags and sails wrong in Where the Wild Things Are, an error that’s arguably more egregious, since it has direct bearing on the storytelling, but is ultimately irrelevant to the success of the book. Talk about missing the point.

  27. It’s not needle position, but if I remember right the size of the stitches is the same for all the things knitted, whether near or far, whether small or big. When you’re looking at a house, you see stitches portrayed the same way as stitches on a child’s sweater. But you must be much further away to see the entire house, so the stitches should be smaller. I realize this is an artistic choice, but as a knitter it really threw me out of the story. The perspective seemed wrong. Fans can hope there are no knitters on the committee! (What are the odds that a group of 15 children’s librarians will have no knitters?) Then again, we do enjoy the shout-out to knitting in the book.

    Right now, my Caldecott favorite is Oh No! and my Newbery favorite is Summer of the Gypsy Moths. I will look at the perspective at the end of Oh No! with fresh eyes. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  28. Oh, Sondy, speak for yourself! 😉 I am a knitter and the stitches didn’t bother me at all. It is so clearly on purpose and I think it looks lovely. I read somewhere that the artist took photos of a sweater and then colored in the stitches. Beautiful! Such a neat idea. I think it is silly to say knitters on the committee would have a problem with the stitch sizes. It is art!! Go Extra Yarn! Such an incredible book. 🙂

  29. Betsy,

    I sure hope that in a book in which the Tiger has made his presence known over and over in OH so subtle ways, that this will have very little (if anything) to do with disqualifying such a stunning work of art.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh, Ed, fear not. My love of that tiger is strong. Do others like it as much as I do? I’d like to think that was the case.

  30. Knitter and research freak reporting–I am FASCINATED by this debate about EXTRA YARN. I half-noticed the needles but chalked it up to someone just having a different way of going about it–it actually looked a bit like the way I hold needles when I’m knitting with 3 double-pointed ones, but then since I sort of taught myself how to knit with them I probably hold them in what a seasoned knitter would consider to be an all-wrong fashion. I guess because of that–and maybe because it’s not a book about how to knit, but about whimsy and generosity and things that are not at all related to technique–I didn’t blink at the way the needles were illustrated.

    Interestingly, as I was reading these comments, I mentioned to one of my coworkers here at the bookstore (a children’s book enjoyer but not a children’s book expert–I mention it merely for the counterpoint) how fascinated I was by the discussion, and he started shaking his head immediately and said (paraphrasing) that he just didn’t see how someone who cared about details and research could just ignore what could be interpreted as a research mistake, no matter how charming a picture it made. But it’s an adorable book and technique isn’t the point, I said, and added that I was a knitter and it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Don’t care, he said. Then he wagged his finger in my face and said he was surprised at me for being willing to turn a blind eye to an inaccuracy.

    Then he asked me to knit him a scarf.

  31. Bill Wright says

    About to start my Caldecott project with my third graders, and as always, this site is invaluable to help choosing our list of books to look at! Reading the discussion on the knitting needles with interest…I’ll have to ask our school’s resident knitter what she thinks…but I am reminded of the Truman Balcony showing up in the background of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s picture in So You Want To Be President…surely something like that is a bigger problem, and yet that book won the Medal. My very quick initial look done, I liked Green a whole lot, and Step Gently Out was beautiful as well. But if I’ve learned anything from doing this project, it is to look beyond first impressions! Interesting how much in common some of the books have this year…colors, bears, growing things, even illustrators!

  32. Betsy,

    I second Eric’s comment above, scratching my head at your inclusion of WONDER on “literary merit”. WONDER’s popularity was a case of good timing, that’s all. Easy to poke lots of holes in its “literary merit”.

    Want a book about bullying, I stand by JAKE & LILY by Jerry Spinelli. Best Book About Bullying This Year.

  33. Janet Hamilton says

    How about Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      It got a little early attention but that waned over time. My librarians liked it fine but didn’t find it particularly distinguished. I think it suffered from coming out at the same time as The Lions of Little Rock. Of the two, Little Rock gets stronger votes.


  1. […] Speaking of best books, School Library Journal brings us the Newbury/Caldecott 2013 predictions. […]

  2. […] me? With any luck, a year from now I’ll be able to appreciate the merits of the Extra Yarn knitting blunder. Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]