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Newbery/Caldecott 2014: The Summer Prediction Edition

ATTENTION!!!  If you are planning on watching the live feed of the Newbery/Caldecott announcements during the ALA Youth Media Awards presentation, come half an hour earlier and check out my pre-game show where I will join cohort Lori Ess in discussing the potential winners.  Afterwards we will note which Mock Newberys, Mock Caldecotts, Mock Printzs, etc. got it right nationwide.  For more information:

And then it was summer.  When you put out a spring prediction list you can rest safe and sure in the knowledge that there’s an entire second half of the year you haven’t seen.  Now we’re in the thick of summer and while I’ve seen a good-sized chunk of the coming year, there are certainly a fair number of books still waiting to be read. Heck, we haven’t even had our big ALA Conference yet.  With all that in mind, Travis at 100 Scope Notes recently summed up what the Goodreads folks are predicting.  Not one to go quiet on the subject, here’s what I’m thinking about in terms of some of the contenders:



Doll Bones by Holly Black – How convenient that Ms. Black appears first alphabetically on this list, since her book is the frontrunner as far as I’m concerned.  The more I think about it, the more I like it.  At this year’s SLJ Day of Dialog (a day before BEA when SLJ and a host of publishers present their wares for the librarian  public, punctuated by great panel discussions) we discovered that not only is Ms. Black a preeminent writer, but she can give a helluva good speech when half-inclined to do so.  And while the ability to write a Newbery acceptance speech is not something a committee can consider when choosing a winning book, it certainly can’t hurt in the long run!

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – I’ve always liked it but it wasn’t until I started touring bookstores, promoting my own picture book, that I realized that it wasn’t just me that was loving it.  Independent bookstores, big Barnes & Nobles, libraries across this great nation, EVERYONE is gaga for Blakemore’s latest.  Maybe my comparing it to Tuck Everlasting wasn’t so crazy after all . . .

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – I’m sure you could make a very strong case for the fact that Monica is a friend and my including this book at all on this list is an indication of clear bias.  I would like to point out, though, that I am friends with many many people who are authors.  Folks who have books out this year and those books are NOT on this list.  The fact that this book is should be a clear tip-off that there’s something special about it.  And with Robert Byrd’s illustrations, it’s hard not to think of it as the second coming of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes – Henkes may well be one of the nicest men working in the children’s book business today (and that’s saying something) but while I respected his previous Newbery Honor win Olive’s Ocean it didn’t get me here *thumps chest*.  This book is different.  Written in what I consider to be the second hardest children’s book genre there is (#1 = easy books, #2 = early chapter books) Henkes somehow manages to write something touching and real all at once while at the same time making a boy that feels remarkably “boy”.  There’s just something about Billy.  I can’t think of another kid quite like him.  Wouldn’t be surprised at all if this took home the gold.

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli – Tried and true, Spinelli.  The talk continues to circle about this one.  The cries of “is it kid-friendly enough” erupt from time to time as well.  For a fun time, compare and contrast this one at length with Doll Bones.  They have more similarities than differences, after all.

Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tonya Lee Stone – By this point in the proceedings I should have seen at least one other Newbery-worthy bit of nonfiction for 2013.  Unfortunately, so far nothing doing.  Stone’s book is still spectacular and very well done, but whether or not this is a nonfiction loving committee remains to be seen.  As far as I can tell, if anything won their love, it would be this.

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban – Initially I couldn’t find any backlash to this one.  Now it’s started up and it’s pretty much what you’d expect.  Some folks are calling it boring or something they couldn’t get into.  We’re allowed to write slower book for kids, though, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Urban gets better with every book.  Take that as you may.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – I believe it was Colby Sharp who commented on the Travis post, “I’m going all in *pushes giant stack of poker chips to the center of the Newbery table* with The Center of Everything (Urban) and The Real Boy (Ursu). The year of the ‘U’!”  Some folks are saying it’s stronger than her previous fantasy novel Breadcrumbs.  Personally I liked it just fine but my love of Breadcrumbs was sort of overwhelming so it’s hard for me to find anything to compare.  I only recently finished this one so I’ll need some time to chew on it.


Because there are so many more picture books published in a given year than works for older readers, Caldecott predictions have always been a bit more of a crapshoot than their Newbery compatriots.  With that in mind, I still managed to cull it down to a couple folks that I think are doing truly extraordinary work this year.  We’ll see what comes of it all in any case.

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – Actually I had read this one prior to my previous prediction list.  I hadn’t mentioned it, possibly because it was too obvious.  It took its appearance on the recent Horn Book – Boston Globe Book Awards to snap me out of this funk.  Jonathan Bean is one of those illustrators that seems as though where they walk the Ghost of Caldecotts Yet to Come float in their wake.  The fact he hasn’t won one yet appears to be more a trick of fate than his own fault.  Give it time.  He’s due.

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, ill. Bryan Collier – Like many picture book artists, Collier’s talent waxes and wanes with each subsequent book.  That said, I haven’t seen him work with present day reality this well since his remarkable Uptown all those years ago (stop me now or I might start wailing about its current out-of-print status).  This is a Little, Brown & Co. ringer and should be treated as such.  It discusses subject matter we’ve rarely seen touched on (how to cope with a caring father who one day disappears from your day-to-day life) and Collier matches Beaty’s pitch perfect text blow-for-blow with his own art.  One to watch.

Journey by Aaron Becker – Candlewick is keeping this one close to their chest, no doubt.  We couldn’t find F&Gs at BEA and there was no explicit promise we’d see any at ALA either.  That said, I managed to convince an all-to-kind bookstore employee into showing me her copy and it really is quite stellar.  You would never in a million years guess that this was Becker’s first picture book.  Imagine what you would find if David Macaulay and Crockett Johnson ever had a lovechild.  That’s Journey for you.  I’m almost convinced that I’m making sense.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – See: Journey in terms of how likely it is that you’ll get a copy of this at ALA.  Knock Knock may be Little, Brown & Co.’s ringer, but Peter Brown is rapidly becoming their ace in the hole.  Brown’s moved from novelty to powerhouse in the course of a few scant years.  When folks were crying out for The Curious Garden to get an award it seemed charmingly optimistic.  His recent Honor for Creepy Carrots changed all that, making him one to watch.  And if he was ever going to be watched closely, it would be for this truly original and gorgeous little book.  It may also contain the only naked centerfold in the history of picture books.  Granted, it’s of a tiger.

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – It’s not that Ibatoulline isn’t always gorgeous.  He is.  Even when he’s illustrating books that make me a bit queasy, he does a stellar job.  But doing a stellar job is only so good as the material at hand when you’re a picture book artist.  Until now, I almost feel like Ibatoulline was just waiting around to meet his match.  That match (pun probably unconsciously intended) has now been met in the form of Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman.  I’m as tired of European immigration stories as the rest of you, but this book really does have something special going on.  It’s a little longer than your regular picture book fare, which probably means it has as much of a shot at a Newbery as it does a Caldecott.  Hmmm…. stranger things have happened . . .

Locomotive by Brian Floca – And speaking of picture books that are a little longer than usual, meet Floca.  A man who believes in making a good book, and the devil take the page count!  I’ve been waiting for this book since Moonshot was unfairly denied its Caldecott Award (the fact it got next to nothing burns to this day).  Now we have a definitive look at railroad history and Floca’s on fire from page one onward.  Deserves many close, intense looks before the year is out.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: LeUyen Pham deserves a Caldecott.  She just does.  And while her art is always fun, this book truly shows her sheer range.  From the accuracy of the clothing to the pitch perfect incorporation of math into the images, there’s a level of sophistication to this title you don’t normally find in picture book fare.  Because it’s fun it might be easy to discount on a first glance.  Don’t.  Pham has something going on here and it’s hot as all get out.

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – For once, I’d love something three-dimensional to win this award.  Is that such a crazy thought?  Year after year the Caldecotts go to the two-dimensional fare.  Paints, inks, you name it.  So imagine if shadow boxes captured the committee’s attention the way this book did mine.  The result might be some credit for Berger who really knows how to make the inherently ridiculous poignant and beautiful.

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea – Okay.  I’ve had time to think about this.  My justification (above and beyond the fact that I just happen to really like this book) is that Shea is actually doing some pretty sophisticated work here.  Apart from the millions of tiny details and the amazing incorporation of text with image there’s also the simple fact that the narration does a believable turnabout, culminating in a change in artistic style.  Still with me?  No?  Well, I’ll be a lonely island decrying its chances then.  Someone should.

And yes, we’ve left out your Navigating Earlys and the like, but anything not seen here was probably considered at length.  Unless it’s something I haven’t read yet (glances at the Kathi Appelt book on her shelf guiltily).  That’s why I do four of these prediction sessions.  Gets the blood flowing.

So what do you like?

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. Tom McNeal’s FAR FAR AWAY is neck and neck with HOKEY POKEY at the top of my list. It does the Grimm thing without resorting to laughs when things get gruesome and scary (which is something that gets grating in Gidwitz approach).
    Whereas Doll Bones and Water Castle both turn on a central question (they both essentially asking whether or not it is magic or a trick?), FAR FAR AWAY keeps the reader in a state of constant suspense and fear by making the question/mystery not an either/or but instead a question of who. In this way McNeal toys with his reader before unleashing the truly frightening and grim final act. Kids who like their “scary stories” to produce honest to goodness nightmares will absolutely love FAR FAR AWAY.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oo. Very good write-up, Eric. My only question then is whether or not Far Far Away is too YA for the award. Would you call it 14 and up or could it please the younger readers as well?

      • So the main character is 15……but the romantic-ish relationship is very G rated. If we can agree that the original Grimm tales that inspire FAR FAR AWAY are not too YA in their graphic nature then I think FAR FAR AWAY can sit comfortably within the upper reaches of the Newbery Canon (think Jacob Have I Loved, The Giver, Up the Road Slowly, The House of the Scorpion). It’s more frightening than The Graveyard Book but not nearly as graphic in it’s description of trauma as say Code Name Verity.
        I fear that this may be the kind of book that the Newbery committee considers too old and the Printz committee considers too young.
        I’m sure this is something that will be discussed this fall over at Heavy Medal. I’d love to hear what others have to say about this title, according to Goodreads, Monica has read it so maybe she will chime in with her thoughts…

      • Jonathan Hunt says:

        I’m reading FAR FAR AWAY right now–I’m only 50 pages in, but it seems very middle schoolish to me so far. Eric says the main character is 15, but I haven’t read that yet. The only clue would be that he’s taking finals and exams, but that’s not really a sure sign of anything . . .

      • Jonathan, I had to use the kindle search option to find the spot in the book where Jeremy’s age is given. I think it makes perfect sense that he would seem much younger (not immature, just less experienced/worldly) than fifteen. His absent mother, practically absent father and his extra responsibilities have made him a social outcast, therefore he wouldn’t likely behave like a typical teenager. I thought this awkwardness as described by the ghost makes Jeremy immediately endearing to the audience, even if we aren’t exactly sure of his age. Does age really matter anyway? (Points to mwt’s Gen).
        I need to stop thinking about FAR FAR AWAY now before I reread it instead of starting the thing about luck….

  2. I reread Urban’s book last week. It is brilliant.

  3. Interesting. I like it a lot, but I just don’t think Doll Bones is strong enough for the big gold sticker.

    As I said over at 100 Scope, Rita Williams-Garcia is the only author who’s wowed me so far this year. Haven’t seen The Real Boy yet though, and I was a big Breadcrumbs fan!

  4. Kiera Parrott says:

    I am in love with THE WATER CASTLE. That book hits just about every Newbery criteria on the nose for me. Not only is it elegantly written and has great character development, but once it gets going, it is unputdownable. (Is “unputdownable” not in the official criteria? 🙂 ) What really seals the deal for me is the total respect for the intelligence of the child reader. Blakemore doesn’t sum up everything, doesn’t resolve all the issues and doesn’t end neatly. She leaves plenty of clues along the way and allows the child reader to draw her own conclusions and make her own connections. It reminded me of the first time I read WHEN YOU REACH ME- I immediately wanted to turn back to the first page and re-read it. My only criticism of this book (and not at all relevant to the criteria) is the cover art. It’s a tad underwhelming. We booktalked this title to all of our 4th & 5th graders in town and once we explained the story, the kids were dying to check it out. But all on it’s own, it tends to languish on the shelf. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see this earn a medal or honor this year.

  5. Wow. Didn’t expect to see that! Thanks for the write up, Betsy. I’m thrilled to share Journey this fall (well, August, thanks to the marketing wizards at B&N) after what feels like many years of anticipation!

  6. Ruth Guerrier-Pierre says:

    I will be reading and re-reading the titles on this list. Thanks.

  7. Eric, I’ve been mulling over the age thing for Far Far Away. It felt older to me somehow, YA in sensibility. One of those books right on the cusp. Younger kids can and will certainly read it, but….I’m on the fence with it and look forward to more discussion about it. Regarding The Graveyard Book, most of it involves Bod as a child — if it had been mostly Bod as a teen then it would have seemed far less a Newbery contender to me.

    (BTW, thanks for making me a contender, Betsy! Wondered if I could still weigh in, but since Eric asked…:)

  8. Oh, Doll Bones. I feel like it works in so many ways, but it does not work as a horror book, even a kiddie one. It fails to scare or to explore what truly scares us. Of course, I’m not sure that matters–it’s still a good book. Does it matter that it’s not a good horror book? Do the standards of a particular genre matter? (To give an example of books that are excellent by the standards of the horror genre, consider Kelly Barnhill’s books or Coraline, by Neil Gaiman.) Am I wrong to label Doll Bones a horror book at all? I just feel like genre titles are too often judged by the standards of people who don’t like those genres. I say The Center of Everything FTW! But I have yet to read The Water Castle.

  9. So far, Urban’s The Center of Everything is at the top of my list. Ruby’s voice and this simple but poignant story really struck a chord with me, and I think the book has an understated brilliance about it. However, based on how many incredible books were in last year’s contender list, I sincerely hope the best is yet to come! I thoroughly enjoyed Doll Bones, but just can’t say it’s sticker worthy. I think Navigating Early will certainly be in the discussion, and I loved Early’s character, but I think there may be a couple fatal flaws that diminish it’s chances. My favorite so far is Quirk’s A Girl Called Problem, but I think this will be my Child of the Mountains of last year…a personal favorite, but no real shot.

    • Mother Lydia says:

      i love a Girl Called Problem and have been recommending it to every mama looking for middle age books I can find.

      (Including our school librarian — though our school is K-2nd and it may be too old for that age range)

  10. My favorite so far is Doll Bones, but The Real Boy is coming in a close second. I am in the crowd that prefers it to Breadcrumbs, by quite a lot actually. I have been thoroughly underewhelmed by the realistic fiction contenders this year including The Center of Everything. I think some of them are good, but not great. Hokey Pokey I wanted to throw through a window.

    I was on the fence about reading Far Far Away but the above conversation has me convinced.

  11. I haven’t read a single book on this list. (Go me.) But I’m sitting here with tears running down my face from the COVER of Knock Knock. Granted, I’m tired and it’s the day after Father’s Day and I miss my dad…but I tend to like children’s book illustration that is much more mod/graphic/cartoon-y than realistic and yet that cover image has my heart in a vise. It’s just beautiful. I was crying BEFORE I read your description, so I didn’t intellectually know that it was about an absent father and yet I emotionally knew it — perhaps because the father is facing away from the viewer and is in shadow compared to the child. Just: WOW. All those other picture books look super-enticing too, and I say this as someone who tends to be more interested in chapter books.

  12. I am so with you on Breadcrumbs! The Real Boy is going on my summer reading list–very near the top (Gaiman’s new book comes out tomorrow after all…)

  13. Angela Rose says:

    I finished THE WATER CASTLE just yesterday, and I felt extremely underwhelmed. It was good, but it didn’t seem great. I don’t think it compared very well to the story and the exquisite writing of DOLL BONES, which I also finished recently. Maybe I’ll like it better on a re-reading. And thanks for the heads up on THE REAL BOY – I loved BREADCRUMBS!

  14. Thank you for this well-timed list. I have more on the to-read side, not enough on the already-read side to weigh in. It’s the perfect time to start fixing that.

  15. AllisonGK says:

    Very interesting – thank you very much for this list and your thoughtful comments. I haven’t seen most of the picture books yet, but did pick up The Matchbox Diary at the library recently and was just looking at it again last night after seeing this posting. I agree with you – beautiful pictures make this a magical book. I hope it gets some attention and appreciation. Good Choice on Mr. Tiger – I can’t wait to see Peter Brown’s new book. Another beautiful book that I really like is Water in the Park illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. Elisa Klevin has a new book out: Glasswings: A Butterfly’s Story which is worth looking at.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I thought about including Water in the Park, as it happens. There’s something particularly remarkable about that little book. The only thing that stayed my hand was the thought that maybe its seeming simplicity wouldn’t be considered novel enough for a Caldecott committee. It’s the writing that’s truly the star of the show, though the art is pitch perfect. Let me chew on that one for a bit more then.

  16. Mary Hoskinson-Dean says:

    Glad you’ve got this at the top of your list, because I loved, loved, loved DOLL BONES. To me, this is primarily an exquisite coming-of-age story. The transition of the young protagonists from lives governed by fantasy to a more “mature” understanding of the complex reality of their lives is handled so well. The horror aspect of the plot provides a compelling narrative structure for this evolution, which will keep kids reading (I hope!). The author’s interweaving of the children’s imaginary games with the practical demands of their “quest” was particularly well done.

    I look forward to reading the other books listed – though I have read THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, which I consider a mishmash of tasty little narrative bits but with a plot of limited interest to the target reader and a theme better handled elsewhere. (I much preferred her A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT.)

  17. I was also taken with the cross-over themes in Hokey Pokey and Doll Bones, and would hate hate hate to choose between them.

  18. Count me on Team Doll Bones. So far, anyway. Lots of reading yet to do. And, no, it’s not a horror book — I don’t think I’d like it if it were. At the end, I thought, but nothing horrible happens to them! But I don’t think it’s a disappointment. It’s a quest novel, a coming-of-age tale. And it does have lovely spooky touches. I booktalked it this year and it was a hit.

  19. Genevieve says:

    P.S. BE ELEVEN is my pick for the best so far this year. I loved A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT but wasn’t as taken with THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING, though I liked it.

  20. I know I’m late on this conversation, but I had someone suggest STARDINES for consideration in ACPL’s 2014 Mock Caldecott Election, and when I looked at the copyright date of 2012, I immediately assumed it was ineligible. How is it that I’m seeing it on so many Mock lists for 2014?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I think the pub date was moved up from 2012 and that’s why it’s on so many lists. It’s definitely a 2013 title, have no fears. Some online sites just failed to update this information.