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Newbery / Caldecott 2014: Final 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:

But NOW!  It is at last time for my final Newbery/Caldecott/what have you predictions.  The books have been percolating in my brain and by this time I’ve read most (I won’t say all since there might be a Moon Over Manifest winner lurking somewhere out there) of the contenders.  I’ve seen the Mocks.  I know what folks are saying.  For a fun time, see how I did last year.  It’s very fun picking out the winners on my lists to see where they rank.  This Is Not My Hat was particularly off . . .

And so . . . onward!!

For the book that I feel has the number one best chance of winning the 2014 Newbery Medal, my selection goes to . . .

Newbery Medal

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

You may recall that I’ve been beating the drum for Doll Bones by Holly Black all this time.  Now I leap into the air and do a complete spin, pointing instead at Henkes.  This is very much going to be a case of what kind of committee we’re dealing with.  I’d say that most Newbery committees are comprised of members who really enjoy complex and literary children’s books.  And that’s fine.  That’s natural.  The danger is that simple books, books that have the ability to say quite a lot in a very few words, get lost in the shuffle.  Billy Miller is one of these simple books.  And the more I think about it, the more impressive it becomes to me.

And then there are the books that I think have a really good shot at an Honor or two.  My thinking?  Something along the lines of

Newbery Honors

Doll Bones by Holly Black – As you can see by this handy dandy chart, this is the book that has appeared on the most Mock Newberys around the country.  Once my best beloved and surest chance, now I’m not so sure.  Personally, I think it has the chops to go all the way, but some are iffy on it.  In the end it may come down to something as simplistic as to whether or not the committee honestly thinks that Black was trying for horror or not.  To my mind it’s obvious that she’s using the tropes but keeping it kid-friendly and with BIG themes in mind.  We shall see.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata – If I fell down on the job not reviewing a book this year, it would be this one.  Its National Book Award win certainly gave me pause, and then I sat down and examined what my problem was with it.  Basically, it’s the threshing.  The interminable threshing.  Kadohata occasionally stops the action dead to tell you, for pages at a time, about the process of threshing.  To my mind, that pause in the narrative kills it for me Medal-wise.  But then I went back and looked at the characters and over time I’ve been convinced that it really is a strong little number.  So I’m calling it for an Honor.  Don’t know if it’ll go all the way, but it would sure be nice.  If it does win the gold it’ll be the first book to win both a National Book Award and a Newbery Award since Holes.  So, y’know.  No pressure.

Yup.  I’m only seeing three potential winning books.  We’ve had years like this, where the Honors are few and far between.  My favorite years are the ones where there are as many Honors as possible, but they’re rare.

Note that while I’ve heard a lot of people say that 2013 was a strong year for nonfiction, they don’t mean in terms of Newbery books.  The only title that would have a chance would be Courage Has No Color, and looking at past years I don’t see it getting the attention it deserves.  But I would LOVE to be wrong, folks!

Then there are the Newbery Wild Cards that might take it all away:

Wild Cards

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli  – Early in 2013 I would have said this was a shoo-in.  Now?  I’m not so sure.  The question comes down to whether or not the committee understands what Spinelli is going for and, more to the point, thinks he succeeds.  In a recent conversation with a buddy we came to the realization that if 2013 had a theme it was of children entering adolescence.  This book discusses it.  Doll Bones discusses it.  Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff, for crying out loud, discusses it (we tried extrapolating this into the picture books for Caldecott but it didn’t really work).  At any rate, I still think it’s a strong contender.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu – This has the feel of my The One and Only Ivan prediction of last year.  I think it’s very strong but I’ve also heard from a lot of folks who don’t much care for what Ursu’s doing here.  I think it’s stronger than Breadcrumbs (which I loved) so it has a real shot.  At the same time, Ursu is usually ignored by award committees that should be lavishing her with pennies and praise.  Then again again it was nominated for a National Book Award this year.  Could this be The Year of the Ursu?

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger – Don’t discount Monica.  She may have debuted with a book that infused its fictional text with nonfiction but that’s to her credit.  It was a risky game and the final product can only fulfill that most difficult of Newbery criteria: distinguished.  It’s up to the committee to determine if the book works as a piece of writing.

Locomotive by Brian Floca – Because, and let’s face it, if it won a Newbery Honor (which it really and truly and honestly could) that would be an upset of the best possible kind.

Where the Heck Is . . . ?

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – Definitely a strong middle grade debut (she’s written for other age ranges), no question.  And this book had moments in it that I’ll never forget, no matter how long I live (three words: closet of underwear).  That said, there are some elements that don’t quite work for me on this one.  The convenience of the ending.  The emotional elements that are sustained but then fade away throughout the course of the novel.  The ambiguous nature of Willow’s race also sometimes appears to have been thrown in to keep folks from complaining about the fact that people of every other race bend over backwards to help her.  I should note that this isn’t a cry for every book about a person of color to be ABOUT that person’s race. Lord, not at all.  By the same token, I don’t much care for it when ambuiguous races are thrown in last minute like a spare editing note and then never even alluded to again.  Then again, the book racked up four starred reviews, so what the heck do I know?  I mean, I’m clearly the only person who has ever thought this.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia – You know those Oscar Award winners who don’t win for their best work but later in their careers as way of apology?  That could easily happen here.  Let’s face facts.  One Crazy Summer was a once in a lifetime book, and the fact that it didn’t take home the gold still makes me red in the face with anger.  But what’s done is done.  This book, which has a lot of lovely elements, didn’t punch me in the gut in the same way.  I liked elements of it.  Months and months later I can still remember it very well.  But for Newbery?  I’m not seeing it this time around.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt – Over at Heavy Medals they’re have conniption fits over this book.  Something about the voice, and they’re not the only ones.  When I attended BookFest at the Bank Street College of Education this year, this book was included in a room discussion of “divisive” 2013 publications.  I didn’t see it.  To me, it’s simply a hugely charming animal story with a few Bonnie and Clyde hogs thrown in for good measure.  Is it too cartoony to win a Newbery?  Possibly.  Bad guys defeated by snakes aren’t the threats they might be, after all.  That said, if it does win a Newbery (and that would be awfully nice) I insist that the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet serve cane sugar pies as dessert.  I am not joking about this.

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore – *sigh*  Fine.  I’ll take it off my list.  I really and truly did love it.  But I’ve faced down enough folks who don’t share my enthusiasm to know that it’s a bit of a long shot.  Still, it warms the cold cockles of my heart to see it on so many Mock Newbery lists out there.  That means it’s being read in droves.  My job here is done.

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Folks wondered last time why I didn’t include this one, particularly since my review of it made it clear that I think it’s probably one of our newly minted National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature’s best.  Well, maybe it comes down to what the committee thinks about humor on the whole.  Usually when DiCamillo wins it’s for books that are a bit more serious.  This one involves a superhuman squirrel with a penchant for poetry.  But even that would be enough to carry it to the finish line . . . if it weren’t for the illustrated sections.  You see, a Newbery winner has to rely on words alone.  If there’s visual storytelling that shoulders the load of the plot at any point, it’s probably going to be considered invalid.  Consarn it.

As for my number one Caldecott Award pick?  I’m not going to surprise anybody out there when I say it’s all about the . . .

Caldecott Medal

Journey by Aaron Becker – It has a pretty good chance.  Weirdo concerns about concealed weapons aside, let’s consider the Caldecott Award criteria, shall we?  The Medal is to go to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.”  Now there are lots of books out there that were good.  Some you could even call “excellent”.  But for the lofty description of “most distinguished” I don’t know how you can look anywhere else.  The question is, are we dealing with a Lion and the Mouse Caldecott year (which is to say, a year where everyone independently determines this to be the winner) or is it more of a This Is Not My Hat year where the book gets drowned in other possibilities?  It all remains to be seen.

As for the Honors, there are some distinct possibilities:

Caldecott Honors

Locomotive by Brian Floca – I haven’t seen such universal acclaim for a picture book work of nonfiction in years.  There is a possibility that Floca could pull a Snowflake Bentley on us and win the Gold.  I would not object one jot.  History suggests that nonfiction Caldecott wins are rare beasties, but dare to dream, sez I!  More likely, though, it’ll Honor.  Not that the committees of years past have ever given Floca his dear due.  I mentioned earlier that I’m still peeved about the fact that One Crazy Summer never won a gold.  Well Moonshot, Floca’s brilliant (and I don’t use that word lightly) look at the Apollo mission got bupkiss the year it came out.  No Caldecott in sight.  Still fuming about that one.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown – Actually, Peter could run away with the gold this year very easily.  Who knew that in the final moments it would potentially all come down to a debut wordless book on the one hand and a dandified tiger on the other?  The art is fabulous here, but it’s how well it pairs with the language that makes it as good as it is.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen – Klassen could potentially do a two year sweep of the awards, but I kind of hope he doesn’t.  It’s not that I don’t like the guy.  I adore him.  And it’s not that this isn’t a good book.  It’s really well done.  Seemingly simple on a first glance, there are loads of details hidden that just make you gasp when you read through on a fourth or fifth or sixth look.  I mean, were YOU aware of the lightbulb and how it relates to the lightbulb on the next page?  That said, while it’s really clever I don’t know if it has the heart to pull off a gold win.  An honor is far more likely.

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, ill. Bagram Ibatoulline – Artists like Bagram Ibatoulline often get shunted into the category of Magnificent Artists Who Will Never Win Big Awards.  Barbara McClintock and some other folks often find themselves there.  To the best of my knowledge he’s never gotten a Caldecott of his very own.  Well maybe this year will be the year!  Pairing him with Fleischman was brilliant on somebody’s part.  The technical artistry required to do this book is almost over the top (the fact that these aren’t photographs alone should be enough to cause one’s jaw to drop in a downward manner).  But more than that, I felt like this book really had some serious heart.  And isn’t that what picture books are all about anyway?

And the Wild Cards?

Wild Cards

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner – Personally, I thought it was a hoot.  Aliens and cats and ants and all that.  Really a lovely piece of work from start to finish.  The question is how well it reads from panel to panel.  Though Wiesner’s books have always relied on visual storytelling to different degrees, this is the most cartoonish of his stories.  And depending on how fond the committee is of comics, that’s going to make all the difference in the world.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham – Because in a perfect world Ms. Pham would get at least SOME credit for how brilliantly she incorporated math into the art.  Is that something a Caldecott committee will consider?  Maybe not, but it sure as heck can’t hurt.  It’s not easy, and this book is definitely “distinguished” as a result.

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger – How is this not better known?  How are people not constantly talking about it?  Why do I feel like I’m in an echo chamber over here?  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that few love this book as much as I do, but y’all’re crazy.  This book rocks!

The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan, ill. Sophie Blackall – One of these days, Sophie’s going to surprise us all and get herself a Caldecott.  And maybe this is the year.  Maybe . . .

The sad thing?  I can’t be the only person who noticed that my Wild Cards are mostly women while my predictions are all male.  Doggone it.  Bad blogger!  No cookie for you!

Where the Heck Is . . . ?

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean – I’m not sure why I can’t commit to this one.  I love Bean.  Have loved his work for years.  I’m so happy to see him working again.  But this book felt almost too personal to me.  I’m not saying that certain kids won’t love it (I was actually thinking of checking it out for my kiddo, who’s into the idea of building houses right now).  I just don’t know how it’ll stack up in the Caldecott committee discussions.

And that wraps that up.

Say, do you like charts?  Then be sure to check out the following:

  • And finally don’t forget this post, which culled info from all the available Mock Newberys.

So where have I erred tragically?  Correct me!

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. As much as I enjoy Kate DiCamillo’s books, in my opinion she’s become a Brand. Gone are the darker elements found in her earlier books. Now her stories are Magic/Extraordinary Animal + Feel Good = aaaaw. I can’t bring myself to root for “Flora and Ulysses.” I think it’s the weakest story she’s done. I don’t believe its humor and the illustrated sections alone would keep the book out of consideration, especially if the story were richer. I’m eager for the day when Ms. DiCamillo takes a bold chance with a story that doesn’t fit her Brand. She’s in a position now where she can take risks.

    • Wow, I so disagree with you, Anon. I think she is always experimenting and exploring. While her books do indeed have a certain tone and sensibility that are uniquely hers, I think she has ranged far and wide with the sort of books she writes. The novel before this one ,The Magician’s Elephant, feels different to me from her others set as it is in an unnamed European city with something that harkens to Kafka even I B Singer and it feels significantly different from Flora &Ulysses. And this last, while light in some aspects, has some pretty dark elements too.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      How funny! I have precisely the opposite reaction to her work. I never much cared for her darker stuff because I always felt this undercurrent of cruelty there that belied its stronger points (except for Winn-Dixie, of course). Recently she’s let go of that cruelty to become honestly funny and touching in ways she didn’t dare before. So while you see her as a Brand, I see her as finally coming into her own as an artist.

  2. ChrisinNY says:

    I loved the True Blue Scouts. It is totally not my typical kind of book, so something in it just won me over. I would not mind if it got an honor.

  3. All great Caldecott predictions. I’m sad that Bluebird by Bob Staake had absolutely no traction this year

    • Agreed. I love the signage, and the way the panels propel you through the story. I found it uncomfortably close to THE RED BALLOON, which I know is not an issue that could be discussed at the table, and I’m not sure what to do with those feelings. But there it is.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      No traction with me. With other folks I can tell you it has some definite fans. Seems to be most popular with artists, though. Hm.

  4. Solid picks, Betsy! The only thing I’ve not gotten around to reading is DOLL BONES. I love the revisit to BILLY MILLER, though. I, too, forgot how much I loved it. I hope it’s a real contender for the committee.

    Now. I adore Peter Brown. The man himself is funny and charming, and so accessible in his online presence. I love the evolution of his books over the years, and I think MR. TIGER is fantastic. The only thing that gives me pause and makes me batty are the vertical buildings right in the gutter. The gutter! I get what he’s doing, and I suppose this is an art-y nitpick, but that would knock it off the podium for me. Good thing I’m not on the committee!

    Thanks for this post! What a fun thing to wake up to.

    • Oh and, if THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE doesn’t get something stuck to its cover, I’ll just be over here in the corner and you can wipe me up off the floor later. The pink! The dainty bits! The boxing! The shadows! I think it’s one of the year’s best, period.

      • I’m taking it all back re: MR. TIGER. I just had the most goose bump inducing time with 3rd graders in my library, and without even guiding the chat to visual storytelling, they nailed it. The whole thing. The colors, the lines, the whole how-can-a-tiger-be-naked-anyway thing, the endpapers, his ROAR busting out of the speech bubble more as he gets more comfortable with his wildness. I get it. I feel better. Phew.

  5. I am reading The Water Castle right now and it is SO GOOD. I confess to having read neither Billy Miller or Doll Bones yet, and will add them to my pre-Newbery pile along with True Blue Scouts (which I intend to listen to, since the narrator is Lyle Lovett).

    I love Journey, but am holding out for Mr. Tiger or Locomotive. I’d be thrilled with any of the three, though.

  6. My favorite this year is The Mighty Lalouche. I hope it wins! Heading to my Mock Caldecott discussion now! I’m interested to see what others are thinking.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Send me your results! I am compiling!

      • I think you might be onto something this year! For us, Journey ended up winning overall with Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Mandela by Kadir Nelson as honors. Other books we loved were Frog Song, On a Beam of Light, The Dark, Nino Wrestles the World, Fossil, and The Tortoise & The Hare by Pinkney.

        I loved that we had THREE previous Caldecott committee members present at our discussion. They were able to give us so much insight about how the actual process works and their experiences. This was my first time attending an event like this, and it was a lot of fun! We had about 100 people in attendance.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Boy! 100 people! I would love to sit in on something of that length. Thanks so much for the info!

  7. Also, no “Tortise and the Hare”? Just observation. Overall I think your list is pretty spot on this year, Betsy

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I wondered about that. I think it suffers in comparison to Lion and the Mouse, which is pretty unfair of me to say. You shouldn’t take an artist’s greatest work and then compare everything else they’ve ever done to that same work. That said, I can’t quite put my finger on why T&H didn’t speak to me. It’s not as if the art wasn’t up to his usually stunning level. Was it the visual storytelling? The expressions on the characters? No idea. But I should have probably put it at least in the Wild Card category, true true.

  8. To file under Where the Heck Is:

    Awhile back you did a fabulous review of HANK FINDS AN EGG. I’d love the committee to think about the photography and miniature worlds featured in the book. It’s a long shot for sure — but it would be cool to see some attention for this little debut from a new picture book publisher Peter Pauper Press.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      You’re preaching to the choir there. I’ve wanted a work of photography to win a Caldecott for years. Heck, I have a Children’s Literary Salon in my library in early March that will touch on that very topic! And I think that book is drop dead amazing. We put it in NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. All that said, it would take the boldest committee in the world to give it an award. It deserves it, but I see the likelihood as slim to none.

      • Late to the party on this, but wanted to point out that KNUFFLE BUNNY got an honor in 2005, and it was part photograph, and part sketch.

        So the precedent exists – if there’s a very bold committee, as you say.

        I’d love to HANK win an honor, if for no other reason than to show the power of real-life, created, physical images vs. digitial. I think the book’s success is that Hank actually exists in the real world.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Yes indeed. But I think it was the sketches that gave them the chutzpah to do it. If Knuffle had been all photos all the time, I wonder if it would have gotten anything at all. My inclination is to think not so much, but I’ll be rooting for Hank!! It’s appearing on quite a few Mock Caldecotts after all.

  9. Good picks. I don’t have a strong favorite like I did last year (The One and Only Ivan). There are several books with which I would be satisfied if they won. The Boy on the Porch was one of my favorites; it pulled me in on such an emotional level that I didn’t really critique it among the Newbery terms. A long shot, IMO, would be Gone Fishing by Tamera Will Wissinger, but I think it’s superb.

    As for Caldecott–I would love to see Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore among the recipients. Again–there are several that would make me happy if they won. I just haven’t seen this mentioned very much, so wanted to give it out a shout out.

  10. Danielle Ziegler says:

    Great picks. I’m having a hard time deciding what ring to throw my hat in for the Newbery, as I don’t have a strong favorite. I’m a fan of both of your top two though.

    I’m backing Journey for the Caldecott, but my wish for the honor is definitely different from most people. I love Jonathan Bean, but I am backing Big Snow all the way. I love the detail, the page turns and how perfect a picture book it is. Also, the last spread, with the family walking in the dark while the snow is falling–so perfect!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Hmmmm. That would be delightful. And Bean is, as far as I can tell, destined for one of these shiny awards one of these days. Boy, I love these things. Anything could happen!

  11. I am not in love with any of the Newbery pickings this year. The one that grabbed me was One Came Back and no is talking about that one but you and I see you’ve taken I off your list. Bummer. I loved that book. I agree with all of your Caldecott predictions. I’ve read them all to my first graders and Mr Tiger definitely has the kid appeal but my favorite is Journey.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      And I still love it. There was just this backlash against it. I’ve heard nearly 100 “problems” with the book (few of which I agree with) so I had to sadly come to the conclusion that there’d be too much for a committee to pick apart there. But if it got an Honor I’d do a happy dance. You betcha.

  12. Colby Sharp says:


  13. I’d be quite happy if Journey won. I need to really think about how I can market/promote/booktalk wordless books to our patrons, because I’m obviously doing something wrong.


    Regarding JOURNEY (which I also love), I talk up several points when selling it: 1.It allows kids to tell the story–it creates an amazing shared experience for adult and child. 2. It rewards re-reading and you can always find something new. 3. The David Macaulay angle–it’s perfect for imaginative readers/readers who like to build things and look at buildings. If any of that is helpful!

  15. Billy Miller didn’t do it for me. In my mind, a Newbery changes you, and you reflect back upon it. There’s not that much that’s memorable or unique about Billy. Contrast that to, say, Navigating Early or Counting by 7’s; those both stayed with me for much longer and caused much more reflection and thought.

  16. Why oh why are there so few good “award worthy” books that appeal to BOYS and especially to older boys? And check out that link to the books most mentioned by Mock Newberrys. How many 6, 7, 8th grade boys would even want to be caught holding one those books?

    • Not sure I agree with you here, Steve – what about the books Betsy highlights here doesn’t appeal to boys? I don’t see one book amongst her top Newbery picks that actively pitches itself as a dedicated “girl book” (whatever that means). I would normally follow this up by pointing out that three of the six books with narrative voice characters that she highlights feature boy main characters, but I’ve been getting more and more frustrated recently with the idea that boys need to be appealed to in the most basic, obvious ways in order to expect them to read a book – that boys will only read books aimed squarely at boys, but girls will read anything. I’m getting the sense that this is what you might mean when you lament the lack of award-worthy “boy books”, and this sort of thing strikes me as something created more by adults than by the readers themselves, and is a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that starts an unfortunate cycle of behavior. To paraphrase the author Steve Brezenoff in a brilliant blog post he did this year about gender and young people’s literature: when we demand that any book we give to boys has a boy main character and involves subject matter that is traditionally “male”, we teach young boy readers that empathy is inherently not a male trait. This is about as dangerous a message as we could send to young boys today, it seems to me, and while it’s certainly not classrooms and libraries that are solely responsible for sending boys this message (it’s one that permeates our culture), I’d like to think that classrooms and libraries can be one of the laboratories where we can start to break it down.

      Reading, especially for young people, is an exercise in learning how to be a person in the world. I can’t think of any better way to do this than to learn to understand how other people think and feel. That’s what we teach young boys, and young readers in general, when we give them great literature that exposes them to lives other than their own. I was a boy’s boy when I was young in nearly all aspects of my life, but I had great parents who didn’t draw lines where character gender and subject matter were concerned when they recommended books to me, and teachers and media specialists who did the same. I didn’t know that there were “boy books” until I got older. Fortunately, by then, it was too late.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Jordan, I couldn’t say anything any better than you. Thank you. All I’ll mention at this time is what I’ve noticed with Doll Bones. My hope when it came out was that the creepiness of the doll would outweight the fact that it was, in fact, a doll at all. That it was more along the lines of a Goosebumps cover. As it stands, there does appear to sometimes be a prejudice against it, though the main character (as Jordan points out) is male.

        I suppose it’s almost time for a What Is a Boy Book? posting, eh? Though, as I say, Jordan sort of took the words right out of my mouth and then made them fare more coherant than I ever could.

      • I agree with everything you write Jordan. Well done. However, everything you write WE know — not most middle grade boys. Good teachers and librarians are always doing exactly what you write. But I have worked in education for 25 years. The first 9 being an elementary and middle school teacher, and I am inside schools and classrooms all the time, and I see classroom libraries all the time. How many of those books would a middle school boy pick up and choose to read on their own? Or if they’re walking through a bookstore and see them on the shelf? My point isn’t about US identifying a book as a girl book or a boy book — because we don’t want to do that; just as you write, we want to see them and read them and encourage everyone to read them as “human books” — but my point is in how boys see them and how they label them, and not just the story and the main characters, but the cover design. Honestly, I’ve spent 25 years working to help boys to see the power in reading and to use the humanity and emotion in all books to help them to see that no book is a girl book or a boy book — they are just good stories.

        However, that’s not the reality of how THEY see the books and how reading and books are seen in their social lives, and that is certainly not the reality of how books are marketed. Let’s be honest here; it is a LOT harder for a teacher or a parent or a librarian to convince a boy to read one of those books — especially boys who are reluctant readers, which happens to be the vast majority of them.

        I’ll never forget one of my first years of teaching sixth grade I had a boy named Alex who could not finish a book for independent reading. He just kept saying that he hated reading — which is exactly how I felt as a boy (when I graduated high school I had read exactly one novel in my life). Alex was actually a pretty typical middle school boy who hated reading, but he was much harder to get going in choosing and finishing books. I kept suggesting books to him and nothing worked. Finally he came to me one day and said that he read a whole book and he told me he loved it. What book? The Cat Ate My Gym Suit.

  17. Genevieve says:

    Susie, I think the question is whether if you were a kindergartener, first or second grader, would Billy Miller have that effect on you. What seems too simple and unmemorable to an adult could be a perfect book for an early elementary kid. Most Newberys have been aimed at upper elemntary, but Billy Miller does what it does so well for a younger kid and seems among the most distinguished when you consider the audience.

    Steve, most 7th and 8th grade boys are more likely to be reading books under consideration for Printz than Newbery. You’re talking ages 12-14.

  18. Thank you, Jordan!

  19. Not to sidetrack the convo here and certainly not to disagree with Jordan’s eloquence… but I won’t let Steve be hanging out alone, either: I believe both his post and Jordan’s post can be true, and I think we do everyone a disservice when we pick one “side” of this debate. I mean, there’s a reason Wimpy Kid books sell the way they do. Or Captain Underpants books. Or or or. There are definitely SOME boys who had a paucity of material that worked for them, whether we want it to be that way or not. Of course, there are also some girls who are under-served and some communities beyond gender, too.

    I think when we talk about “boy book” or “girl book” we have to accept we’re talking generalizations. But to reframe Steve’s first point – where are the ripping yarns or laugh out loud funny books in the award conversation (this year or almost any year)? The flip side, of course, is that the Newbery isn’t designed to honor a book that sets out with a goal and delivers exactly on it. While that’s a great thing for a book to do, the award is looking for more, and that’s also totally okay.

    Still, there’s a conversation to be had about books that SOME boys would gravitate to on their own, books that we can share with them and they’ll love and get that exposure we all want for them, and books which just won’t fit for them ever. We can have that conversation about each of us individually, too. And we can tie that into awards, if we want, but I suspect that’s off point. Still, I’m gonna side with Steve here that everything Jordan says is true… but that’s not the conversation we should be having.

    As for your picks… I’ll be surprised if Billy Miller wins, much as I enjoyed it. Then again, I’ve never picked a winner!

    • Jon Buckley says:

      Hey, what about Wonder by R.J. Palacio? It certainly seems the caliber.

    • Thanks Greg. Well put. There are definitely multiple important conversations to be had. If our goal is to get more kids reading — and for this conversation it is getting more boys reading (and to be more specific reading fiction) — then adults need everything we can get to help make that happen. And most importantly we need the BOOKS and that includes more “good” books that will appeal to boys beyond Wimpy Kid and Rick Riordan (and most middle school boys would not read his newer series anyway).

      When I go to the Barnes and Noble kids’ section it is incredibly sad. I love Wimpy Kid (well the first few) but they have taken over books aimed at getting boys to read (just like what twilight did to YA — and we’re not even discussing boys YA books…) And again, older middle school boys won’t really read Wimpy Kid style books and when they do they finish them in a flash and then what? I like the question Greg posed: “where are the ripping yarns or laugh out loud funny books in the award conversation (this year or almost any year)?” That’s the question! Because those books will make it EASIER to get more boys reading. And good teachers and librarians (and parents) know that we can use those more appealing books as bridges to books boys would not usually pick up and read on their own.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      To be fair, my track record for picking winners is spotty at best.

      Your comment about Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants reminds me of my own gripe with The Lunar Chronicles by Melissa Meyer. I was once asked if the books could ever reach the heights of a Hunger Games and my response was, “Yes, if they ditch the current covers.” If you’ve ever seen the books you’ll see that the jackets are lovely but where Twilight’s covers could be read by boys without incident, Cinder & Co. features high heeled shoes and other feminine wear. It’s a pity. With different jackets that series could really take off.

      • Melissa Postef says:

        This reminds me of what I said when City of Bones came out with a shirtless guy on the cover: “Looks like they decided they didn’t need boys.”

    • Thanks, Greg, good points all. I’m not entirely sure that I’m convinced that this is the conversation we should be having, though. I’m often as frustrated by the Newbery as the next guy, especially for the way in which the committees often ignore genre fiction, particularly humor and fantasy. But I think that the only way for it to maintain its relevance is to award greatness, to recognize the books that are pushing literature forward, that are breaking new ground. The criteria for the Newbery states that it awards a “distinguished contribution”, and I think that’s a worthwhile aim for the award. As much as I love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I would not consider it a distinguished contribution to literature for children. Do I think it’s a positively vital children’s book of the 21st century? Absolutely; it’s done more than perhaps any other book in the last decade to turn kids on to the joy of reading. And is this to say that books that aren’t considered “distinguished contributions” are not worthy of praise and commendation? Of course not (though I’m less worried about Diary of a Wimpy Kid suffering from lack of exposure than I am other books Betsy notes above). But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with setting an award aside for books that aspire to–and achieve–things that are unique and special and ground-breaking. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for all its achievements, does not aspire to nor execute something particularly unique in the realm of children’s books. It’s akin to making an argument that the Avengers should win the Academy Award for best picture. Is it a near-perfect execution of its intended genre? Yes. Did it do more than any other 2012 film in getting people into theaters? Yes. But does that mean it should be awarded the highest honor we have to recognize greatness in its field? I don’t think so. There are other awards and other measuring sticks to recognize that sort of achievement – I truly believe that’s not the Newbery’s purview.

      Now, this isn’t the end of the conversation, though. I would be more in agreement with you guys, Greg and Steve, if I thought that the books you’re talking about, and their readers, would benefit from being recognized by the Newbery committee, and I’m not convinced they would. Steve talks about boys as unknowable, unimpressionable mysteries in his post – that he would love to convince boys with his book recommendations, but the fact of the matter is that boys are going to read what they’re going to read regardless of educator recommendations, and that those choices will be based primarily on book packaging. If I’m to grant this premise, which I shall do for the sake of argument, I don’t see how awarding one of these books the Newbery would help that book or the boy looking for it. If these boys saw a book with a cover they liked, would some shiny gold sticker really matter to them? As you say, I think they make their choices based on other factors. So where’s the benefit in tossing the Newbery criteria out the window to award a book whose contribution to children’s literature is neither unique nor distinguished, especially if the point–as it always is–is to connect kids with the right books?

      Finally, this has turned into a conversation about covers and packaging, and however we want to argue about the definition of “distinguished contribution”, I don’t think there’s anyone here who honestly thinks that the Newbery committee ought to make sure their list is diverse where cover design is concerned. I’d more more willing to concede a point here if I thought that the books Betsy highlights all scream GIRLS ONLY NO BOYS ALLOWED at the top of their lungs, but the fact is that they don’t.

      This is all aside from the fact that I still haven’t read one word here that has convinced me that boys in our society need to be catered to more than they are. Our entire society is built to cater to the whims of boys and men, and I’m not naive enough to think that the attitude that “reading sucks” that is so universal among these boys we’re hoping to reach is not directly connected to the fact that so many of us adults who work with young boys take this attitude for granted. When every library convention has panels with titles that are some form of ZOMG HOW THE HELL DO WE GET BOYS TO READ BOOKS??!?!?, I can’t help but feel like we enable this attitude as much as we combat it. Young boys aren’t naive either – they can pick up on this attitude, no doubt about it. I think we’re ready to move on with this conversation, to add more nuance to it, and that starts with the idea that when we speak about the highest award our field has to offer, we don’t talk about the books that represent the most of what we have to offer – we talk about books that represent the best of what we have to offer. Once Diary of a Wimpy Kid has done its work, and we’ve made readers out of these boys, the Newbery books will be there to challenge them and their ideas. This is how we grow.

      So yes, a worthwhile conversation, but I don’t quite see how this connects to the Newbery specifically. If you’re talking about founding an award that recognizes the books that most turn reluctant readers onto the basic act of reading, I’ll sign that petition. But I don’t quite think it’s worth making fundamental changes to the criteria for the Newbery, especially when the books you guys are mentioning (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants) are doing perfectly well finding their way into kids’ hands without that award.

  20. I vote that we forever refer to wild card picks for award winners as white bicycles.

  21. Elizabeth, be rest assured that you are not the only one who loves STARDINES. I just ordered my own copy two days ago after falling in love with the copy I had on loan from the public library for three weeks. And yes, LOCOMOTIVE can indeed pull a SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, though it is unlikely any book will be able to derail JOURNEY. Peter Brown’s MR. TIGER GOES WILD and Mr. Floca’s book would appear to be the the closest runners-up.


    I have been offering up reviews of every book that I perceived to be a valid contender for the award at my movie and arts blogsite, and have thus far completed in depth looks at each choice. Today I posted a piece on Brian Floca’s LOCOMOTIVE. Previously I have examined JOURNEY, MR. TIGER GOES WILD, KNOCK KNOCK and THE MATCHBOX DIARY.

    Before the 27th I hope to have at least five more and hope to some of these:

    Building A House
    Flora and the Flamingo
    A Splash of Red
    The Dark
    Mr. Wuffles
    The Tortoise and the Hair

    and a few others.

    I am a veteran elementary school teacher in a school where my wife is currently principal, and I have my own kids ages 17, 16, 14, 12, 11. I have collected Caldecott and Newbery medal winners and honor books for many years and have amassed a collection of over 700 picture books and follow the awards religiously every year. Though I’ve taught up to the eighth grade, this year I do reading with first graders and have presented all the Caldecott hopefuls.

    Like you I agree that the awards are extremely difficult to call.

    How about this:

    Caldecott Medal: Journey by Aaron Becker

    Honor Books:

    Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
    The Matchbox Diary
    A Splash of Red

    Also standing a very good chance in my view:

    Mr. Wuffles (by Wiesner has really been over-awarded)
    The Tortoise and the Hare (same here but beautiful book)
    The Dark (two for Klassen last year probably puts him as a long shot)
    Nino Wrestles the World
    The Mighty Lalouche

    Too bad the superlative artist Meilo So lives in Scotland, or her exquisite illustrations for Lenore Look’s BRUSH OF THE GODS would be a cinch for recognition, as would have her previous WATER SINGS BLUE (2012) which is as gorgeous as a picture book could ever be. But heck, when the committee chose the overrated A BALL FOR DAISY over one of the most beautiful and moving picture books of all-time (Lane Smith’s GRANDPA GREEN, which won an Honor anyway) we should prepare ourselves for any possibility.

    Note: The committee does adore Uri Shulevitz (who can blame them on that count, as he is one of our greatest illustrators) so DUSK is at least a dark horse here, and Melissa Sweet’s art in A SPLASH OF RED is sublime. She one a Caldecott Honor for her work on the William Carlos Williams book, so the committee does appreciate her talent. Another honor at least would be most welcome.

  22. Hope you all have had a chance to hear the audiobook of The True Blue Scouts . . . narrated by Lyle Lovett. Now that’s a treat.

  23. I LOVE these predictions. Can’t get enough! We have a Mock Caldecott going with my elementary library kids. The 3rd graders impressed me this week when we turned back the page in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild to see how things were at the beginning and student said, “Their eyes are all closed at the beginning and opened at the end.” I was so excited and spouted all sorts of “oh, look! Symbolicm, blah, blah, blah.” The kids love picking the “best” books and I have to let go of my worry that we won’t read the actual winner (like last year!) before hand.

    On an unrelated note, thanks so much, Betsy, for recommending Knock, Knock. I read it to my 5th graders this week and we watched the slam poetry performance. So powerful and such a great opportunity for our students whose life experiences often get overlooked at my school to be heard and seen. Two students even talked about visiting their own father’s in jail.

  24. I think my pick for the Caldecott pool has become ON A BEAM OF LIGHT… I dunno, I just have a feeling…

  25. Here are two more wildcards. Longshots I know but fantastic books, both:

    My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents and Giant Bugs by Matthue Roth

    When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky by Lauren Stringer

    Bob Staake’s BLUEBIRD is a beautiful book too, if the voters can get around the fact that it was entirely lifted from THE RED BALLOON.

  26. Abbey: I just now finally caught up with ON A BEAM OF LIGHT–I took it out at a local library, and it absolutely stunning!!! I would think it is in the running for at least a Caldecott Honor.

    Others that must be considered as well:

    How to Train a Train
    Battle Bunny
    Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great
    A Long Way Away
    Round is a Tortilla
    Exclamation Mark
    Take Me Out to the Yakyu
    This is the Rope
    Mandela (I love Kadir Nelson’s work, but found this one somewhat flat)
    Something to Prove
    Year of the Jungle
    Lucky Ducklings
    If You Want to See a Whale
    The Mighty Lalouche
    How to Be a Cat
    Pug and Other Animal Poems
    Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? (not much of a fan myself)

  27. I’m way behind on my reading so I’m having a terribly hard time predicting what will be taking home medals from the Newbery committee this year, but I’m really, really hoping for some Doll Bones love this year. (I still need to read Billy Miller and The Thing About Luck, though!)

  28. How could they not award Stardines something?? It’s magical. And creative and interesting and different and Prelutsky! I thought that one, The Boy Who Loved Math, On a Beam of Light and Matchbox Diary were the standouts from this year’s crop.

  29. Indeed Erin. STARDINES is superb.

    The kids are absolutely in love with Mo Willems’ THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. The committee has already awarded him three Honors, and this new book is a gem in every regard, so he should also be in the picture here.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Could be! Never discount the Willems. It would be pretty funny if he won, what with him being in France at the moment. I wonder what the time difference would be for “the call”. And it would be glorious world in which “Stardines” won. I hold out hope every day.

  30. Elizabeth, I just published my newest Caldecott Contender – seventh in the series- and appropriately enough the title being looked at is STARDINES:

    I paid homage to you twice for being the book’s most passionate adherent, and for penning that extraordinary review of it here at SLJ early in the year.

    Wow, Willems is in France now? That would be most interesting if he were to win the Caldecott Medal. I would still venture to say the smart money is on Becker (what a humble and terrific young man!) for the gold, with Floca and Peter Brown definite silvers. But I am really hoping hard for Berger to win at least an Honor for STARDINES, and Melissa Sweet for A SPLASH OF RED.

  31. I love reading about all this! I have also been going over Jen J’s spreadsheets thanks to a link at Heavy Medal. Caldecott-wise, I think Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is a terrific book, but it doesn’t grab me the way Journey does, not only with its beauty, but with the kind of ride into the imagination that you can never forget.

    I am reminded again about the odd place humor can have in this sort of competition because Battle Bunny is hilarious and wonderful, but it doesn’t seem to fit here. (Speaking of boy books!)

    Of course, I completely agree with Sam: Meilo So should move to the US!

  32. Kate, thanks so much for acknowledging me here my friend! I only discovered Meilo recently -you obviously know here work much better- but I was really blown away by WATER SINGS BLUE and BRUSH OF THE GODS. Another 2013 masterpiece is a book called YOU ARE STARDUST by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Soyeon Kim, but they are apparently both Canadian. The book is stunning. I pick it up after school today at a local library, and finally caught up with a copy of WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN’T BE DOCTORS?, which I had acknowledged above as a possibility on the runner-up list. Wow, never realized it was illustrated by Priceman!! Like many other I love her art, and actually think this new book is on par with ZIN ZIN ZIN A VIOLIN! I was a bit less enamored of HOT AIR, but still liked it well enough, and her book set in Paris is delightful.

    And how could have forgotten to mention Adam Rex and MOONDAY. I also took that out on loan with his CHU’S DAY, which is nice, but MOONDAY is really outstanding.

  33. I’m still hoping for an honor for Inside, Outside– though it seems to have disappeared from most lists of contenders.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I recently promoted that one to a friend looking for books to propose to foreign publishers. She agreed that it was a delight.

  34. No love for What the Heart Knows for the Newbery? I think it is arguably Sidman’s best work yet. It takes my breath away. And I am always rooting for the non-Newbery “type” to win big. On that score, I am also rooting for Eruption! I would love to see nonfiction and poetry get some Newbery nods this year!

  35. Betsy, reporting in.

    My school, Snow Horse Elementary, just finished our school wide Mock Caldecott.
    Medal: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.
    Honors: Journey & Mr. Wuffles.

  36. I think the most amazing illustrations I saw in a book this year are in Jane, the Fox & Me. Holy moly, that is one beautiful book (and story). Of course, it can’t win because first it’s French and second, it was published in 2012 and third, most people consider it a graphic novel. But it raises interesting questions of what constitutes a graphic novel vs. a picture book vs. whatever. I consider that to be a picture book. But what is The Arrival?

  37. Let me know if there is a better place to report this.

    My Mock Newbery students voted yesterday.
    Medal: Doll Bones
    Honors: Hattie Ever After & Navigating Early

    One more Mock to go today. This one with grownups.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Here is good but tell me where you’re reporting from! What’s the name of the school/library doing the voting?

      • My School is Snow Horse Elementary.

        We also had our unnamed adult group meet today. Possibly the only one in Utah so we can claim the entire state.



  38. I will be conducting the vote at my own school in Fairview, New Jersey this coming week Elizabeth.

    I wanted to mention was deeply honored to get an appreciative comment from Carin Berger under the thread of the review I penned of STARDINES, which is linked above.

    The wonderfully engaging and humble folks at THE HORN BOOK alerted me over the past few days of a few other picture book treasures I had not yet seen. I was embarrassed not to have seen them in fact. The voting ballot for the Mock Caldecott brought them to my attention and I took them out on loan from a local library. They are:

    Inside Outside
    Parrots Over Puerto Rico
    Water in the Park
    The Tree Lady
    Odd Duck

    I thought the first two were absolutely STUNNING!!! The others, especially ODD DUCK are extraordinary books as well. It just seems to get better and better.

  39. Elizabeth, it is:

    Number Three School Annex (Fairview, Bergen County, New Jersey)

  40. Elizabeth, I have the results from the first graders at the aforementioned Number 3 School Annex in N.J.

    Because of the plethora of quality books this year I allowed for six honor books.

    Caldecott Gold: That is Not A Good Idea (Willems)

    Caldecott Honor Books:

    Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great (Shea)
    Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Brown)
    The Day the Crayons Quit (Daywalt; Jeffers)
    Journey (Becker)
    Nino Wrestles the World (Morales)
    The Mighty Lalouche (Olshan; Blackall)

    Students in the classes voted after surveying the layout of the 42 books that virtually covered every legitimate candidate for Caldecotts, books I had previously read to them over the past months. remembering the individual reactions of those readings I can’t say I am at all surprised with this morning’s results. These are first graders after all. Ha! Yet, every book here is great.

  41. After the Big 7 I thought I’d mention that the three closest runners-up to that group are books few would even think of for Caldecott attention:

    Mousetronaut Goes To Mars

    Well, actually Ms. Seeger’s book was well in contention all along.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Actually Crankenstein’s popped up on more than one Caldecott list. And any group of children that gives props to Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great are my kinda kids. Good work! And thanks so much for reporting in.

  42. Thanks so very much for that Elizabeth! 🙂

  43. I made posters for this year’s award-winning books because our library wanted them ASAP. If anyone else needs them, they are here. Most of the info is from the ALA website, except for the CSK Awards which weren’t yet updated there.

    Today I shared the 2014 Caldecott Winner & Honor books with K-3 kids (w/o telling which was the Gold Winner — I usually run a Mock Caldecott which was cancelled because of so many snow days). Classes tied between “Journey” and “Mr. Wuffles” as their favorites, but also enjoyed “Flora and the Flamingo” (wonderful but a library disaster with those flaps!) and “Locomotive.” The details and writing in “Locomotive” are fascinating but found the classes got restless…it has all those wonderful sound and action words which we enthusiastically read together but I found that I needed to significantly shorten the text on other pages to keep their attention.
    I had NO problem keeping their attention for “Journey” — they were fascinated, eager to guess what the girl would make next with the red crayon (or was it a truly “magic” marker?!) I was surprised and delighted that, even in Kindergarten, kids made unsolicited literature/visual connections, volunteering the similarities to “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and the B&W beginning bursting into color like “The Wizard of Oz” as well as the magic carpet to Aladdin-ish world. At the end, they were eager to start back at the beginning and look at the boy with the purple crayon again! A Keeper!