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Newbery / Caldecott 2015: Fall Prediction Edition

Now we’re in the thick of it.  Do you hear that?  That is the clicking ticking sound of the reanimation of the Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott blogs.  They’re a little groggy right now, trying to get their bearings, figuring out which foot to try first.  But don’t be fooled by their initial speed.  Very soon they’ll be acting like well-oiled machines, debating and comparing and contrasting like it’s nobody’s business.  But why let them have all the fun?  Time for a little predicting on my end as well!  I’ve been discussing these books with folks all year and through our debates I’m getting a better sense of the titles that are more likely than others to make it in the end.  So, with the inclusion of some fall books, here’s the latest roster of predictions. Please note that as the year goes on I tend to drop books off my list more than I add them.  This is also my penultimate list.  The final will appear in December.

2015 Newbery Predictions

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

It’s so satisfying when you like a book and then find that everyone else likes it too.  This was the very first book I mentioned in this year’s Spring Prediction Edition of Newbery/Caldecott 2015 and nothing has shaken my firm belief that it is extraordinary.  It balances out kid-friendly plotting with literary acumen.  It asks big questions while remaining down-to-earth.  And yes, it’s dark.  2014 is a dark year.  It’ll be compared to Doll Bones, which is not the worst thing in the world.  I could see this one making it to the finish line.  I really could.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

You know what?  I’m sticking by this one.  Graff’s novel has the ability to create hardcore reader fans, even though it has a very seemingly simple premise.  It’s librarian-bait to a certain extent (promoting a kid who likes to read Captain Underpants will do that) but I don’t think it’s really pandering or anything.  It’s also not a natural choice for the Newbery, preferring subtlety over literary largess.  I’m keeping it in mind for now.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Notable if, for no other reason, the fact that Nina Lindsay and I agree on it and we rarely agree on anything.  As it happens, this is a book I’ve been noticing a big backlash against.  It sports a complex and unlikeable heroine, which can prove difficult when assessing its merits.  She makes hard, often bad, choices.  But personally I feel that even if you dislike who she becomes, you still root for her to win.  Isn’t that worth something?  Other folks find the blending of historical fiction and fantasy unnerving.  I find it literary.  You be the judge.

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

I could write out yet another defense of this remarkable novel, but I think I’ll let N.D. Wilson do the talking for me instead:

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The frontrunner. This is Woodson’s year and we’re just living in it.  I’m waiting to hear the concentrated objections to this book.  Waiting because I’m having a hard time fathoming what they might be.  One librarian I spoke too complained it was too long.  Can’t agree myself, but I noted her comment.  Other than that, nobody disagrees that it’s distinguished.  As distinguished as distinguished can be, really.  If it doesn’t get the gold (look at all the nice sky-space where you could fit in a medal!) I will go on a small rampage.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Betcha didn’t see that one coming.  You were probably expecting a discussion of Revolution or A Snicker of Magic or something, right?  Well darling, I’ll confess something to you.  I like simple books.  Reeeeally simple books.  Books so simple that they cross an invisible line and become remarkably complex.  I like books that give you something to talk about for long periods of time.  That’s where Hanlon’s easy chapter book comes in.  What do I find distinguished about this story?  I find the emotional resonance and sheer honesty of the enterprise entirely surprising and extraordinary.  And speaking of out-there nominations . . .

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

Face facts.  Jeffers is a risky Caldecott bid, even when he’s at his best.  The man does do original things (This Moose Belongs to Me was probably his best bet since moving to America, though I’d argue that Stuck was the best overall) but his real strength actually lies in his writing.  The man’s brain is twisted in all the right places, so when you see a book as beautifully written as this one you have to forgive yourself for wanting to slap medals all over it, left and right.  A picture book winning a Newbery is not unheard of in this day and age, but it requires a committee that thinks in the same way. I don’t know this year’s committee particularly well.  I can’t say what they will or will not think.  All I do know is that this book deserves recognition.

Let the record show that the ONLY reason I am not including The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos in this list is because it does require a bit of familiarity with the other books in the series.  I struggle with that knowledge since it’s long been a dream of mine to see a Joey Pigza book with the Newbery gold and this is our last possible chance to do just that.  Likewise, I’m not including The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis only because knowledge of Elijah of Buxton makes for a stronger ending to the tale  But both books are true contenders in every other way.

And now for the more difficult discussions (because clearly Newbery is a piece of cake….. hahahahahahahaha!!! <—- maniacal laughter)

2015 Caldecott Predictions


Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood, ill. Jonathan Bean

I only recently discovered that if you take the jacket off of this book and look at it from left to right you get to see the entire story play out, end to end.  What other illustrator goes for true emotion on the bloody blooming jacket of their books?  Bean is LONG overdue for Caldecott love.  He’s gotten Boston Globe-Horn Book love and Ezra Jack Keats Award love but at this moment in time it’s downright bizarre that he hasn’t a Caldecott or two to his name.  Hoping this book will change all that.

A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, ill. Floyd Cooper

I’m sticking with Floyd here.  The man’s paid his dues.  This book does some truly lovely things.  It’s going to have to deal with potentially running into people who just don’t care for his style.  It’s a distinctive one and not found anywhere else, but I know a certain stripe of gatekeeper doesn’t care for it.  It’s also one of three African-American ballerina books this year (Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, ill. Frank Morrison and Firebird by Misty Copeland, ill. Christopher Myers anyone?) but is undeniably the strongest.

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by  Tim O’Meara

People don’t like it when a book doesn’t fall into their preexisting prescribed notions of what a book should do.  Folks look at the cover and title of this book and think “picture book biography”.  When they don’t get that, they get mad.  I’ve heard complaints about the sparse text and lack of nonfiction elements.  Yet for all that, nobody can say a single word against the art.  “Stunning” only begins to encompass it.  I think that if you can detach your mind from thinking of the book as a story, you do far better with it.  Distinguished art?  You better believe it, baby.

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Seriously, look me in the eye and explain to me how this isn’t everybody’s #1 Caldecott choice.  Right here.  In the eye.

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

What can I say that I haven’t said a hundred times before?  I’ve heard vague whines from folks who don’t care for this art style.  *sigh*  It happens.  I’ll just turn everything over to the author for her perspective on the story behind the story then.

Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

Okay, try to think of a precedent for this one.  Let’s say this book won the Caldecott gold.  That would mark the very first time in the HISTORY  of the award itself that two unmarried artists got a medal for their work, yes?  And yet the book couldn’t exist without the two of them working in tandem.  Remy and Lulu is an excellent example of a book that I dismissed on an initial reading, yet found myself returning to again and again and again later.  And admit it.  The similarities in some ways to Officer Buckle and Gloria can only help it, right?

I don’t think I gave this book adequate attention the first time I read it through.

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray, ill. Kenard Pak

I heard an artist once criticize the current trend where picture book illustrators follow so closely in the footsteps of Jon Klassen.  And you could be forgiven for thinking that animator Kenard Pak is yet another one of these.  Yet when you look at this book, this remarkable little piece of nonfiction, you see how the textured watercolors are more than simply Klassen-esque.  Pak’s art is delightful and original and downright keen.  Can you say as much for many other books?

This is one of those years where the books I’m looking at have NOTHING to do with the books that other folks are looking at.  For example, when I look at the list of books being considered at Calling Caldecott, I am puzzled.  Seems to me it would make more sense to mention Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes, Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, or Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg by Debi Gliori (wait . . . she’s Scottish and therefore ineligible?!  Doggone the doggity gones . . .).

For additional thoughts, be sure to check out the Goodreads lists of Newbery 2015 and Caldecott 2015 to see what the masses prefer this year.

So!  What did I miss?

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. The Right Word:)

  2. The above was for Caldecott. What about nonfiction for Newbery; say, at the upper end of the age range, Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Do you think it squeezes under the age limit? Admittedly I hadn’t read it yet because it was sold as YA. Yet after my disappointment over her Amelia book not getting any Newbery love I would be thrilled if she got something for another book.

  3. Stretching for a quibble on BGD myself – I personally find verse works where every poem is titled to get a little over crafted (?). Only in terms of the titling itself. Most of the titles work great, and some/many are necessary or add to the poem. But occasionally I felt the titles impeded the flow, creating a halting effect. Very minor issue, and a personal preference that I have noticed over time so it becomes amplified.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Worth discussing. Does the sum total overwhelm the parts that are less strong than others? It’ll be interesting to see if the Newbery folks find it worthy of debate.

  4. Betsy–does the bio on Johnny Cash include his recording of THE BALLAD OF IRA HAYES or any of his protest songs? This article in Salon has a good overview of that aspect of his life and work.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I’ll have to double check my copy and see.

    • If it’s Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, it does not. It’s kind of a strange biography–if you didn’t know anything about him and read it and skipped the afterword (as I often did as a kid), you’d have no idea he was ever married to June.

  5. We were reading the Night Gardener at bedtime last night and COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN, which is why we’re all tired today. Can’t wait for tonight’s bedtime after seeing this post. Woohoo!

  6. I would love to see Brown Girl Dreaming pull off a trifecta–Newbery, National Book Award and CSK.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Ooo. It’s never been done before, has it? 2 out of 3 but never 3 for 3.

      • Why not 4 for 4 – add the Sibert!

      • Not as far as I can tell. I believe BUD NOT BUDDY is the only title to win both CSK and Newbery medals and HOLES is the only title to win both Newbery medal and NBA.

        For anyone interested, I decide to dig a little further and it looks like the only overlap between Pura Belpre and Newbery is THE SURRENDER TREE by Margarita Engle, which won a Newbery Honor. There is no overlap at ALL between Caldecott and Pura Belpre and while lots of CSK books have won Caldecott Honors, I didn’t find any that won both CSK and Caldecott medals. Just some food for thought.

      • Eric Carpenter says

        MC Higgins the Great won both the Newbery and the NBA but was beaten out by The Legend of Africania by Dorothy Robinson for the CSK.

    • Wow. I just thought of that. We discussed this book at our book club last night, with different members reading poems aloud. It gave me chills.

  7. Always love reading everyone’s lists around this time of year–especially yours, Betsy.
    For the record, Lolly, Martha and I have not published a list of books yet–we each did our own current favorites and will talk about them and a bunch of others over the next few months.
    Plus, it sounds like you have seen a whole lot more books than I have, which is understandable considering I am not a librarian and have to rely on magical powers (and friends and booksellers) to try to make sure I see most things.
    Let the postulating begin! It’s fun to see what everyone thinks. I imagine the real committees get a mighty chuckle out of it.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Aw, thanks, Robin. And for the record, your choices are absolutely fascinating. I like them quite a lot. I’m happy to think you just haven’t seen the ones I’ve listed yet because they’re AWESOME!! But you know I’ll be checking and rechecking your site every day for updates.

  8. Oh, and I have heard this idea that “so-and-so has paid his or her dues” a lot this year. I know my Caldecott committee chair (the always amazing, tea-swilling Judy Zuckerman) would have cast the hairy eyeball on anyone on our committee who dared utter anything like that. It’s just the books on the table being compared to each other. Nothing about the body of work or “it’s about time” or “paid her dues.”
    If that argument worked, I can think about about ten illustrators who should have won already. It just doesn’t work that way.

  9. My fondest wish is to see Under the Egg receive a Newbery nod! Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s first book is a great mystery with appealing characters and historical weight.

  10. Goldfish.

  11. Galen Longstreth says

    Is anyone concerned that one of Cooper’s illustrations in A Dance Like Starlight shows the wrong hand on the girl? I don’t have the book with me right now, but you can see it, the thumb is on the wrong side. I’m sad about that because I love this book and I figure the committee wouldn’t be that forgiving about something like that.

  12. First off, I am beyond jealous you have read Once Upon an Alphabet already. Folks who know me know that Jeffers is a favorite of mine, and I am eager to see this one. It would be pretty amazing to see a picture book on the Newbery list, that’s for sure. And while I may not agree with you on his being a risky Caldecott bid, it is interesting to consider the fact he could land in either spot.

    I can still see The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Nest, A Snicker of Magic, Nightingale’s Nest, The Crossover, and The Meaning of Maggie landing on the table.

  13. Galen,

    That depends…

    To me it is like a typo, which would NOT automatically disqualify the book. However, over the years I have seen things like typos exclude books from consideration by various committee members. Depends on the chair, depends on the committee,… Floyd’s work is consistently fine, especially his portraits and I am sure he is one of the ten people Robin refers to above.

  14. Galen Longstreth says

    Thanks, Ed. I’m not familiar about whether the committee cares about typos of one sort or another, so it’s interesting to hear your response. I’m eager to see what happens.

  15. EGG & SPOON by Gregory Maguire is quite a read.

  16. What about Harrison’s other picture book this year, Extraordinary Jane? It’s bright, colorful and creates a circus world so vividly.

    I adore the art in Three Bears and a Boat-so beautiful and captures the emotions of the bears so perfectly. And the full page spreads of the ocean are breathtaking.

    I’m also a fan of Have You Seen My Dragon-great ink drawings and subtle use of color which is striking.

    We’re also signing the praises of Lizi Boyd’s Flashlight at my library. It’s a gorgeous wordless book that uses subtle flashes of color and diecuts in an original and beautiful way.

  17. Fantastic list! I love that “Have You See the Nesting Bird?” is on your list, because NO ONE has been talking about it and I think it’s just stunning. (Plus, I learned a ridiculous amount from the faux bird-narrator interview at the end.)

    Surprised that Frazee’s “Farmer and the Clown” didn’t make your list, although I admittedly haven’t seen it yet. I would personally LOVE to see Melissa Sweet get recognized for “Firefly July” or “The Right Word”–I mean, seriously, is anyone doing anything even remotely similar? She hits it out of the park for me every time.

    • Elizabeth Bird says


      Ah. The lovely Frazee book. Yep it’s very nice. For me, it’s a personal thing. I like what it does and I like what it is but it doesn’t emotionally grab me the way that I would like it to. Not a fair assessment since it’s so totally my own issue so I just left it off. There is buzz there, of course. As for Ms. Sweet, she could easily walk away with something but I don’t know if either of these books are the ones to do it. They’re great too, though.

  18. I just finished Crossover and I think it is my front runner. It is really surprising that it’s not on the National Book Award Long List. Alexander utilizes the verse format better than just about any other MG/YA fiction. I especially love the way they played with the presentation of the text. The writing is distinguished and the storyline is powerful.

    Of the books listed above, I’d love to see Absolutely Almost snag an Honor. My longshot is El Deafo, but I won’t hold my breath since Smile didn’t anything, presumably because it’s a graphic novel.


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