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Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Spring Prediction Edition

There are traditions we adhere to because they are what we know.  And what do I know?  I know how much fun it is to predict Newbery and Caldecott winners WAY way way before I oughta.  Why do I do it?  Because it’s fun.  Mind-blowingly ridiculous on some level.  But fun.

Each year I also see whether or not my predictions had any bearing on the actual winners.  With that in mind, here’s how I’ve done for the last six or seven years or so.

2008 spring predictions: I get one Caldecott right (How I Learned Geography)

2009 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The (Mostly) True Adventures of Homer P Figg)

2010 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (One Crazy Summer)

2011 spring predictions: I get one Newbery right (Inside Out and Back Again)

2012 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (The One and Only Ivan and Splendors and Glooms), and one Caldecott right (Green).

2013 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (Doll Bones and One Came Home) and one Caldecott right (Mr. Wuffles).  But pride goeth before the fall.

2014 spring predictions: Zip. Zero. Zilch.


Ah, I was doing so well for a while there but 2014 was clearly a bust.  To be fair, I hadn’t read the three Newbery winners by this point in the year since they were all later season releases.  On the Caldecott side there were a fair number of books I could have considered.  But if the 2015 wins tell us anything, it is that  books beloved in the early part of the year can completely turn around and be forgotten by the second half.

And yet, I still love these little predictions.  If only because I get to cheer on the books I like the most.

This year, actually, my predictions are a bit backwards.  Usually I feel like I have a strong handle on the Newbery and a weak grip on the Caldecott.  This year?  It’s flipped.  But enough jabber jawing.  Let’s look at some pretty pretty books:

2016 Caldecott Predictions

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins, ill. Sophie Blackall

Blackall has never won a Caldecott.  One might wonder why that is and come to the conclusion that her clean lined style is too seemingly simple for the committee.  Perhaps, but if so it’s a misguided interpretation.  I recently had the pleasure of hearing her speak about the research she did on this book, and it made me wonder if any of the Caldecott committee members would hear her, or anyone at her publishing house, say similar things.  Because once you know the sheer extent to which she fought for details like the book’s ice pit, that is knowledge you can never unknow.  Mind you, if her other book out this year about the bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh wins instead, I’ll be perfectly happy with that instead.

Float by Daniel Miyares

The wordless book is the picture book illustrator’s equivalent of a monologue.  Suddenly the words vanish and you’re center stage, commanding the audience’s attention by sheer will and artistic technique.  It can be intimidating.  Now this year we’re seeing a utterly gorgeous (and Canadian) Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson getting a lot of press.  It is not, however, the only sidewalk-inclined wordless picture book out there.  Miyares, who has flown under the radar for a number of years, has created his own subdued and rather lovely tale of a boy, a boat, a storm, a loss, and coming home to daddy.  I’ll need some more time to process this one but I like a lot of what it’s doing.

The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle

I’m sorry the scan of the cover is so crummy here, since part of the lure of this book (aside from the near magical use of cut paper to convey movement and characters) is the use of color.  This is a lush, magnificent title that manages to take cut paper and make it live.  There’s one particular shot of a little girl running to her daddy that will drop your jaw to the floor and shatter it completely. Absolutely stunning.

Night World by Mordecai Gerstein

I’m always wary of Newbery/Caldecott prediction lists that are full of previous winners.  It always strikes me as a technique bereft of imagination.  That said, sometimes it just makes good, clean sense.  The next two artists you see mentioned here are previous winners in one capacity or another.  Gerstein’s book plays with tones and hues and what you do or do not see when the sun is gone.  It has a killer ending where the sun rises and the colors return to the world that’s worth the price of admission alone.  We haven’t seen him win anything since The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.  Maybe this year’s the year to rectify that.

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

Not to be confused with the 2015 Aaron Starmer novel of the same name (though the two pair together eerily well).  I will confess to you that in the past I’ve not been the biggest Zagarenski fan.  It’s something about the crowns she draws.  I must have a low crown tolerance.  So credit it to low expectations if you like, but when I picked up The Whisper to read I expected the same old, same old.  What I got instead was a book so imaginative and clever that it may just as easily live on as a writing prompt title as a work of beautiful art.  I do wonder if my love of the text is affecting my view of the art.  Maybe so, or maybe this really is the best thing she’s ever done.  You’ll have to decide for yourself.

2016 Newbery Predictions

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

I really only have three titles on the old Newbery side of things this spring.  It isn’t that I haven’t read a lot of potential winners.  I have!  It’s just a trickier year than I was expecting.  Now Ryan’s book listed here is a big thick brick of a title.  A definite paperweight, should you need one.  It takes three stories and a single instrument to highlight three very different lives before and during WWII.  I’m still picking apart my thoughts on it and I haven’t had a chance to have a nice long conversation with anyone about it yet, so all I’ll say is that it will certainly be a discussed title by the committee.

Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Of all the books list here in this post today, this is the book that I think has the best chance at a win.  What Stead has penned here is a middle school book, so it presses up against the upper ends of the Newbery’s age range (14).  I’ve already heard some folks wonder if they enjoyed it more as an adult than a kid would.  Time will tell on that account, but if the Newbery is supposed to go to the most “distinguished” children’s book, then this is the one to beat.  I can’t think of anything else this year that approaches its level.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Tricky one.  On the one hand the story is great, the characters vivid, the setting a character in and of itself, and some of the prose just heartbreakingly lovely.  On the down side, it’s got a couple scenes that could have been cut down or out.  There’s a confusing love triangle that serves no apparent purpose, and a dentist/moped sequence that I had to read and reread a couple times to myself to understand.  To win a Newbery this book will have to overcome these elements.  Then again, it stays with you long after you put it down.  Funny to mention it after Goodbye, Stranger too.  One book contains a lacy bra, and this book contains a plethora of thongs.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

You wouldn’t know it from the cover, but this is one of the year’s most enjoyable reads.  Review after review comments on how much fun the reader had getting through it.  It shouldn’t work but Bradley (who I pegged for a Newbery years ago for her Jefferson’s Sons, only to be disappointed) has amazing skills and an even better cast of characters.  I almost wonder if this book has a Newbery chance, considering the pleasure it elicits from my fellow gatekeepers.  Guess we’ll just have to see.

That’s all she wrote, folks.  What have you preferred thus far?  Surprise 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. I’m woefully behind in my picture book reading so all your favorites are new to me. I must say they all have a retro vibe. I will have to check them out. I absolutely adored The War That Saved My Life. I can’t recall a book that sucked me in so completely that I felt hazy and dazed returning to the real world.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      To be fair, it could just be that my taste in picture books runs to the retro.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Note: “Runs to the Retro” is going to have to be the title of my debut album someday.

  2. Shelley Diaz says

    I would be very happy if Echo took the Newbery. She would be the first Latina, right?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Newbery-wise, yes. The Caldecott went to David Diaz years ago, but no one’s ever taken the proper Newbery gold.

  3. I still have a lot of reading to do, but as soon as I read and reviewed Echo, I knew that it was going to resonate throughout the year. I loved it!

  4. I love A Fine Dessert. Kirkus Reviews had an excellent interview with Sophie Blackall and Emily Jenkins about the book:

    We have Echo, Listen Slowly, and The War That Saved My Life, but I have not read them yet. Echo has circulated *very* well ever since we received it. Have not heard feedback from any actual patrons, though.

  5. I absolutely love A Fine Dessert! Hope to see it honored in one way or another.

  6. Jennifer B. says

    I was surprised by Echo. I wasn’t too sure about it after reading the summary but I enjoy Pam Munoz Ryan’s writing so I gave it a try. Finished it in 24 hours. Absolutely loved it and am recommending it to everyone although the length certainly will keep some from trying it. I also really enjoyed The War That Saved My Life. I tried to read Listen Slowly as I loved her first book. I couldn’t even finish it. Just did not hold my interest. I’ll probably try another time. Sometimes a second try produces a better result. Looking forward to the new Rebecca Stead as I enjoyed her other books. Maybe this will be your year. Thanks for your excitement over awards.

    • LibraryGarden says

      I found the middle of Listen, Slowly very slow. I kept going and really loved the last 1/3 of the book. It’s such a different book than Inside Out, but still lovely. I put it in the hands of one of my Vietnamese students the other day that has truly grown as a reader. I think it will be interesting to see how she compares it to her life in Vietnam.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Oo! Report back. I’d love to hear her take on it. I agree that there are some really slow parts. There’s a lot of waiting around in that book.

  7. Eric Carpenter says

    I agree with your love of Goodbye, Stranger it’s fantastic.
    I would add Christopher Myers’ MY PEN to the caldecott hopefuls list. I think it is stunning.

  8. I agree with Eric about MY PEN and while I haven’t read it yet myself, what about Kevin Henkes’ WAITING? Seems like everyone is raving about it.

    For Newbery, I would add ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson. All the others you mention are top favorites of mine as well.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I considered WAITING, but I almost feel like it’s the writing that’s the standout in that title. Moreso than the art. It’s good, clean Henkes art but not KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON art or anything.

    • Just read ROLLER GIRL and liked it a lot, but I’m not sure the text works without the images (as was the case for EL DEAFO).

  9. Alison Morris says

    Love these early predictions, Betsy! I adored Goodbye Stranger and am currently reading and loving Echo. I know Newbery committees are loathe to recognize sequels, but I thought The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was stupendous and at least warrants discussion as a Newbery-worthy book. Art-wise, two 2015 books I’ve been poring over are The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach and Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh! Drum Dream Girl! I’m kicking myself for missing that one. And now I’m curious to read the new Calpurnia Tate book, if it’s as good as you say.

  10. Sequel-wise, I’m a fan of Gone Crazy in Alabama.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I loved it too but it doesn’t stand on its own. If you didn’t have the context of the girls’ mother and their time in Oakland then you’re missing a lot of important backstory.

      • Hmm…while certainly the larger story arc involves the previous two books, this one struck me as standing quite well on its own. It seemed more about sisters than mothers this time around. What sticks in my mind (having read it a few months ago) was the older sisters and their conflict. Really wowed me. Felt it played against the younger girls and their connections wonderfully well. I’ll be curious to hear from folks who read it without the first two.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        And I loved how you could read the book as an example of an unreliable narrator. You’re getting everything through Delphine’s filter, and when push comes to shove it’s possible that her point of view is tainted. I too adored the sisters’ relationships. The authenticity floored me. I would like to believe it stands on its own. I think I’ll make some of my librarians who haven’t read #1 or #2 read this. That’ll help settle the point in my mind.

  11. Joel Simon says

    You started your Newberry list by saying you only had three Newberry titles for this spring’s predictions but you ended up listing four books. Did one of them almost not make your list, and if so what changed your mind about it?

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh, ha! Yeah, that’s precisely what happened. I’d forgotten about Echo (which seems extraordinarily odd to say, but there you go) and put it in there as well. This was more a case of my slipping it in rather than it almost not making it.

  12. Wow, Betsy, just going by these covers, they look amazing! Thank you for making me (us) aware of some I hadn’t heard of yet! Wow!

  13. Brian Wilson says

    Thanks for the article. I cannot wait to read Goodbye Stranger! It sounds excellent. When I was at Midwinter I just missed picking up an ARC (they gave out the last copy just a few moments before). And I cannot wait to get my hands on Gone Crazy in Alabama. I started Avi’s Catch You Later, Traitor and it’s quite good. Also Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud. Picture-book wise, I absolutely love Last Stop on Market Street (Christian Robinson and Matt de la Pena make a great team), Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Caught Black and White America (Carole Boston Weatherford’s text is concise and informative, and Jamey Christoph’s illustrations are striking, especially when recreating Parks’ photographs), and Wolfie the Bunny (a fun narrative by Ame Dyckman with terrific art by Zachariah OHora). I’m also a fan of Michael Hall’s Red, Christopher Myers’ My Pen, among others. This looks like it’s going to be a great year.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Just read Fuzzy Mud myself and while it is a fantastic horror novel, I’m not smelling any awards coming off of it. It’s just fun. Nothing wrong with that.

  14. I loved Echo although the last part felt to me like a magician revealing all of her tricks. I wanted it to end with mystery still in tact. I still thought it was marvelous, and am rooting for it.

    I thought Listen, Slowly was a more difficult read to get through. I thought the final third was lovely and the sense of place was great, but wondering if my lack of interest had more to do with a somewhat unlikable character rather than with pacing?

    Excited for Stead’s, “Goodbye Stranger,” I’m looking forward to August!

  15. wow, the cover image of Float is striking! i’m going to have to find and read that one.

  16. Milo Speck.

  17. I just had Mordecai Gerstein visit my school on Thursday. A true delight. He shared a sneak peak of Night World. It is early but Ms. Bird could be on to something. The book is out in June. I’d suggest you book him early for the next school year – maybe he even has open dates this June for an end of the school year author visit.