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A Fuse #8 Production
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Newbery / Caldecott 2017: Spring Prediction Edition

What?  Who?  Now?  Yes, if you’re checking the calendar you’ll see that three whole months of 2016 have gone by and you know what that means.  Prediction time!

But Betsy, you say, that is quite simply the kookiest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s March, for crying out loud.  We’ve ten months until the next award announcement.  And all this is true.  And it is loopy to the extreme that I’m doing this.  Particularly when you consider my track record.  To date:

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.

2015 spring predictions: I get two Newberys right (Echo and The War That Saved My Life)

The thing is, if I’d gotten Zip. Zero. Zilch. this time last year I might have given up the fun prediction game altogether.  But this isn’t really about accurate predictions, is it?  I mean, check out last year’s first listed Caldecott contender.  WHOOPSIE!  No, it’s about pinpointing the books that everyone should be talking about because they’re such great titles.

Now due to a new job where I’m not commuting to work every day (the hour train ride has turned into a sweet 20 minute walk) combined with my participation on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee for 2016, I am not reading as many middle grade novels as I usually would.  I have made up for that by reading every picture book I get sent.  So you may see that I’ve a better grasp on Caldecott than Newbery this year.  Case in point:

2017 Caldecott Predictions

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell, ill. Rafael Lopez


See this here in my hand here?  This sign that says, “Rafael Lopez for Caldecott”?  I’m carrying it because sometimes it feels like every year I tout him as a real Caldecott contender (Drum Dream Girl had in in the bag, man!) and every year he slips through my fingers.  Well not this year.  This book (based on something he actually went out and did) is beautiful, socially conscious, and a title that kids actually enjoy reading multiple times.  I feel it this time!  It’s his year!

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith


Smith hasn’t won a Caldecott since his Honor for Grandpa Green, but you could argue that this was because he wasn’t really putting his back into it.  This book (in 2016 alone there are four different books on collective nouns, did you know?) takes an esoteric idea and weaves it into a story about finding your tribe, both literally and figuratively.  This is a softer Smith than we usually see, and it may yield great dividends in the future.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead


If any book could do a little tap dance while singing the words, “Cal-de-cott, Cal-de-cott, nothing could be finer“, it would be this one.  It is also THE most esoteric picture book on this list.  It will probably receive criticism for seemingly speaking more to adults than children, but the art really is distinguished.  If anything this feels like a picture book from another country (I’m reminded of the works of Stian Hole in particular).  I’ll be interested in following the conversation surrounding this one in the future.

Cricket Song by Anne Hunter


My wild card.  There are probably a couple wild cards on this list, but this one is subtle.  The author/illustrator splits the visual narrative into two distinct parts while pairing these images with a soothing text.  It’s a bedtime book in the classic sense but a clever one.  It also has a fox on the cover which, if you haven’t heard it before, is the unofficial animal of children’s books published in 2016.

The Storyteller by Evan Turk


I’ve already talked at great length about this one but I’d be more than happy to talk about it some more!  Turk’s still new in this field.  He is at the start of his career in children’s books, but the time and the care and the attention and the sheer beauty found in this book is jaw-dropping.  Paired with a brilliant text to match, it has a lot to say about what the role of oral storytelling is in the electronic age.  Big themes.  Brilliant book.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo


And speaking of brilliant books, meet Francis Vellejo.  Debut illustrator, and hopefully the man is currently fending off job offers from all the major publishing houses.  Vellejo brings to life a text that could have floundered in the hands of a less adept illustrator.  Plus, as a woman who majored in college in Art with a concentration in Photography, any Caldecott contender that uses photography in some way has my instant and abiding love. Hopefully the use of photographs published in some other form prior to this book’s publication won’t disqualify it from contention.

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, ill. by Brendan Wenzel


Wenzel’s a fellow to watch in 2016.  He has several books coming out this year and each one is clever.  If I were to bet on just one I might look to this.  Naturally if there were any justice then author Daniel Bernstrom would win something for the rhythmic text here.  In lieu of that, Wenzel’s art is a fabulous complement to the twist on the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly motif.  Besides, who doesn’t want to see vomiting snakes?

2017 Newbery Predictions

I shall direct you to the Heavy Medal 2017 Newbery Reading List, since what I have here today is fairly small in comparison.  I’m only really going to mention the books that I am certain have a strong fighting chance this early in the game.  These would be:

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo


So I turn to a friend of mine the other day and I ask her to give it to me straight.  “The latest Kate DiCamillo”, I say.  “Is it . . . meaningful?”  You see, I do very well with DiCamillo books when they involve pummeling carnies with errant baseballs, sweet talking toothless horses, or vacuuming up squirrels (to say nothing of giant donuts).  I do far less well when her books make a grab at the old heartstrings.  My friend assured me that while the book does not lack for heart, she was certain I would love it.  And, since we’re talking DiCamillo here, there’s no one in the world who would argue that it’s not a serious contender in 2017.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, ill. Jon Klassen


DiCamillo aside, if we had to talk about the book that is managing to get the most Newbery buzz the earliest in the year, Pax is where it’s at.  I received a galley of Pax at the same time that I received a galley of The Nest by Kenneth Oppel last year.  Both books were illustrated by Klassen and I couldn’t help but think that the man had exquisite taste in manuscripts.  Since I had lobbied hard for Pennypacker to get some medal action years ago for her Summer of the Gypsy Moths, I feel this is an honor long since due.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Turner, ill. Gareth Hinds


So. Friggin’. Awesome.  Weirdly appropriate for the Newbery too, age-wise.  In spite of the fact that this is basically the Samurai version of Game of Thrones (something they mention in the ad copy for this book) the blood and guts aren’t visceral.  Instead you get an amazing examination of the world’s most famous Samurai warrior.  It’s nonfiction and Turner’s backmatter is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

There are some notable books that haven’t been mentioned here, but I want to hear from you.  What’s blowing you away this year?  What can’t you stop talking about?

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. For Caldecott I’m a fan of Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales’ Thunder Boy Jr.

    And then there is Melissa Sweet’s forthcoming bio of E. B. White, Some Writer! It will be interesting to see what the Cadecott Committee does with it (as it is heavily illustrated, but not exactly a picture book as such), but it and the Newbery and Sibert Committees are certain to be seriously considering it.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      In this era of graphic novels and Selznick titles winning Newberys, I think it has a pretty clear cut shot.

  2. Thoughts on Hour of the Bees? Is it Newberyish? Man, I love that book.

  3. Eric Carpenter says:

    I am all in on Samurai Rising for Newbery.

  4. I’m reading Pax right now. I think you’re right about this one.

  5. Pax! It’s wonderful. Caldecott, of the ones I’ve seen, Cricket Song is mesmerizing.

  6. Not a fan of Pax, lacked subtlety, characters were stand-ins for political opinions. Much preferred Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths (and for that matter, the Oppel/Klassen The Nest)

    Haven’t read Samurai Rising yet, but Gareth Hinds has been doing spectacular graphic-novel versions of Shakespeare and certainly is due some award recognition (in my opinion)

    And my annual question: WHEN will Steve Jenkins get his Caldecott?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Ah. Jenkins. He sort of falls into that category of great artists that may never win the gold. I could always be wrong, but I number him amongst Kadir Nelson, Bagram Ibatoulline, Gennady Spirin, etc.

      • Bagram illustrated my debut nonfiction picture book, Coyote Moon, which is releasing in July. His illustrations are exquisite, full of so much intricate detail that they look photographic. I just love what he did.

        BTW, I’ll be at the MD/DE/WV conference this coming weekend & I’m so looking forward to hearing you speak on Sunday!!

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Awesome! I’m a huge fan of Coyote Moon. It’ll be good to talk about the wonder that is Bagram (and, for that matter, your book).

      • I’m thrilled to hear that you liked it, Betsy :)!!

        Looking forward to meeting you!

  7. What are the four books on collective nouns? I love collective nouns.

    Yaks Yak came to mind, but that is wordplay, not collective nouns.

  8. “Freedom in Congo Square”–those illustrations dance straight into your heart.

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      Yes! I’m expecting Freedom in Congo Square to be covered in medals next January.

  9. All three of your Newbery choices are on my to-read list… and all but Raymie are in my library, waiting to be processed. I shall be a good librarian, though, and allow the kids to take a crack at them first. My Mock Newbery club is already foaming at the mouth.

  10. Loved Pax, but I also loved Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban, understated and poignant.

  11. I like Bloom by Doreen Cronin & David Small for a shiny sticker on the cover next year.

  12. I’m in the camp that isn’t wowed by Pax, but Samurai Rising–WOW. So very cool. I hadn’t thought Newbery (yes to Sibert), but you may be on to something…

  13. A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

  14. Reneereads says:

    Really liked Wolf Hollow. First one for me this year. Just started Raymie & it looks like a contenda

  15. Linda Urban says:

    Either I’m on a lucky reading streak or this is a truly amazing year for books. PAX is on deck, but already I’m a super fan of RAYMIE, WOLF HOLLOW, and MAYBE A FOX.
    Also bowled over by ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN, but it feels like more of a YA kind of thing to me than a Newbery.
    Have you read Kate Messner’s SEVENTH WISH yet?

  16. Thanks so much Betsy, AND all the commenters. Living in Shanghai means its all kindle, and lots of waiting, for new Newbery Contenders…and just lots of waiting for Caldecott Hopefuls. I’m off on Spring Break tomorrow and thanks to this list…I’m going to have LOTS of great books to read.
    Xie Xie form China