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Newbery/Caldecott 2017: The Summer Prediction Edition

Fickle little me. Titles appear. Titles disappear. Many of the books I placed on my Spring 2017 predictions list are gone by June, and what has changed?  Aren’t the books as wonderful now as they were when I originally propped them up?  Of course they are, but I’ve done enough book discussions in the intervening months that I feel as if I’ve a better grasp on what’s a contender.  Not that my track record is by any means perfect.  These are, as ever, just my professional opinion.  And I may have gone a little crazy with the Caldecott predictions this time around . . .

Be sure to check out the 100 Scope Notes post on books that Goodreads readers think have a real shot too.

2017 Caldecott Predictions

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales


I read this one a long time ago and liked it just fine.  Personally, it wasn’t hitting me in the same way as Yuyi’s previous two books had, but I certainly enjoyed the spirit and energy and sheer love coming off the pages.  Then I talked about it with a bunch of other librarians and when we sat down and looked at those images, one after another, and discussed how one leads to another and how well Yuyi is able to convey familial affection with just the simplest of movements . . . well, I’m sold.  In fact, I may have just been convinced that this is her best book yet.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis


Unlike many of my honored colleagues, I’m pretty darn neutral on Ellis. As a person she’s sweet as peaches on the vine but her art has never left me feeling warm and snuggly.  Now those of you who know me know that I’ve a weakness for weirdness.  Dark horse medal contenders are my favorites.  All the more reason that I should incline towards this strange, silly, downright odd little tale of bugs speaking their own (very comprehensible) language and the flower that inspires them.  I’ve read this book many times to my own kids and I can honestly say that it’s a perfect combination of luscious, lovely, occasionally terrifying art and kid-friendly storylines.

Miracle Man by John Hendrix


I mean, I put it to you. Can a Jesus book win a Caldecott in the 21st century?  Considering that the 1938 Medal Winner, which is to say the very first Caldecott ever given out, went to Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book, I’d say there was a precedent.  This is another wild card, and I don’t envy the Caldecott committee this discussion.  It’s hard to not to be in awe of Hendrix’s typography alone.

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, ill. Beth Krommes


Do you do that thing I do where if a person has won a Newbery or Caldecott Medal (not Honor) before then you sort of give them second billing when thinking about future award winners?  I do that all the time, but when you see a book as gorgeous as this one you put all that aside.  In this hot June month, something as lovely, cool, and refreshing as this snowbound wonder book is of infinite relief.  Krommes outdoes herself here, and the emotional beats of the book thump strong.  Is that a phrase?  I’m keeping it in.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, ill. Erin E. Stead


Mmm. Deceptively simple, this one.  Like Krommes, Stead already has a nice and shiny Caldecott Medal under her belt.  I had the pleasure of hearing Cuevas and Stead discussing this book during Day of Dialog at Book Expo this year.  Here’s a fun game: Read the text without looking at the pictures.  You might get an entirely different view of the proceedings.  Stead’s mark is so strong and her images so beautiful that it may contribute heavily to the book’s potential win.  We shall see.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead


Mind you, he has another book out this year (Samson in the Snow) and it wouldn’t surprise me even a hundredth of a jot if he won the Caldecott for that instead.  This is Mr. Stead’s hoity-er toity-er offering.  Beautiful, no question.  But a touch on the esoteric side.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child

I have been waiting for this book for approximately five years.  Little, Brown & Co. is sick to death of me asking, “This year?  How ’bout this year?  Is it coming out this year?”  To see the art in person floors you.  Steptoe painted entirely on found wood and the storytelling of Basquiat himself is sublime.  This is one of my top picks, no question at all.  You are in for such a treat when you read it!!!

The Storyteller by Evan Turk


GAH!!  So good!  So very very very very good.  I’m not going to railroad you with reasons.  Just read my review if you’re curious.

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


Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Books, as awarded by a clearly BRILLIANT committee *cough cough*.  Vallejo is a first timer here, but you’d never know it from the art.  As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t slot into any categories very easily.  Hopefully the committee will recognize the art for what it is – extraordinary and distinguished.

 They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel


And, the winner.  Done.  Nothing more to see here, folks.

I’m sorry . . . you’ve not seen this one?  Oh.  Well, it’s quite simple.  Wenzel has created the Caldecott winner for 2017.  Don’t know what’s confusing about that.  You’ll understand when you see it for yourself.  I don’t want to call it self-explanatory.  Let’s just say, it’s a bit of a given.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford, ill. R. Gregory Christie


Like Yuyi’s book, it took me a little while to come around to this one.  Christie’s art changes subtly from book to book.  Here, he appears to be channeling the ghost of Jacob Lawrence.  That’s a good thing.  An amazing solution to rendering slavery and its horrors accurately but still in a way that’s friendly to kids on the younger end of the education scale.  After you read this one, you just gotta dance.

2017 Newbery Predictions

My Newbery reads continue to lag vs. my Caldecott reads (picture books are just easier to read quickly!).  Fortunately, I’ve been lucky in what’s crossed my plate.  If the jury would be so good as to consider . . .

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown


A long shot, no question.  Its potential relies entirely on the kinds of readers you’ll find on the Newbery committee this year.  This book requires one to stretch their incredulity from time to time.  If you can do so, the rewards are vast.  Such a good bedtime book.  It would be a joy to see this make the list.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan


I call this one Simon & Schuster’s Secret Weapon.  But don’t take my word for it.  Read this brief plot description for yourself: “Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away.”  Only it’s even better than that.  Bryan is doing something completely new here and the writing is perfect.  Don’t count this one out.  I think it has some real legs.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo


It’s good.  Deeply sad (a theme in 2016) but an honest-to-goodness page turner.  I reviewed it here but I’m still parsing it in my mind.  There is a LOT to chew on in these scant little pages.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano


Poor poetry.  I’ll be your friend.  This is a book where the poems start off sounding pretty rote (this is hardly the first poetry-for-every-season-of-the-year book in the world) but then you get sucked into Fogliano’s writing.  I like the art just fine, but the text is the true star of the show.  You may read my review here if you’re curious.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm


Here’s a fun quiz question for you: Has a prequel to a Newbery Honor ever won a Newbery itself?  If this book continues Holm’s winning streak we may get our answer.  Mind you, Holm has never won herself a Newbery Award proper.  This wouldn’t be a bad book to do so.  Just saying.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker


We had our Pax push and even a Pax backlash, so at this point I think we’re ahead of the game.  Clearly this book has legs and a LOT of people discussing it.  I think it continues to be one of the strongest contenders.  A book that could only be tossed out on a technicality.

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


YES!  What’s that line from The Princess Bride?  “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”  Not so many giants and monsters in this and the true love . . . well, you could make a case for it.  Otherwise, I think we’re pretty close.  Bloody but upbeat, that’s for sure.  You can read my review of it here.

Wolf’s Hollow by Lauren Wolk


Originally written as an adult novel, this book was turned into one for kids with very little touches and tweaks.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s a very strong one.  I could see it going head to head with all the other major contenders.  Better go out and read it when you get a chance.  My review is here.

And that’s all she copiously wrote!  What have I missed?  Spill it.  I know there’s a gap in there somewhere a mile wide.

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. You’ve got all my current Newbery favorites covered except for one. Perhaps an outlier, but she does what she sets out to do so so well — Louise Erdrich’s Makoons.

  2. Anonymous says

    There’s a new Adam Gidwitz coming out….Just sayin’

    • And, boy is it good! Definitely a contender.

    • The new Adam Gidwitz novel is called The Inquisitor’s Tale, and I found it definitely worthy of Newbery consideration. An amazingly ambitious undertaking that seems effortless in the reading.

      But: no love for Jason Reynolds’s As Brave As You?

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        I started it, was talked out of it briefly, and need to return to it. I heard the other middle grade he has out in 2016 is particularly good, though.

  3. Denis Markell says

    I’ll go along with the “Don’t Forget Gidwitz” campaign, and not just because he’s a wonderful guy who also blurbed my book. (full disclosure?) A really different story told in a really different way. If that makes any sense. Oh yeah, another middle grade book is coming out in July, but that’s not really like NEWBERRY material. More of a fun read. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself…

  4. Patricia Toht says

    I look forward to this list each year. I smile at the wonderful ones I’ve already read, and make a list of those that are my new must-reads. Thanks, Betsy!

  5. Isabel Allende's Worst Nightmare says

    Oh how I am hoping for Miracle Man for Caldecott and The Wild Robot for Newbery!

    Oh how I so do NOT want Thunder Boy Jr to get any sort of recognition for C, nor Pax for N.

    OH HOW I WILL RISE UP IN PROTEST if Ideas Are All Around is even mentioned in Atlanta as deserving of ANYTHING.

  6. Holly Stout says

    I wasn’t overly mpressed with Thunder Boy Jr at first reading. It was cute and ok. Then I heard Sherman Alexie speak in Dallas at the DMA in June, and he went through every image and opened my eyes in an amazing way. Now I see how deep and nuanced they are. Can’t wait to share it all with my students in the fall. I would be thrilled if it won the Caldecott!

  7. Paula Gallagher says

    I am so with you on They All Saw a Cat. Let’s just award that medal now.

  8. Ruie Chehak says

    What Elephants know by Eric Dinerstein is a beautiful coming of age book and the reader learns so much about Nepal and elephants. I highly recommend it!

  9. Richard Peck’s “The Best Man” comes out in September. It is ultimately a life affirming and HAPPY book. Maybe a spoiler here….

  10. A picture book I appreciate more, every time I look at it (and not just because I’m writing about it right now), is Patrick Downes’s COME HOME, ANGUS, illustrated by Boris Kulikov. (I think he’s Caldecott-eligible?)

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      He is indeed. Lives in Brooklyn, if I’m not mistaken. It would be absolutely lovely if Kulikov won a Caldecott. He’s one of those illustrators that I worry gets lost in the cracks. ANGUS is beautifully done too. It so good at being reassuring (which is no small thing in a running-away-from-home title).

      • I also like how it signifies a sort of shift in parenting attitudes, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I wrote about it today for my Kirkus column this week, so I’ll try to remember to come back here and share the link when Kirkus posts it later this week.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Mmm. Intriguing theory. I’ll look forward to hearing more.

  11. I loved Miracle Man. Here’s my review: But it didn’t even occur to me that it could be in Caldecott contention. It’s about Jesus. 🙂
    For the Newbery, I’m all about Pax! But Raymie Nightingale did win me over despite myself.
    I love your predictions! Wish I’d read more of them!

  12. I also love Joan Bauer’s Soar. She is a wonderful storyteller for middle grades and this is one of her best. Great article,thank you for your recommendations.
    Jen C., Middle School Librarian

  13. Alison Morris says

    I second so many of these great suggestions but also have to add When the Sea Turned to Silver, Grace Lin’s tremendous new novel that’s coming in October. It’s high up on my Newbery pick list!

  14. “Has a prequel to a Newbery Honor ever won a Newbery itself?” Yes! Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword was a 1983 Honor, and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, won the Newbery itself in 1985.

  15. Johnnie Harrison says

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Wolf Hollow! I knew, as soon as I read it, that it would be a contender for some awards. I hope it takes home a boat load! I loved the book and will be recommending it to everyone that I know!

  16. Some Kind of Courage is my sleeper pick for at least an honor. I read it early in the year and it hasn’t been knocked off my top-five-go-back-and-reread-later shelf yet.

  17. Thank you for this wonderful list. I’m excited to read Gidwitz’ new book too.

  18. THEY ALL SAW A CAT is absolutely brilliant. I’m with you on that. Incredible to see it executed so well, and then that paired with disbelief that this idea hasn’t been done before. Brilliant.

    RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE is, for my money, the most Newbery-deserved work DiCamillo has ever penned, and I admire her work as dearly as the rest of the world. What she does with an almost exclusively female cast and an endless number of plates sent spinning that all pay off at the story’s conclusion is nothing short of masterful.`

    I’m still thinking a bit about THIS IS THE STORY OF US by Beth Kephart for Newbery. Equally moving to DiCamillo’s RAYMIE was John David Anderson’s MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY. Aaron Becker’s RETURN has a lot to offer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Julia Denos’ SWATCH gets some buzz as well for her amazing control of color and technique. My sleeper title’s going to be THE AIRPORT BOOK by Lisa Brown. There’s so much going on with the cast of that picture book that I think it begs a closer look.

    • I totally agree about THE AIRPORT BOOK. It’s brilliant and outside the box and definitely deserves a close look– or ten or fifty looks 🙂