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Newbery / Caldecott 2017: Final Prediction Edition

Normally published in December, now pushed up to January for your reading pleasure.  But I’m shaking things up this time around.  Let’s do something a little different.

In all my past Final Prediction Editions of Newbery/Caldecott winners, I cling stubbornly to the same format: name the predicted winner and honors.  This year I’m going a slightly different route.  Something a little more thoughtful and introspective.  Bear with me.

2016 was an odd year.  I think we can all agree on that much.  The future will hold a great number of challenges for librarianship, books, and education in general.  But 2016 is not the first year to have poised a challenge to us or our nation.  In its way, the Newbery and Caldecott Awards reflect the tenor and conversations of the national sphere.  How could they not?  When a committee gathers they choose the award that is “most distinguished”.  And in many ways, books that speak to their times in cool, clear voices can be the very definition of distinguished.  That said, committees can also go the opposite route.  They may prefer books that speak to absolutely nothing but the comfort of nostalgia.  Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

WWII breaks out: As America debated intervention in the war in Europe, the Newbery was handed continually to books that celebrated American history above all else.  Unfortunately a lot of that means slaughtering American Indians.  So in 1940 you get Daniel Boone by James Daugherty, in 1942 it’s The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds, and in 1944 it’s Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (which happily didn’t kill off any Native Americans that I recall and was well poised to speak to Americans fighting for a cause during the war years).

JFK is shot: When the president was assassinated in 1963, it set the world on its ear.  Little wonder that in 1964 the Caldecott would go to Where the Wild Things Are, the book that would usher in the 1960s as we regard them today. In a country where your president can be shot, there’s a comfort to be had in taming your wild things.

The Rodney King decision and the riots of L.A.: It would take a couple years between the riots of 1992 and the publication of Smoky Night in 1994, but when it won the Caldecott Award in 1995 there was no doubt that it had something to say.

9/11/01: The Twin Towers fell and though some children’s books spoke to the tragedy immediately it wasn’t until we were in the thick of the War in Afghanistan that The Man Who Walked Between the Towers won the Caldecott in 2004.

You could argue, and rightfully so, that I’m picking and choosing my examples AWFULLY carefully.  For example, when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968 the 1969 Newbery Medal went to Lloyd Alexander’s The High King and the Caldecott went to The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Uri Shulevitz.  For that matter, am I implying that committees walk into those hotel rooms where they make their decisions with a clear cut purpose of making some kind of a political statement?!?!  Anyone who has ever served on a committee will tell you point blank that when you go into that room you have NO agenda on your mind.  You are choosing the best books of the year.  That’s it.  Case closed.  Leave your agendas at the door.

Completely true, all of it.  Plus a committee is, in large part, limited to what’s being published in a given year.  If you have a weak year then there’s little you can do about your final choice.

So with a full and clear acceptance that this year’s committees will NOT under any circumstances chose their winners based on some personal drive to “say something” about the state of the world today, let’s look at some of the top contenders of the year.  After all, it’s not difficult to see how their messages and themes apply to the year 2016, one way or another.


If the Newbery Award Goes To:

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet


The book is a basic introduction for kids to a world in which the government operates at a high level of hypocrisy and totalitarianism.  It’s about what happens when you have to hide who you are because the world in which you live is dangerous.  Few books this year actually talk about the government as directly as Nesbet’s book does.  The fact that it’s historical is hardly the point.

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


Such a good book.  So here you have Ashley Bryan seeking out people that were rendered voiceless.  He gives them not just their voices but names and hopes and dreams.  He takes the term “slave” and turns it from an object into a person.  Now we live in a time when large numbers of people are giving names and terms (“illegal aliens”) so that we can forget that they’re people.  A book that celebrates our common humanity would make an excellent Newbery Award winner, that’s for sure.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds


A book in which an African-American boy escapes not just the low expectations of the world around him, but the low expectations he’s held himself to for a long time.  It’s about running towards something as much as it is running away from something.  Ghost has a tough life but he also has strong adult figures who care about him.  If the book goes on to win, it could be construed as a title that gives voice and dignity and power to a kid, thereby inspiring other kids in the process.  In a year when police brutality against African-American boys is higher than ever, we need more books like this.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz


Well, let me see here.  A book about ongoing tensions between different religions.  Persecution.  How you can’t believe every story you hear.  How ignorance leads to the destruction of knowledge.  Mob mentality.  God’s will.

Nope.  Can’t think of a single thing this book has to say about 2016.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker


If Pax were doing only one thing on the page this would be an easier book to talk about.  It has a lot to say about war’s effect on children and animals.  Which is to say, the smallest and weakest amongst us.  There’s a war veteran who is coming to terms with her life again.  It’s not speaking to 2016 in as direct a manner as, say, Gidwitz’s book is, but there’s still a fair amount to chew on.

Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming


Oh, it won’t win.  When was the last time a nonfiction chapter book biography won a Newbery Award?  1988’s Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman, that’s when.  But it’s such an interesting book.  Here you have a man who used outright lies and storytelling to make people hear what they wanted to believe.  He exploited people, lied to people, mislead them, cheated on his wife, and made terrible business deals.  Sounding familiar at all?  Add in the fact that he created the Wild West myth of America and then proceeded to sell that myth across the globe . . . well.  I mean to say.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk


You may have heard a lot of talk earlier in the year about how this book would pair well with To Kill a Mockingbird.  The reasoning is that this book speaks to the dangers of leaping to conclusions when those conclusions speak to your already existing prejudices.  A lot of it is about the spread if misinformation and how people who are different can be construed as “the enemy”.  And let’s not glaze over the fact that one of the characters in the book is a war veteran suffering from PTSD.  Yep.  Lot of meat to chew on here.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the Newbery could go to Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo or Full of Beans by Jenni Holm or any number of other books.  I don’t include them here not because they aren’t great titles, but more because they’ve the feeling of classic “Newbery” types of books.  DiCamillo already has two Awards under her belt and Holm a number of Honors (three, I think).  If they win they’ll sort of be considered the types of books that typically win Newberys since their authors have won before (though I do think it’s high time Ms. Holm got herself some gold for once).  I’d put Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White (which could also win a Caldecott) in the same category.  A very beautifully told, classic biography by an already award winning artist.  And how cool it would be if it won the gold!

And now a word on the Caldecott Award.

A lot of people have commented that 2016 was a shockingly strong Caldecott year.  My condolences to the committee.  If people were shocked by the six Honors of 2015 just imagine how they’ll feel when they see the seven Honors of 2017.  I assume that is what will happen since the idea of cutting any of my favorites this year cuts me to my core.  And I have a LOT of favorites.

The funny thing is that if these books have something to say, it’s more about the state of children’s book publishing today than the nation.  With that in mind, here’s what I personally will be reading into each of these books if they win the gold . . .

If the Caldecott Award Goes To:

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


When this book won in the Picture Book category of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards its placement there was entirely arbitrary.  A work of poetry based on a true incident with true famous jazz figures inside, it’s neither fish nor fowl.  It straddles three different genres (poetry, picture books, nonfiction).  Of course, the Caldecott committee will be looking primarily at that amazing art of debut illustrator and Detroit-based artist Francis Vallejo.  Yet if the book is chosen it will still have a lot to say about books that defy categorization.

Miracle Man by John Hendrix


A Jesus book winning a Caldecott.  If Animals of the Bible and A Prayer for a Child can do it, why not Hendrix?  The committee won’t consider the subject matter as either an impediment or point in its favor.  They’ll be examining the typography, determining whether or not it works sufficiently well on the page.  That mix of text and image is so integral to the storyline, and not something present in most of the books published in 2016.  Has a Caldecott Award winner ever had creative typography that integrated the text into the images, by the way?  I’m looking at the list here and drawing a blank.  A little help?

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

Radiant Child

Almost since the award’s inception artists have bemoaned the fact that the highest honor a picture book illustrator can receive is granted not by their peers or people who necessarily have degrees in art, but by librarians.  Some would argue that this makes perfect sense.  The award is not for art on its own as an object but how well the images work with the book’s text and produce something wholly new.  Now we consider Steptoe’s masterpiece.  If you were to see the art in person you’d be able to admire how perfectly he’s connected the found wood pieces and painted on top of them.  You do get a sense of that when you see the book but the effect is different.  Now if this book were to win it would go to the son of a previous winner (John Steptoe’s 1988 Honor for Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters).  It would go to a book honoring a man who struggled with mental illness and addiction but created something wholly new.  The book is itself a testament to the power of art.  Art for people that need an escape.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan


It’s the only graphic novel this year that’s been gathering talk.  If it wins the Award itself it would be the first graphic novel to do so, though others have won Honors.  Set in the Depression the book is about a woman in New York City who gains money and, through it, power but it’s not enough.  It’s never enough.  It can’t be enough.  And that stock ticker would be enough to drive anyone insane . . .

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel


That’s an easy one!  The whole book is about seeing something through someone else’s eyes.  I can’t think of a better lesson for 2016.  Case closed!

My other favorites include The Storyteller by Evan Turk, Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, ill. Yuyi Morales, The Airport Book by Lisa Brown, and many others but since they don’t quite fit into my thesis I guess I won’t write them up.  Ah well.

And, as ever, it could easily be that NONE of the books I’ve listed here will win.  That is what I love about these awards.  Anything is up for grabs.

So.  What do you think has a good chance?

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. Funny, was thinking about this last night reading Ballet Shoes to daughter. Published in 1936. That year the King (Edward VII) abdicated. Jesse Owens triumphed at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. The battle of Cable Street took place between Mosley’s fascists and the local community. The Spanish civil war began. Ballet Shoes was outstandingly popular, but beaten to the Carnegie by Arthur Ransome’s Pigeon Post. Streatfeild did win in 1938 with The Circus is Coming.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Very interesting. Your mention reminds me, in turn, of Casablanca. Not a children’s book, obviously, but we often forget how it spoke out against the Nazis in the midst of WWII. Forethought rather than hindsight was at work there. What children’s books do the same?

  2. If you think the awards might go to a book with an important message about the times we live in, I think the Caldecott should go to Ed Young’s THE CAT FROM HUNGER MOUNTAIN. A poignant story about humility, wastefulness and greed. I hope the committee considers this stunning book for a medal.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh, it will! Ed’s a previous winner so he’s bound to be on their radar. And you should see the Moby Dick book he’s illustrated for 2017 . . . but I get ahead of myself.

      • I know. I have seen the original of the Moby Dick book in his studio. It is fantastic!!
        I am a big fan and think he is at the top of his craft. My fingers are crossed for him to win another medal! 🙂

  3. Thanks for this unusual and refreshing Newery/Caldecott post, Betsy! Makes me want to look back at my lists and bookshelves – and memories of what was happening during those years.

  4. Susan Schiller says

    The book that has spoken most deeply to me this year is The Journey by Francesca Sanna. Although not eligible for the Caldecott, it is powerful in the same way as many of the books you described.

    • I think it’s quite jingoistic of ALA to continue with the requirement that Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners be American. The Printz Medal is way ahead in not requiring that. The Journey was perhaps one of the most resonant books all year for its illustrations and content. The fact that it has to be disqualified because an Italian woman created it touches a bit on the xenophobic.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Well, initially when the award was begun there was such a huge emphasis on European rather than American children’s books in the U.S. market that the idea of doing an award just for homegrown books was downright quaint. These days it’s the opposite, but that’s more because of the shifting markets and globalization than anything else. I don’t see it changing much in the future, though.

        I liked The Journey just fine, but I was blown away by Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Syrian artist Nizar Badr. If you haven’t seen it, seek it out.

  5. I am hoping for the journey and maybe something beautiful for caldecott.

  6. Cassie Greenlee says

    What a wonderful post. Children’s books are never just for children, and I love your perspective on everything these titles have to say. I am cheering hard for Miracle Man — I LOVE it, all religious content aside. It’s so smartly done, and it’s so innovative and new and beautifully integrated. I would love to see it win. Thank you for all your help as I’ve put together my library’s Mock Caldecott! I look forward to seeing what wins!

  7. Sam Juliano says

    I also love Ed Young’s book, and think is one of the truly great ones. HUNGER MOUNTAIN is stunning. Yet in 1989 when he won the Caldecott Medal for “Lon Po Po” I preferred two of the honor books, “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” and/or “The Talking Eggs” for the gold.

    As always you offer up an incredible presentation. I applaud you for sticking with the Jesus book by Mr. Hendrix, which is also one of my favorites. Like everyone else under the sun I adore JAZZ DAY and think Mr. Vallejo is a major talent, yet other awards it has won may impede another here, though I know the committee doesn’t discriminate on that count.

    I remain optimistic for Sergio Ruzzier’s brilliantly conceived classroom favorite “This is Not A Picture Book.” It is a huge personal favorite, yes, but I still see it as impressing the committee. Mr. Ruzzier is also overdue, and I consider this particular book his masterpiece to date, edging ahead of “A Letter For Leo.”

    I know you had been a year-long champion of the electrifying “Freedom in Congo Square”, which I still think will end up in the winner’s circle. The Weatherford/Christie combination here has produced a staggering work.

    Yes “Radiant Child,” “They All Saw A Cat” seem certain to win awards here, though unlike you I am not sold that Mr. Wenzel’s book is a near sure thing for the gold. Fantastic book, but many thought Aaron Becker’s “Journey” would win the hold, only to end up with an Honor (still fabulous of course!) I think “They All Saw A Cat” will win one of the Honors.

    I do think “Thunder Boy Jr.” will win another citation for the wonderful Yuyi Morales. And like you I do really love “The Storyteller” a lot! Evan Turk is a super talent.

    Boris Kulikov’s “Come Home Angus” is a masterpiece! This is another book that may pull a surprise.

    But there are books out there this year from Wendell Minor (Willa), Barbara McClintock (Emma and Julia Love Ballet; Lost and Found), Raul Colon (Fearless Flyers), Fiona Robinson (Ada’s Ideas), Matthew Cordell, (The Knowing Book) Rick Lieder, Salina Yoon (Be My Friend), Jennifer Thermes (Charles Darwin), Elizabeth Rose Stanton (Peddles), Sophie Blackall, Susan Hood, Melissa Sweet, Lynn Rae Perkins, Jeff Newman, Kumiko Craft, Lauren Castillo, Randy Cecil, The Fan Brothers, Julia Kuo, Bob Shea, Kenyard Pak, Nancy Armo, Jabari Asim, Daniel Miyares, Lori Nichols, Toni Yuli, Stephanie Graegin, Lisa Brown, Ron Dunlavey, Julia Sarcone-Roach, and others that should be under the radar of the committee! Christian Robinson had two with his “School” book a dark horse for a citation. The Steads had three great ones between them. The Jeff Gottfeld/Peter McCarty collaboration “The Tree in the Courtyard” is another great one.

    I am also very much in your camp as far as extreme affinity for “Leave Me Alone” which the classes absolutely adore. Could that book wind up a winner?

    And I see you are perhaps a bit less enamored than some of your fellow predictors on “Du Iz Tak?” a book I have finally warmed up to and in a big way.

    Another great one – Rafael Lopez’s “Maybe Something Beautiful,” which earlier in the year was on your prediction shortlist but has since disappeared is still in my view a very good bet, and what a fantastic book it is.

    I do love the graphic novel “Robin Hood” quite a bit, but I am skeptical it will win here.

    And “Freedom Over Me” is also fair game for Caldecott recognition. And I know I will later regret not mentioning a few others.

    The whole affair is very exciting, and I guess as past year have proven nothing is certain remotely. I have a solution. Let’s give 1 gold as always and 49 Honors books! 🙂

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      If “Leave Me Alone” wins something I will be the happiest woman in the world. How crazy that I didn’t even think of it! Poor funny books. Always disregarded.

      Now what is this GN of “Robin Hood” of which you speak??? I’ve never even heard of it. Who wrote it?

      • Sam Juliano says

        Elizabeth, my apologies for another Senior moment. I thought SNOW WHITE when I prepared the comment, and what came out was ROBIN HOOD. Oh my Lord. So sorry.

        In any case regardless of what I perceive to have the best chances to win like you I do love SNOW WHITE.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Phew!! That’s a relief. For a moment there I thought a Robin Hood book had slipped under my radar. The confusion is understandable. Wasn’t there a Sinatra film that set Robin Hood during the 30s once?

      • Sam Juliano says

        Aye Elizabeth. Robin and the 7 Hoods. 🙂

  8. after a deep (OK, 2 minute) analysis of the Carnegie medal winners in relation to WW2 my take is that the kidlit world is in denial before terrible events, gets serious during bad times and retreats into fantasy (signifying hope?) in the aftermath. So extrapolating from that, we’ve already had a few years of denial and it’s now time to get serious? We’ll see if I’m right. Of the Newbery contenders above I loved Ghost but haven’t read any of the others. Particularly intrigued by The Inquisitor’s Tale.

  9. Paula Guiler says

    I am in the beginning stages of our annual Mock Caldecott. Our district librarians have chosen 10 titles for our students (grades1-5) to enjoy: Ideas are all around, Are we there yet?, Uncorker of ocean bottles, They all saw a cat, Rain fish, Prairie dog song, Whale, and Yaks Yak, Before morning, and Du iz tak? Early days yet (they’ve only seen 2) but they have been blown away by Are we there yet (which is certainly a strong message book with a reminder for all of us in any year). I think the race, for the students, will come down to that and Du iz tak, which they will choose because it uses the word “booby” rather than for the “right” reasons, but such is life in a grades 3-5 building! For me, I’d be happy with Radiant Child, the Airport book, and Are we there yet (so innovative!)

  10. Bethany Thompson says

    Am I the only reader of children/juvie/YA books that wonders if the committee members think of what the designated readers find interesting to read and how they respond to the final book selections? A colleague and I have discussed this many times when reading books that are highly touted and especially award winners.Granted not all younger readers have the same taste, but sometimes it is hard to get them to read award winners no matter how much they are book-talked or how exciting the cover may be. My personal choices this year are They All Saw a Cat and Pax.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      While the award doesn’t hinge on popularity and makes no mention of the book being child-friendly, in my experience committee members often go out of their way to try out a wide range of titles on child readers. It’s considered one of the many parts of being “distinguished”. I can’t speak for all committees, but I’ve known quite a few that have operated this way.

  11. Kate McCue-Day says

    I am having a very difficult decision on my Newbery prediction this year, might be one of my hardest years. Plus I’m still reading. Every book I read I think “ya that could win”. My most recent reads were The Best Man, Wolf Hollow, The Inquisitors Tale, and The Wild Robot. Read them all this last snowy/sick week. I honestly feel like any one of them could win. I think I might be pulling for Robot right now..but I swear I change my mind every couple of hours! I have to tell my 5th grade students something tomorrow, I promised.

    • Marybeth Kozikowski says

      Hi, Kate
      At my county’s Mock Newbery I presented what I hoped was a solid, reasoned support for The Wild Robot. I think the novel succeeds on many levels, from a simplistic “robot in the wild” story to a more complex examination of what makes us truly human and asks readers to think about “what is our purpose?” ..which Roz inspirationally answers with “Perhaps I am meant to help others.” WOW. A truly humanitarian concept in a novel with no humans in it.

  12. I THINK THAT THE WINNER OF THE NEWBERY AWARD SHOULD BE “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”!

  13. Marybeth Kozikowski says

    Betsy, will you start a “False Newbery Titles/Descriptions” list as in previous years? It was an inspired idea and provided a much-needed comic relief during awards season.

  14. Laura Cowie says

    Awards season is always so exciting — I love reflecting on the richness of resources we have to share with our students and young borrowers. Coming from a school library point of view, I was surprised by the acclaim for the Inquistor’s Tale. It is certainly a fascinating well-written book, but I had to take a jump back when I hit the chapter with the Baker’s Tale (I believe that’s the chapter). The character narrating that chapter is a monstrous man, full of invective about the children, but he speaks directly about the Jewish boy being chased, using all sorts of religious and racial slurs against him. I know as a reader you are supposed to realize he is a monster. But I couldn’t see that on our school library shelves. I felt like the chapter could have the effect of introducing young readers to a vocabulary and to stereotypes they may not have heard of. And if they were familiar with that language, would it be enough to help them see the cruelty of this character? As for the effect on Jewish children, well, I think that could be devastating. I felt concerned that I couldn’t find this information out in reviews of the book, and in fact, that really puzzled me.

  15. I took a bunch of the above listed titles out of the library and started with The Inquisitor’s Tale. I adored it, and would have as a kid, too. Somehow I missed your review from the summer of it. Can’t wait to go on to some of the other books you listed.

  16. A spectacular and informative post. I am a fan of almost all of your selections. It would be wonderful if Raymie Nightingale won the gold. Being a multiple winner of the Newbery or Caldecott means you are just that darn good. The fact that Raymie or Full of Beans feels like a classic or typical Newbery choice sounds like a plus to me.

    I love, love, love Jazz Day and They all Saw a Cat. And Thunder Boy Jr. And Maybe Something Beautiful. The Lost House by Brian Cronin is truly a stand out. Sadly, it hasn’t made it onto any Mock Caldecott list that I have seen. I am also rooting for Lane Smith’s There is a Tribe of Kids. No one is as adept as Smith in creating such warm, vibrant and whimsical illustrations. He is magnificent!


  1. […] Bird’s annual Newbery/Caldecott predictions post gets even more brilliant this year, as she looks at potential winners and what their choice […]