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Newbery / Caldecott 2018: Fall Prediction Edition

*stumbles into the room*

Is everybody happy?!?

Okay. So. So it’s been quite the year already and we haven’t even gotten to the awards announcement in *checks watch*  . . .

Wait. The Youth Media Awards celebration is in February this year?!?  For crying out loud, anything could happen between now and then. No no no no, I vote we move them up to a nice and respectable January 15th. That sounds reasonable, yes? Nothing too out of the ordinary could happen between now and then.  Right?

Out of the ordinary is precisely the phrase I’d use to describe what happened with the Newbery committee recently. Poor Newbery committee.  First they get what I can now officially call a bum Newbery year. My evidence? Aside from a sort of general understanding that we’re a bit light in slambang middle grade fiction submissions this year, I will now direct your attention to the recently released longlist for the 2017 National Book Awards in the Young People’s Literature category. There are good books there. Strong books. And very very YA books. Of the ten books listed, only two are for kids rather than teens. This is not particularly surprising since the NBAs do favor older fare and this year’s panel of judges consisted of four authors that work primarily as YA writers alongside one bookstore owner. Still, I cannot help but think that it’s indicative of the trend that a lot of us have seen in 2017. Newbery worthy titles aren’t surefire this year, and that may well mean we get some surprises come February. Be sure to read the Heavy Medal discussion of the NBAs here, when you have a chance.

The other news that is no longer news is Angie Manfredi and the fact that she will no longer be serving as a Newbery committee member this year. The Heavy Medal blog recently had a measured and thoughtful post on the subject, complete with measured and thoughtful comments. It’s all very adult and refreshing. This does not make things any easier for the committee, of course, and it may well be that Ms. Manfredi’s position on the committee will remain unfilled. We shall see.

So! On that cheery load of happiness and bliss, let’s look at some Newbery and Caldecott contenders, shall we? I mean Heavy Medal is up and running, as is Calling Caldecott, and I’m feeling good about that.  Picky as all get out, but good!  So let’s crank her up and see where she takes us, eh?

2018 Caldecott Predictions

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat


Once someone has won a Caldecott you do sort of want them to take a step back and rest on their laurels for a while. I don’t think Mr. Santat knows how to rest, though. His laurels sit there, pristine, untouched, un-rested upon, because the man just keeps on working working working. The kicker is that After the Fall is, to my mind, his strongest work to date. It isn’t just the writing and the message, which are good, no question, but the quality of the art that he brings to so personal a subject.

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, ill. Mike Curato


You probably know Mike best from his work on the Little Elliott series. The crazy thing about those books was that beneath the usual cute-polka-dotted-elephant-romping-in-NYC veneer there was a great deal of artistry to the work. When Elliott took a trip to Coney Island I just about blew my top at the pinpoint accuracy that was at play. Now paired with Ms. Engle, this book has the writing chops and the gorgeous illustrated know-how. I’m not sure how far it’ll go in the consideration process, but I do know that it’s worth a serious discussion.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, ill. The Fan Brothers


For a second there I wasn’t quite as sure about this book. Sure it’s beautiful and the publisher spared no expense in making it a tactile wonder (just FEEL that final cover!). But someone mentioned to me that the writing doesn’t complement the art as well. Certainly the Caldecott goes to a book’s art and not its text, but at the same time one can’t drag down the other. I gave it a good reread with this in mind and concluded that I love the writing. Consider the highlight: How do we make friends? We ask questions. I’m having a hard time not believing that this isn’t a lesson we could all benefit from this year.  Mind you, it has four extra pages at the end that probably should have gone right out. Other than that, it’s fabulous.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. Victo Ngai


Can you believe this is Ngai’s debut?  An artist as comfortable creating online comics as wine labels, Ms. Ngai outdid herself with the art in this book. Stunning is all that you can say about it. Of course, I’d love to see any Chris Barton book win a Caldecott. It seems to me that it’s not out of the range of possibility that nonfiction may do very well in 2018. Sometimes it feels as though more effort is being placed on those books anyway. Case in point . . .

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin


To date no Jason Chin book has ever won a Caldecott. What’s more, the man runs the risk of falling into Bagram Ibatouille / Gennedy Spirin territory. Caldecott committees are not kind to realism in art unless it’s magical realism (they’re not too dissimilar from the wider artistic world in this respect). What Chin does so well here in rendering the Grand Canyon accessible may be the book’s very undoing come award season. Still, I like to believe that craft and careful thought can be rewarded. Also, with our current president taking pot shots at our National Parks (did you hear the latest?), maybe giving this book an award could be construed as a small act of resistance in and of itself.

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy


And speaking of folks I’d like to give the moon, this book is probably the wildest of my wild cards. To even include it assumes that the Caldecott committee this year will consist of like-minded individuals that see scientific rigor and expertise as an integral part of the artistic process when considering works of nonfiction.  To that I’d add that this book makes complex ideas understandable. David Macaulay did much the same thing back in the day. Then again, Macaulay didn’t win a Caldecott for his science . . .

Mighty Moby by Barbara Dacosta, ill. Ed Young


When Kate and I sat down to look at Lon Po Po for our podcast I was struck once again by the book’s great elements. Do I think Mighty Moby is as strong as Young’s previous winner? Maybe not, but I’d be a fool to think it doesn’t have a chance.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, ill. Evan Turk


The art is unparalleled. The text is good too. The storytelling lovely. The final product just a visual stunner. Will it win? Not a chance. But there’s much to be said about celebrating it properly just the same. If there was any justice in the world . . .

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, ill. Ekua Holmes


Ms. Holmes is another previous winner of a Caldecott Honor. In her case it was for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer. This could easily be her second win, if not her first gold. We haven’t seen the last of Ms. Holmes, not by a long shot.

A Perfect Day by Lane Smith


I feel like any buzz this garnered is slowing down to a crawl. That’s okay. Mr. Smith has won before, though I won’t object a jot if this book gets him another Honor. I like its cheeky sense of humor and its rather magnificent art.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say


The most difficult book to ascertain for this list. In my review of the title Monica Edinger and I went back and forth over whether or not the art in this book is entirely that of Allen Say’s or if it incorporates James Castle’s originals in any way. Reviewers seem mixed on this point and unfortunately the book doesn’t reveal anything itself. Monica wrote a well researched post on Castle here that’s worth reading. I’ll continue to look into the case, listening to The Yarn interview with Say to see if that sheds any light on the matter. If you have thoughts one way or another, please be so good as to tell them to me here.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell


It’s all about looking outside your prejudices and bubbles and the sense of the “other”. See, Caldecott committee?  It speaks to our times!  Medal it, please.

2018 Newbery Predictions

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk


It was the first book I read in 2017 that made me say, “YES! THAT is how you write a book!” Which was kind of a bummer since Wolk won an Honor last year and I’m a sincere proponent of spreading the award love around. There is little denying the sheer craft with which the woman can put together sentences. Then again, it didn’t even get a nomination in the NBAs so perhaps I’m wildly off-base. Hard to tell but I think this book remains one of the most “distinguished” of 2017, at least in terms of writing and character development.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers


One of the advantages of a weak middle grade year is that it opens up speculation on many fronts when it comes to potential winners. If you have not read this book and you are cringing at the possibility of yet another adult author tossing their hat into the ring of children’s books (we tolerate Gaiman because he is Gaiman but our generosity stretches only so far) be of good cheer. This book has everything that I could potentially dislike in a title. I was worried it would be a smattering of faux patriotism with just a tincture of distrust of child readers. Instead, I found it not only lives up to its hype but exceeds it. This is the only book that has made me cry, repeatedly, this year. It’s not the art, nice though that may be. It’s the writing. It’s just plumb extraordinary. What’s more, in this, the first year of Trump’s presidency, the Newbery committee would be well within their rights to say that this is the best written book of the year. It comes out at the right place, at the right time, and deserves the gold sticker. I think I’m on to something here.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes  


Last time I included this book I had heard that it might be too old for Newbery consideration. After reading it, I personally disagree. Since this is Grimes it’s a poetry affair, and we know that Newbery committees are usually pro or anti-poetry, depending on their committee members in a given year. More to the point, it may fall by the wayside due to a strict interpretation of rules. Grimes includes famous poems by famous poets then turns their lines into her own poems. As I said last time, “It’s a mash-up book, and it will be entirely up to the Newbery committee to determine if mash-up culture has a place in the pantheon of Newbery winners.  If ever, the time is now.”

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder


Last time I included it on this list I was going off of others’ recommendations. This time I’ve read all the books I’m recommending today (with the exception of a single title). This particular book I read and enjoyed thoroughly. And now that it’s gotten a nice little National Book Award nomination, its star is rising all the faster. Snyder’s been in this game for years and paid her dues. It’s great to see her produce something that elicits so much easy discussion. Turns out, this book is a very serious contender.

Patina by Jason Reynolds


Will Patina run away with the gold?

Sorry. Sorry. That was some low hanging fruit there. I rescind the question, your honor. Reynolds is our bright young star in the firmament. If I were on the Newbery committee I’d be tempted to give this book the gold if only to listen to the man’s Newbery speech. Clearly the publisher thinks it has a shot. Note the copious amount of space at the topic. Just perfect for a medal or three. If I’m being honest, I think this is an Honor book rather than an Award book. There isn’t a lot of conflict for Patina to bounce off of, unlike Ghost. It’s a book about relationships, particularly those between women, and doesn’t quite have that extra added something to take home the full-on award. But an Honor? Absolutely.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, ill. Brian Floca


Because Lord knows we could do with a little whimsy this year.

Since graphic novels have done so well with the ALA Awards in the past few years I did seriously consider whether or not there were any I’d like to mention for the Newbery. And while I like many of them quite a lot, I’m not seeing an El Deafo, if you take my meaning. This book isn’t a graphic novel by any stretch but it is a heavily illustrated early chapter book. I don’t think it says something deep and meaningful about the human condition. It doesn’t question the morality (or lack thereof) of its characters. It doesn’t question assumptions or look for the ultimate inner truth. It’s about a crocodile that bites people on the bum and a princess that shrugs off her shackles. It’s also beautifully written. For your consideration then.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman


There were a lot of shocking things about the NBA nominees this year, but the most shocking has got to be the complete and utter lack of nonfiction on the list. Had there been a single solitary nonfiction title to show up on that longlist, it would have been this one. Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award category in nonfiction, Heiligman knocks it out of the park with this book. Is it too old for Newbery though? Apparently there are a couple prostitutes hanging around the text. The Heavy Medal discussion proved very interesting in this regard. True, the prostitutes don’t do much, and I remember being ten and singing the full soundtrack of Les Miserables with my best friend (yes, I’m afraid that’s how I learned what a prostitute was) so I may be inclined to be forgiving on the matter.

I’m a slow reader this year so I know there are heavy contenders that I should probably also consider. What do you consider the most egregious gap in this here list?

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. Three more to pay attention to:
    Eucabeth A. Odhiambo’s Auma’s Long Run (I keep pushing this, but I don’t think very many people have read it. People — get on it!)
    Rita Williams Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
    Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe

  2. Also for Newbery, the graphic novels Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School and a wild–shot picture book, Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!

  3. Why do you think MUDDY doesn’t have a chance? I am curious.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Probably because I’m the only person that ever promotes the heck out of Evan Turk. I would LOVE this book to win but I wonder if anyone sees in it what I see in it.

      • He’s one of my very favorite artists these days.

      • I’m surprised to hear you say you’re the only person who promotes Turk’s books! If I remember correctly, Grandfather Gandhi got on a number of end-of-year lists and was featured on Calling Caldecott, and The Storyteller garnered four starred reviews. Plus, Martha highlighted Muddy in one of the early Calling Caldecott posts this year. Not that he couldn’t use MORE attention, because his work is stunning!

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        But where are the man’s awards? Lists are lovely lovely lovely but until I see him get a single, solitary shiny sticker I’ll continue to believe I’m just crying in the wind.

      • I mean that is a totally fair complaint! It’s just not the same as no else promoting his books or his work. (Or, rather, if you think it is, that’s a really sad de-valuing of your colleagues’ work!)

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Oh, I don’t think I’m actually the only one who loves his books! I just said that it feels that way when he gets passed over in awards seasons. Obviously my colleagues are top-notch intelligent individuals who appreciate him.

      • Evan Turk is amazing. I love Muddy, too.

  4. Bina Williams says

    Aren’t the Fan brothers Canadian? I just saw their book in a bookstore and was dazzled but then the dreaded eligibility issue came up. Please tell me they were born in the USA!!!
    Great list of books!

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Yeah, it’s complicated. Here’s what I wrote in my Summer write-up of this book:

      “But wait a minute, sez you. The Fan Brothers . . . aren’t they Canadian? They live in Canada. Well, yep. But according to my fellows in the business, the whole reason their last book The Night Gardener was able to appear in so many Mock Caldecott lists was that they were born in the States. Therefore, they are eligible. *shrugs* Fine with me.”

      • Jonathan Hunt says

        Another interesting note about THE ANTLERED SHIP. Its author also wrote an excellent YA true crime nonfiction book, THE 57 BUS, that will almost certainly be shortlisted for the YALSA Nonfiction Award . . .

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Whazzyfuzzy? Now THAT is stretching yourself. Thanks for the tip.

      • Eric Carpenter says

        Thanks for pointing that out Jonathan. The 57 Bus is one of my absolute favorite reads of 2017. The YALSA NF should be the least of its praise. Hoping to see it with some printz recognition. And maybe make an appearance in BotB!

      • Betsy Fraser says

        As to the Fan brothers, I believe they are Canadian but have a residence in the US so fulfill the criteria.

  5. When I interviewed Say about Silent Days for The Yarn, I asked him if there were reproductions of Castle’s work in the book (mostly because the whole thing is just so different from his usual style) and he said “It’s all me”. That bit didn’t make it into the final episode.

  6. Thank you for these great lists! I am way behind on my reading…

  7. I was completely taken with Harlem Charade. A nice middle grade mystery with lots of local Harlem history and diversity. Does no one else like it as much as I?

  8. Maureen Hoffman-Wehmeier says

    I feel Refugee deserves a look. It is simply amazing. I read the ARC this summer, and now I’m reading it to my 8th grade ELA classes

  9. The First Rule of Punk really stood out for me.

  10. Michael Scott says

    I dunno. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Patina won the gold. I actually felt like I connected with her better than Ghost. He problems weren’t as dramatic (although I would say that losing a dad and having a mom paralyzed to diabetes is pretty darn dramatic) but her problems were very real, and her sense of always having to be a parent to her sister, even after he sister was taken care of, along with the to-do list chapter headings gave the sense of a girl who is having to grow up way too fast, something kids without two parents struggle with all the time, and like you said, it’s a down year for the Newbery, so this wouldn’t be a bad pick.

  11. I think REFUGEE by Alan Gratz should be included in the Newbery discussions.

  12. I’m really, really glad to see you mention HER RIGHT FOOT for Newbery! The text is SO beautiful, so well paced, so thoughtful and poignant and spare.

  13. Alison Morris says

    As always, I love reading your predictions, Betsy! But does this mean Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin is out of the running for you? It’s the picture book I keep going back to again and again to marvel at from a “pictures as storytelling” perspective. If I were on the Caldecott committee, it’s one I’d be anxious to talk about, unpack, and pore over for its genius detail and the complexity of its wordless story. To me it’s a strong contender!

    I think Silent Days, Silent Dreams is a stunning book, but when I finished reading it I was really bothered by the lack of clarity on the matter of whether Allan Say incorporated the art of James Castle or even whether the style of the illustrations was inspired Castle’s work. Readers unfamiliar with Allan Say’s remarkable body of work, might even think this is just Say’s usual style, as there’s nothing in the back matter to indicate otherwise. I finished the book with no clear or confident notion of what kind of art James Castle created (did it look like Say’s illustrations in the book or not?). Contrast it with Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay A. Haring in which Robert Neubecker seamlessly incorporated Haring’s work into his own illustrations. There is an itemized list of Haring’s pieces at the end in case (and it’s actually possible!) readers might be confused about which work is Haring’s and which is Neubecker’s. I wanted the back matter in Say’s book to offer me the same clarity but it failed in that regard. One of the things I love about Neubecker’s illustrations for the Keith Haring book is that they have a heavy line and Haring-like energy about them that matches Haring’s art, his (reported) personality, and the tone of the book’s text. Having now looked at James Castle’s art online, I can say that Say’s book also appears to match its subject in tone and his illustrations absolutely complement/mimic Castle’s work. HOWEVER, the book itself did not provide me with the latter insight, meaning I couldn’t fully appreciate Say’s illustrations without doing outside research.

    • Alison, wholeheartedly agree with you re Little Fox in the Forest. As for the Say, you’ve made some good points. I had happened to come across some of Castle’s work just before learning of Say’s book and then when I saw it loved what he did. But I can understand the issue of how to consider it if you don’t know Castle’s work itself (and thus the confusion many are having of thinking some of the art is Castle’s).

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh, I like Little Fox. I go back and forth on it, honestly. I’m sort of hoping to read thoughts from other folks on how strong a contender it is. I enjoyed it but did it have the emotional resonance I need in a wordless book? Maybe? It requires more thought.

      I agree with every last sentence you’ve written here about the Say book. And what a good comparison to the Haring book (which I really did enjoy this year, Kirkus review be damned). Clarity is so key. I didn’t even know that there was something to be confused about until Monica made it clear that all the art was Say’s (… I just came THIS close to writing “the art was Castle’s”).

  14. Count me in Mr. Turk’s corner too! He appeared with his writing colleague Bethany Hegedus twice in the last three years at our Lincoln School in Fairview, N.J. to conduct presentations to the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders on “Grandfather Gandhi” and then “Be the Change” the following year. His work is stunning and altogether ravishing. However, I DO feel his masterpiece to date is “Muddy”, a real phantasmogoric feast on a seminal figure whom many of us adore.

    I have seen and now own copies of every single one of your predicted books picture here Betsy, and agree in each case that they are extraordinary and worthy for consideration.

    “Wolf in the Show” features by way of pictorial saturation the most sensory and ferocious blizzard in a kid’s book and there are many other reasons why the book in a major if not THE major contender. Sorry to hear the buzz for Lane Smith’s “A Perfect Day” has lessened as it is another stunning work -you do admit as much- that should be seriously under the radar. (I never got over the Honor instead of the Medal for “Grandpa Green”, one of the most sublime and deeply moving children’s books ever)

    My order is in for Santat’s book which should be delivered in a week or so – and I must say your position that it even trumps “Beekle” has me REALLY excited!!!

    I really adore “Mighty Moby,” “Dazzle Ships”, “All the Way to Havana,” “The Antlered Ship”, “Grand Canyon”, “How to Be an Elephant” and think “Out of Wonder” is a masterpiece.

    I am still holding a candle for Wendell Minor, the eternally great artist who this year has given us three lovely books. “The Seashore Book,” a revision on a 90’s collaboration with Charlotte Zolotow in my view well deserves to be in this discussion. His

    I also feel these books are Caldecott contenders or ought to be:

    The Secret Project (on a previous list from you)
    Little Fox in the Forest (on a previous list from you)
    Big Cat Little Cat
    The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s the Hrad Way
    Wake Up!
    Full of Fall
    Her Right Foot
    Tony (on a previous list from you)
    When’s My Birthday?
    A Different Pond
    The Music of Life (Priceman, ill.)
    Life on Mars
    Thank You Bees (Toni Yuli)
    Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
    Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List
    The Pomegranate Witch (ill. Eliza Wheeler)
    Marti’s Song for Freedom
    This House, Once
    The Ring Bearer
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg (ill., Innerst)
    Pony in the City (Wahman)
    Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Attention To (ill. Ruzzier)

    And I (im) patiently awaiting the Barnett/Klassen collaboration due in several weeks.

    • Leslie Moon says

      I’m with Sam on other strong contenders, especially Wheeler’s “The Pomegranate Witch” which has something both classic and eerily magical about it.

      • Elizabeth Bird says

        Oh, I LIKE that one! It’s small and unassuming but has a real nice feel. I need to read it to my kids. Maybe I can work it into a Halloween post.

  15. Miranda Paul says

    I’d love to see Eucabeth Odhiambo’s AUMA’S LONG RUN on this list. It’s incredible to see the subject matter so well done for a solid Middle Grade audience. My son and I also read Elance K. Arnold’s A BOY CALLED BAT and the character is so authentically relatable my son was astonished that the author could write “a boy like him” so closely. Both are worth a look if you haven’t read them yet.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I loved A BOY CALLED BAT and I’m currently reading AUMA’S LONG RUN. Good timing!

    • Just so you know, Miranda, I suggested AUMA’S LONG RUN here too (very first comment). I am in total agreement with you that the author has done a fantastic job presenting to a middle grade audience. As someone who pays close attention to books on Africa for kids in the US, I think this is a stellar title — by someone who knows and lived the experience, e.g. #ownvoice. It shows. So glad you are recommending it too.

  16. I’d love to see STEP UP TO THE PLATE, MARIA SINGH, by Uma Krishnaswami and THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA, by Pablo Cartaya at least get a look in the Newbery discussion. I feel like they’re flying just under the radar, and are both worthy of some attention. Just saying. I also love Kathryn Erskine’s THE INCREDIBLE MAGIC OF BEING.


  1. […] seen speculation here and there about Victo Ngai’s art for our book Dazzle Ships being in the running for a certain award, […]