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Newbery / Caldecott 2020: Spring Prediction Edition


Is it just me or does it year 2020 look wrong whenever you see it written down? Like it’s some kind of typographical printer’s error. 2020. Doesn’t sound like a year. Sounds more like the vision I never had.

Well, silly numbered year or no, this is roundabout the time of year when I start stretching the old award-season muscles. And I gotta tell you, I’ve probably never gotten them so doggone wrong before. This past award season was a humbling affair, teaching me once again that you simply cannot accurately predict this things.

Here’s I’ll show you. Check out how I’ve done in the past:

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)

2016 spring predictions: Zero correct, though the commenters do mention two books that would go on to win.

2017 spring predictions: I got one Caldecott right, and that just happened to be the ultimate winner (Wolf In the Snow).

2018 spring predictions: I got one Newbery right (The Book of Boy).

Okay. So maybe I wasn’t as off last year as I was in 2016. But still, this time I tread cautiously. I’m going to pull out the books for you that I think have a darn good chance. At the very least, they’re contenders, if not outright winners. That said, I just haven’t been finding much in the Newbery category. Nothing against what’s out there, it just hasn’t quite hit me right, so forgive the tiny number of titles.

Something to guide your reading then.


2020 Caldecott Predictions

Elvis is King! by Jonah Winter, ill. Red Nose Studio


But it won’t. No, I’m not optimistic about Red Nose Studio’s chances. Never mind that when you look at this book the meticulousness of the models is jaw-dropping. There’s a scene where Elvis’s mother stands in a store looking at a guitar. And every single one of the shelves is packed to overflowing with different items. The amount of work that went into that scene alone deserves all the things. Yet I’ve noticed something about Red Nose Studio. No matter what committee gathers to discuss his work, you’ll always have that one member that squirms and says, “I don’t like it.” His style is not universally adored. For that matter, complex modelwork isn’t particularly beloved of Caldecott committees in general. Ever see one win? No? There’s a reason for that. But today’s list isn’t going to be about what I necessarily will think will win (clearly) but what I wish would win. And I do wish Red Nose Studio could get his due someday. I mean, the inside cover of this book alone . . .

The Full House and the Empty House by LK James


Is it just me, or are my longshots getting longshottier? Still, I can’t help but love this little book so very much. At first I thought I might be the only one, but I’ve been encouraged by the other people I know that have picked this one up to read it. This debut is just so beautifully rendered. I may not be able to predict awards all that well, but I can predict talent and Ms. James is a talent that is going to go incredibly far once the big houses start noticing her. It would be awfully swell if this could win something. Mind you, if it did win then poor Ripple Grove Press would be in the position of Agate when Crown won its multiple awards. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t mind so much . . .

Going Down Home With Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, ill. Daniel Minter


I know I’ve seen other Daniel Minter books before. You probably have as well. But when I read this book I just had to stop and stare and take notice. Maybe it was the chickens. Turns out, I’m a real sucker for how Minter draws chickens. The book itself sports a plot that’s familiar but not overly so. What will our hero get his grandmother for an upcoming special day? But it’s the art that transforms everything and elevates it to another level. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but by gum I like this book a lot!

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, ill. Zeke Peña


Can I tell you a secret? Of all the books I’m featuring on these lists today, I think this one might have the best shot. I don’t know why, but I have a really good feeling about it. Maybe I’m being too far swayed by how good the writing is as well, but this story about a girl taking a motorcycle ride behind her dad has this incredible sense of place that you just don’t get in every book you pick up. So for right now, at least, this is my #1 pick.

Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival by Lindsay Moore


Just in case you’re curious, I am making some effort at determining that each of the artists listed here today are stationed here in the U.S. (otherwise they wouldn’t be eligible). Ms. Moore, for example, worried me slightly when I saw that she’d won the Australian Institute of Medical and Biological Illustration. Happily she’s safely ensconced in Ohio now, so that’s all to the good. This book makes some of the librarians on my staff swoon. It’s an environmental message, sure, but it sort of stands apart from the pack by being a polar bear book where it shows, rather than tells, what a polar bear’s life can be these days.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay


Should a colorist share credit with an illustrator if they win a Caldecott? Raúl Gonzalez, aka Raúl the Third, did the killer art here but Elaine Bay could be given some of the credit for its look at the end. Of course, that’s always assuming the book wins something. This has been touted as Richard Scarry but with a Mexican market setting, and we all know that Mr. Scarry never won himself any Caldecotts. Still, there is so much going on in these pages. So much time and work and attention. So many details that reward closer inspection. After I finished reading this to my 4-year-old, he just looked at me and said, “This place looks cool. We should go there.” I want more kids out there to say that.

Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


Obviously I was way off when I thought that Seeger’s Blue would win anything last year, but I stand by that hope. This book, I’d argue, carries a different kind of emotional weight, but a weight just the same. It sucks you in, looking like a cutesy fuzzy bunny book, and then is suffused with this kind of philosophical melancholy, but not in a sad way (does that make sense?). If they gave out Caldecotts for books being more than their furry little packages suggest, this would win by a landslide.

You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks by Evan Turk


One of these days, by gum, one of these days they’re going to give Turk that Medal he deserves. The downfall of this particular book may be wrapped up in the Caldecott criteria. Does the art in You Are Home mix well with the text? How well are they integrated? For my part, I think this book does, almost entirely through art, a stand up and cheer job of nailing home the beauty and importance of America’s National Parks.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson


Nelson hasn’t won a Caldecott in years. Sometimes this is because his art and text don’t intersect much. In the case of this book, I think the intersection is there, but it will be the Caldecott committee’s call, determining whether or not portraiture (which is what much of this is) is deserving of an award. It’s also Nonfiction, which has a tendency to make some committees skittish. I dunno. I’d just love to see Nelson win for once.

2020 Newbery Predictions

Eventown by Corey-Ann Haydu


Kids often sense that there is something wrong with society at large. This book just confirms it. I wonder at the chances of it winning. It’s going to depend a lot on whether or not the current Newbery committee is open to this kind of magical realism. It’s one of those books about grief that talks about it in a wholly new way. And speaking of grief . . .

The Line Tender by Kate Allen


My own book committee at work jokes this year that if we find any two parents in a middle grade novel in 2019 we’ll have to disqualify it immediately. So far, no worries. The generalization surrounding Newbery books is that they’re depressing. You know. Kira-Kira type stuff. That hasn’t really been the case for the actual winners in the last few years, though the Honors have sported plenty of sorrow. Now Kate Allen’s novel has some pretty weighty stuff in it, but I was impressed by her light touch with the material. I have also noticed that librarians that come in contact with this book have a tendency to turn into quivering piles of ILOVEITSOMUCH goo. So I’m hat tipping to the goo on this one. It really is remarkably written. And in terms of action it could be said to be the polar opposite of . . .

Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin


I don’t want to say too much. I’ll be reviewing this soon. Just . . . wow. Can I admit to you that Breaking Stalin’s Nose wasn’t a book I necessarily understood? Well I cannot say for certain whether or not I understand this one better, but I certainly do love and adore it.

New Kid by Jerry Craft


I always get a little miffed when comics win Newberys, though I kind of like it when they win Caldecotts (doesn’t happen often). Honestly, we should just have an Illustrated Book Award from ALA for them and be done with it. But this book . . . this book has some great writing in it. Not descriptive, necessarily, but it works like a kind of puzzle of different issues. Somehow, Craft throws together this myriad selection of things that black kids have to deal with, from big to small and back again, and yet he never loses his grasp on the narrative. It all fits in, works, and makes the book stronger as a result. I’m still not sure how he did it, but as writing goes, this one deserves some credit where credit is due.

And yourself? What are you finding particularly gorgeous and enticing this year?

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. Betsy, I want to commend you for getting right back into the award prediction business after the last season ended. There were so many strong, sometimes intemperate, reactions to surprises in the awards that I just felt like staying away. But you make the point that you’re really just stating your own conviction about which books should be recognized. Every book on your list looks promising.
    I want to weigh in on “Elvis is King.” The illustrations by Red Nose Studio are incredibly innovative. This is a different visual approach to the subject than we have ever seen. In addition, the author, Jonah Winter has an unbroken record of distinguished non-fiction picture books on a diverse array of subjects. In case any of your readers missed his eloquent statement about intellectual and artistic freedom in a recent New York Times article, here is the link:
    Here is my review of the book in question, “The Secret Project:”
    Thanks for a wonderful post.

  2. Judy Weymouth says

    Betsy, I can’t believe that we are so far into 2019 already that the time has come for your first 2020 predictions. Once upon a time I placed the Caldecott and Newbery winners on a high pedestal. I believed that the committee members each year possessed extraordinary skillls and magic powers. I wanted to develop these skills and powers for myself and invested much time in studying. I took the online ALA courses offered by Kathleen Horning for both the Caldecott and the Newbery. What I gained from this work was greater ability to appreciate at a deeper level the quality of the books being published each year and the varied viewpoints of my fellow classmates. However, I did not discover magic.
    Experiencing the battle surrounding The Hired Girl a few years ago was also instrumental in bringing me to my current evaluation of the selection process. Personally, I think the emperor has no clothes.
    I enjoyed this past season of Heavy Medal more than any previous year for several reasons. I came to highly value the work of the mock committee members and thought the process from start to finish confirmed my thoughts about the selection process.
    Each year I value the opinions of many “judges” to lead me toward books that appear to rise above the average. Your recommendations and those of other bloggers and reviewers I find so valuable. The annual selection of the winners to me only means the collected opinions of 15 readers. I believe there is no magic or super powers involved. I find no extraordinary value in the gold and silver stickers. And coming to this conclusion was much like finding our there really is no man that flies through the sky once each year bringing presents to good little boys and girls.

    • Thank you, Judy. I completely understand what you’re saying. And you’re right. In the end, we’re just talking about 15 people in a room, possibly with too little chocolate and too little sleep, hashing out the meaning behind the word “distinguished”. But for me, when it works, when the algorithm is perfect, when the mix of readers works in tandem, you can still get that magic. And it may not be every year, but the fact that I hope for it every year does the job for me. After all, these awards wouldn’t be half as exciting as they are if I agreed with them every single time. But I completely get what you’re saying. After all, it’s not as if every winner out there has stayed memorable. And this has been true since the very beginning.

      • Judy Weymouth says

        Betsy, it means so much to me to have you take the time to respond to my comments and to validate my point of view. Thank you for your kindness.

  3. Judy, I agree with your comment and I share some of your frustration. For me, the emperor ceased to have clothes a long time ago. Part of the problem is just the inherent nature of awards. Everyone knows they are idiosyncratic at best, but people still seem compelled to believe that there is a “best,” in every category of things we enjoy. I would prefer a relatively long list of notable books to replace the whole award system.
    Since you brought up The Hired Girl, I also found that to be a turning point, and a harbinger of what was to come. I loved the book, but people who didn’t love it were, of course, entitled to criticize it. However, some of the attacks on it were premised on a lack of distinction between what a character says or does and what an author believes. If you cannot make that distinction, as someone who is dedicated to literacy, something is wrong. Even more troubling was the fact that the responses to these criticisms have changed. If you look back at the comment threads on The Hired Girl, you will see many which take issue with the condemnation of it, in a respectful tone. Some of the comments were by well known and influential critics in our field. They spoke out clearly about what they perceived to be the value of the book, and argued for artistic freedom. Now, there seems to be much more fear about defending authors against charges of bias or insensitivity, even when those charges may themselves be rooted in bias. (In the case of The Hired Girl, some who saw prejudice against Native Americans in the book insisted that it was also marred by anti-Semitism, although the overwhelming response by readers, including Jewish readers, was that it was a wonderful view into Jewish American history.)
    I highly recommend this piece on Publishers Weekly. It is one of the best interpretations of the challenges facing authors and readers today:
    Here is my somewhat humorous take on awards, based on Crocket Johnson’s The Blue Ribbon Puppies:

    • Judy Weymouth says

      How nice of you, Emily, to also respond to my comments. I remember you from The Hired Girl discussions. Thank you so much for the links you provided. “The Problem With Problems” was so interesting as well as the follow-up. I ordered a used copy of The Blue Ribbon Puppies, too!

  4. Sharon Verbeten says

    I’m all over Nine Months by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin; amazing illustrations and about time to have a decent book about the birth cycle.