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Newbery/Caldecott 2020: Fall Prediction Edition

Do you hear that grinding and clanking of gears? That’s the ALA YMA prediction machines getting ready to blast us with the full force of their knowledge and expertise. This is about the time when Heavy Medal begins in earnest. Calling Caldecott is much in the same boat. But those slowpokes having nothing on Guessing Geisel, which has been posting thought after thought after thought in wicked quick succession for weeks now. It’s all coming together.

I’ve done two of these posts so far this year, and for fun I wanted to see how last year’s fall predictions went. NOT SO GOOD! Oh my stars and garters, that may have been my most horrendously off-base posting yet. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that I have NO ability to predict these awards, or even get close, I persist. Why? Because it is fun. And I like to have fun.

Here then, are thoughts on the Newbery/Caldecott announcements coming this January. Whee!

2020 Caldecott Predictions

Fly! by Mark Teague

Teague!! So here’s the deal with this one. Mr. Teague’s been around a while. He doesn’t have that shiny New Illustrator smell that emits irresistible pheromones to award committees. What he does have is a wordless book that does its job with a kind of ease that others would envy. Plus, there is such bravado and strut to this baby bird that I’d be a fool NOT to think the book would get some kind of attention.

The Full House and the Empty House by LK James

Tiny little publisher. Debut creator. Limited color palette. Small publicity engine. The odds are stacked against this book, which only makes my love for it all the stronger. I know I’m just whistling in the wind, but sometimes miracles happen, my friends. Sometimes.

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

Houston, we have a problem. There are two Daniel Minter titles on today’s prediction list. And while it is possible that the committee might honor him twice, the likelihood is that if they have to choose between this remarkable family story and The Women Who Caught the Babies, they’re gonna go with the midwives. Look below to see why.

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

I wonder how often a committee takes into consideration younger readers. It’s all well and good to honor books with sophisticated palettes and complex themes, but we need books for the smaller fry as well. This is a book that rewards multiple readings. It looks awfully simply at a glance, but delve deep into it. Watch what it does with the art, zeroing in and then backing out again. Sure, it could win a Geisel or a Sibert, but I’m holding out hope for the biggest fish of them all.

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

Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a fly on the wall during the Caldecott deliberations. For this book to win, it’s going to need some champions on its side. They’re going to be asked how well the text and the art intersect. They’ll have to defend the fact that this book isn’t plot forward, as they say, but rather a slice of life worthy of a read. The art, fortunately, will need little defense. But so much of the Caldecott discussions rely upon the eloquence of the books’ defenders. Let’s hope there’s someone silver tongued in this book’s corner.

A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, ill. Jerry Pinkney

What the what the wha??? Pinkney?! Creating art that’s maybe some of his best work? I’ll lay it on the line for you when I say that I was NOT expecting this book. First off, I need to give a hat tip to Barry Wittenstein. This is beautifully synthesized and put together. There’s an arc to this true story of how King wrote that “I Have a Dream” speech we all know. As for Mr. Pinkney, he’s gone all kinds of creative on us. There’s friggin’ collage in this book. Collage!?! This one’s going to get a lot of discussion in the Caldecott room. The only question that will remain will be how much the committee respects and admires Nonfiction. Hopefully, a whole bunch.

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, ill. Tonya Engel

Honestly, I’m listing these contenders alphabetically. I didn’t mean to put Maya and Martin so close together. But it is nice to put them in the same sphere, if only because Ms. Engel has a very different career trajectory than Mr. Pinkney. This is her debut picture book, though you wouldn’t know it by reading this. Sometimes an artist has a natural affinity for the picture book form. How would I describe her style? Magical realism with a non-fiction twist. Look at the colors. Look at the emotions that play out on the characters’ faces. Hegedus has a firm grasp on the wordplay, so it’s nice to see it paired with something this luminous.

A Stone Sat Still by Brenden Wenzel

Any committee worth its salt will deny, loudly and vociferously with many flailings of the arms, that they are not and CANNOT be swayed in their decisions by whether or not the artist in question has won previously. You are looking at the book in hand, not previous titles. Buuuuuuut . . . . is it possible to look at a Wenzel title without considering what came before? This book, taken by itself, is beautiful. A tribute to the natural world in a style not dissimilar to They All Saw a Cat, but there’s this underlying environmental message at work as well. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Maybe this is the book we all need right now.

Truman by Jean Reidy ill. Lucy Ruth Cummins

Sometimes you will have this feeling about an illustrator. You will look at their work and believe that they are destined for GREAT THINGS. But too often, the artist never finds the right book to pair with. Why? It’s alchemy. It’s a witchcraft that only the editor can produce in their infinite wisdom. Fortunately, when Reidy’s story about a tiny, brave tortoise came into contact with the art of Cummins, lightning struck. This book got perfectly good reviews, but I’ve been sensing a real groundswell of support for it rising and rising and rising. Don’t blink an eye if it wins something in the end. This is far more than just a first day of school book.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson

Well, hello there Mister I-just-got-nominated-for-a-National-Book-Award-and-what-have-you-been-doing-with-YOUR-life-until-now?

Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

I dunno, guys. I’m wavering on whether or not to keep this one in the mix. Honestly, I think that tonally it has more in common with Where the Wild Things Are than anything else (ask Barbara to tell you about the time she cold called Sendak out of the phone book). I appreciate it. Will the committee?

Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

The tricky thing to determine with this book is whether or not I love it because of the art or because of the text. That’s not a fair question, though, because what I love about it is the interplay between the two. One would never stand as strongly without the other. And that, in a nutshell, is what the committee is looking for. If there are words, they want to make sure that those words are integral to the storytelling. They are here. It’s just going to be a question of whether or not they feel the art is worthy of the succinctness of the writing.

The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, ill. Daniel Minter

Shoot. While we were all playing checkers, Minter here was playing chess. This book has some serious chops that we need to take into account. First off, look at that author. Eloise “The Boss” Greenfield. I mean, when it comes to poetry pedigree, you don’t get much better. Then there’s the informational content, which is beautifully rendered at the beginning and end of the book. Finally, you have Minter’s art. Now the only thing that could trip this enterprise up is the fact that because a lot of these are individual poems, the committee is going to have to be able to say that the text and the images are having a conversation with one another. If it is deemed a book where the text stands strong without Minter’s art, there may be consequences.

2020 Newbery Predictions

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

I’m sticking with this book. 2019 has been better to Black girls in fiction than you’d find historically. This particular book has balanced the simplicity of the text with the complexity of the ideas inside. They’ve been calling it the MG The Hate U Give, but that’s unfair to both books. Ramée wasn’t trying to dumb down a YA classic or anything. Instead, she’s found a way to work in societal messages alongside magnificent character development and some darned good plotting. And did I mention the writing was right up there with the best of the best? Because it is.

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

People ask me what I’ve been reading. I mention a couple books off the top of my head. Then I mention The Line Tender and immediately they start nodding frantically. I complain about books where the characters are grieving, but that’s only because some books do it poorly. Not Allen. I’ve heard the argument that what may sink this one in the end is that it could have been cut down, and I agree that some judicious pruning would not have been out of place. But as a co-worker once told me, “This is the best book about losing someone I’ve ever read.” And that’s hard to argue against.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, ill. Alexander Nabaum

Boy, wouldn’t it be a trip if this won something? But when was the last time a collection of short stories won a Newbery of any kind? Well, you could make the argument that that’s one way to read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! and I think you’d be on to something. If people object to this book, it tends to be because they wish the stories inside of it, all ten, were longer. That’s the downside of reading as good an author as Mr. Reynolds. How can any of us be content with just these snippets? And yet, I feel that each one is a perfect little encapsulated life and world. This book was an exercise in drawing out the core and beating heart of a person’s story. In this, Reynolds has succeeded completely.

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

Keep an eye on Ms. Blake here. She’s a sneaky one. Her books look like they’re the same as any other middle grade girl narratives, but there’s an audacity to her style. When I go on writing retreats, I always take an Ashley Herring Blake novel along. Why? Because sometimes you just want to see a master at work. I don’t know that she ends up on many award lists, and that’s why I say you should keep your eyes firmly plastered on her from here on in. This woman is going places. We just need to be wise enough to watch.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Graphic novels and comics have a tough road to hoe. It’s true that books like El Deafo and Roller Girl have gotten Honors in the past, but those tend to be exceptions to the rules. It’s as if the committees have said to us, “Here you go. Have an occasional award, but don’t expect anything consistent.” I mean, the fact that The Prince and the Dressmaker didn’t win a Caldecott Honor last year is nothing short of bizarre to me. I guess it takes a certain style and flair to argue for the inclusion of a comic on these lists. Craft’s book doesn’t leap between characters in quite the same manner as Look Both Ways, but there is a tendency in this story to jump from scene to scene, location to location. The committee will have to consider how well Craft lays out his content, to say nothing of his storytelling.

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Never count out Kadohata. Years and years ago she won a Newbery for Kira-Kira, and she’s produced plenty of titles since then. This one plays with many of the themes of the previous books, and it also just happens to be garnering starred reviews hand over fist, to say nothing of that recent National Book Award nomination. There’s a goofy part of me that hopes this wins a Newbery and A Place to Land wins Caldecott. That way we can say the winners of the year are A Place to Belong/Land.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Ever read a book you just wanted to give All the Things to? I want this book to win a Newbery. I want this book to win a Caldecott. I want it to win an Eisner, a Printz, a New York Times Best Illustrated, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. I want it to be on every state reading list. And yet, the most I think I can hope for is probably Newbery. The art, when you see the full watercolors, is jaw-dropping, but I lost my faith in the Caldecott’s ability to judge comics well in the last few years. Instead, let’s hope that this tale of nuns, shipwrecks, disposed royalty and true love garners the right supporters.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

You know how Travis at 100 Scope Notes will occasionally calculate those bar graphs of when Newbery winners are published on a month-by-month basis? Well, as far as I can tell, January publications aren’t impossible winners, but they’re certainly not the most common. Throughout the year I keep an eye on those books that gain in momentum as time goes by. Most January releases fade from memory. Others, like Gemeinhart’s here, gather steam. This book has been on the lips of so many of my own library’s librarians, to say nothing of others around the country. I probably should have mentioned it on a previous prediction post, but better late than never.

Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin

I’d say that this marvelous book is too weird to win anything, but if the man can win for Breaking Stalin’s Nose then truly anything is possible. The success or failure of this book is going to rely heavily on how comfortable the committee is with its beautiful peculiarities.

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

And here’s another January publication. There is no greater evidence that the National Book Award nominations are heavily slanted in favor of YA than the fact that this book was somehow left off the list. Like most people I first heard of it when it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award back in May. Looking at it, it very much did not seem like a book I would want to read. Child that I am, it took a co-worker saying, “Betsy, it’s in verse” for me to bite the bullet. Yeah. It’s amazing. Nothing is really quite like it out there. Deserving of the praise.

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship” by Deborah Heiligman, ill. Lawrence Lee

It ain’t a prediction party if there aren’t children being bombed, amiright? It is a testament to my faith in Ms. Heiligman’s writing that I even read this book in the first place. I am a parent. My capacity for handling children in peril, particularly real world historical children in peril, is fairly low. But Ms. Heiligman is firing on all cylinders here. By gum, it’s a dark story but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Gripping.

So! What do you think is going to win? Because, honestly, for all that I like to mention the books here, the Caldecott is probably going to go to Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco. I’m not even kidding about that.

Now what do you predict?

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. Tracey Elrod says

    I finished Some Places More than Others by Renee Watson yesterday. That is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

  2. Deborah Hopkinson says

    Infinite Hope by Ashley Bryan comes out in October, and tells the story of his experience as a young Black soldier and artist in World War II. It is extraordinary.

  3. Splendid Caldecott prediction roundup. I still haven’t seen two that haven’t yet been released but of the titles I have seen and own, I feel Brendan Wenzel’s book is an absolute masterpiece and concur with you that the great Jerry Pinkney has hit a grand slam with this book.

    I am also thinking Oge Mora’s SATURDAY will be a major player (sublimity incarnate) and feel these books will be deservedly in the thick of it: BEAR CAME ALONG (LeUyen Pham); MY HEART (Corinna Luyken); SEA BEAR (Lindsay Moore); FIELD TRIP TO THE MOON (John Hare); MANHATTAN (Jennifer Thermes); WHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART (McKissack/Harrison) and lovely books illustrated by Hadley Hooper, Wendell Minor (Norman Rockwell), Deborah Freedman and Raul the Third. I know some of these were on your prior round-ups.

  4. Kate McCue-Day says

    The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is the best book I’ve read in 2019, and for many years for that matter!! I love every single thing about it.

  5. I beg your indulgence to add two more titles on the Caldecott front, both exemplary: THE SCARECROW (Beth Ferry; Fan brothers); VAMOS (Raul the Third). I have since secured a copy of the Bethany Hegedus/Tonya Engel book. It is indeed absolutely stunning!

  6. I think A Place to Land is taking home the Caldecott Medal.

  7. Meredith Burton says

    I still hold out hope for Eventown, by Correy Ann Haydu. It left a profound impression on me. Also, I loved Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga. I am excited to read Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds when it is released.

  8. I was thinking there’s a nice set of graphic novels contending this year. I really loved Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s BEST FRIENDS, and I think I’m going to suggest my Newbery book club reads it along with NEW KID and QUEEN OF THE SEA — and we can talk about graphic novels and their chances of winning and how these three compare.

  9. Nathan Spofford says

    As opposite in illustration and text style as they may be, A Place to Land, and Bear Came Along are both standouts for me among the Caldecott contenders. I hope they are both recognized as honor books at the very least!

  10. I read Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia Perez this summer and it’s stuck with me. I hope it’s in the Newbery conversation in addition to your other strong choices. You have some of my favorites for Caldecott as well especially A Place to Land which is amazing.

  11. cindy woodruff says

    I Got Next by Daria Peoples-Riley is a Caldecott contender in my eyes!

  12. Melissa Stewart says

    I’m hoping Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth is recognized by the Caldecott committee.

  13. Laura Harrison says

    I would like to add Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes, Thurgood by Jonah Winter and Dancing Hands How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle into the mix of Caldecott hopefuls. They are all glorious books.

  14. I’m really hoping Coyote Sunrise gets something. I think Dan Gemeinhart is a brilliant writer who has been overlooked in the past. Another January release that I cannot stop thinking about is Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams. I would love to see Williams take home the Newbery.