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Newbery/Caldecott 2020: Final Prediction Edition

I’m going to try something a little different with the Final Prediction Edition this year. Last year was . . . well, frankly it was lamentable. A poor showing. An embarrassment of prediction-ish-ness. Quite frankly, my finger was so far away from the pulse of the award committees that I might as well have been across the sea. My one and only successful prediction was for The Book of Boy and that wasn’t even on my final prediction list. I got bupkiss. Not even a Caldecott.

So! I’m changing things up. This year I’m splitting my predictions into three categories: Best Chances, Maybes, and Probably Nots, in a desperate attempt to improve on 2019’s worst prediction year ever.

Now let’s get started!!

2020 Caldecott Predictions

Best Chances

Okay, let’s have some fun with this. I’m going to rank these in order of what I think their chances might be.

Caldecott Award:

Saturday by Oge Mora

I’ve done the math. I’ve examined the committee. I’ve weighed my options. And the fact of the matter is, all the stars are aligning in such a pattern that this feels like an Oge Mora kind of year. Consider her advantages: First of all, she’s already a Caldecott Honor winner. And, as Travis Jonker has shown us, the likelihood that you’ll win an award dramatically increases if you already have one under your belt.

So why this book in particular? Mora’s books do an amazing job of straddling the line between joy and potential tragedy. Situations that could be read as dark and dour take on a sweeter tone thanks in large part to both her writing and her cut paper style. This book has a number of advantages, not least of which is the fact that it’s a story a kid might actually want to read. So with the love of both adults, impressed by its artistic style and tone, and kids, who enjoy her stories, 2020 feels like an Oge Mora kind of year.

Caldecott Honors

The Stone That Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Sometimes I’ll enjoy a book but fail to see just how good it truly is until someone asks me to write about it. When Jules Danielson requested that I write something on Wenzel’s latest for Calling Caldecott, I was intrigued. I sat down, thought long and hard about it, and wrote this piece. In it, I note the book’s strengths, as well as the elements that might knock it out of the final win for the gold (Kirkus thought there were “three unnecessary spreads”). Still it’s hard not to acknowledge the sheer skill that went into this art. In this day and age perception is a hot topic. Add in the environmental aspects and this book has a lot to say about the world at large. Of course, Publishers Weekly kicked my butt by putting their thoughts together the MOST eloquently. They wrote that, “the wonderful mixed-media creatures and their encounters entertain, while bigger ideas suggest all kinds of conversations about perception and perspective, wildlife and habitat, local and global change, and eternity and evanescence.”

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

Of course the committee is going to want to reward books that take risks as well. The thing about Zeke Peña’s work here is that the design is absolutely beautiful. Not just the art but the layouts. LOOK at how this book was put together. The entire thrust of the narrative is about … well … thrust. Our main character is almost constantly on the move, which means that the artist has an opportunity to take full advantage of the other main character; the location. Corona, California becomes just every bit as important as the relationship between the girl and her father. It’s rendered with a loving, patient hand, but is also unafraid to make the colors pop and go wild when called upon to do so. Plus, look how nicely the Caldecott and the Pure Belpre Medals will fit behind the girl’s head. Baby, it’s just meant to be.

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, ill. Jerry Pinkney

This book has the clear cut advantage of doing something that Caldecott committees historically love: A great artist has changed up their style. Jerry Pinkey is not some fresh faced, straight outta RISD artist kid. The man has paid his dues. He has won his Caldecott Medals. If he wanted to kick back and rest on his laurels he would have every possible excuse to do so. The LAST thing I expected was for him to create the be all and end all in MLK Jr. books. Yet in this, Wittenstein’s version of the events surrounding the “I Have a Dream” speech, Pinkney has clearly been inspired. Collage! Mixed Media! And art that looks like it was created by a 21-year-old not an 81-year-old. Was that ageist of me to say? It was! And this book shows as much. For all I know it could be a Caldecott Medalist this year. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

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

I truly believe that either this book or the next on my list will receive some kind of Caldecott Honor. Now Minter came out with two picture books in 2019, the other being The Women Who Caught the Babies. I’m putting my weight behind this one for two reasons. First, Daddy contains an interaction between text and image that committees look for in their picture book contenders. You can read the poems in Women without needing the art. Here, the art is integral to the storytelling. Second, while both reach into your heart in different ways, the family story by Lyons is so strong, and so well reinforced by the art, that I think it’s likely to run away with the committee’s love.

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

Engel is the debut artist that I think has a real crack at an award. Can art be labeled “magical realism”? Because that’s the feeling I get from this book. Considering how dark the subject matter is, that fantastical element could easily have jarred with the text. Instead, Engle manages to match the book tone for tone. Just take a moment to look at that image of Maya’s grandmother as a tree. If Caldecott contenders had “Oscar moments” that would be this book’s.


Another by Christian Robinson

My confession to you is that I’m not actually sure what to do with this title. I’ve seen people go gaga for it all over the place, but personally I’m not wholly charmed. Certainly Caldecott committees have a true fondness for wordless titles. I like Robinson’s art, and he has the additional advantage of being a Caldecott honoree already, so maybe this will get all the goodies. Dunno, though. I feel like the book was partially unfinished in that way. But I am, as I say, not in the majority with this opinion.

Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

You know . . . maybe. I’m not going to rule this book out yet. Now Barbara McClintock’s been in this business for decades. When she was first starting out she actually cold called Maurice Sendak and spoke with him on the phone. I would personally say that many of her books have been deserving of Caldecotts over the years (last year’s Nothing Stopped Sophie comes immediately to mind) but she’s not an award committee darling. Generally speaking, she gets passed over consistently. But Vroom! . . . there’s just something about this little book that strikes me as different. The succinctness of the text and the there-and-back-again fantasy element reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are to a certain extent. I love how the angles and p.o.v. are constantly changing. Maybe it’ll be another McClintock shut-out this year, but I’m not going to rule her out entirely. That’s what I love about these awards. There is always the capacity for surprise.

Probably Nots

The Full House and the Empty House by LK James

Caldecott Awards are not popularity contests… or so they say. But let’s be honest for a second. The likelihood that a book from a small publisher will steamroll books from the bigger, richer presses with huge publicity budgets is pretty slim. There are always exceptions (Crown probably being the most obvious example) but at the end of the day it comes down to the companies willing to wine and dine the committee members. Here’s a fun fact: While ALA committee members are forbidden from discussing the books up for contention in any way on social media, it is not against the rules to accept invitations to lunches and dinners held by the very publishers attempting to woo the members with their most beautiful books. I remember attending a lunch at ALA Mid-Winter years ago (not as a committee member), sitting next to Caldecott committee folks while artists discussed their methods and techniques at length. How is that fair to the little guys like Ripple Grove Press here? Some smaller publishers are so cash strapped, they can hardly afford to send copies of their books to all the people on the committee. My point is that this book deserves an award, but the likelihood that it will receive one is almost non-existent. It’s beautiful and strange, so let’s appreciate it on our own time.

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

I know I’m not the only person out there who believes that Red Nose Studio’s work is award-worthy. Unfortunately, it appears to be difficult to gather a quorum of such like-minded souls on a committee. Where I revel in the cleverness of his models and photography, other folks think his art style looks “weird”. It does. I’m not denying that. I’m just pointing out that the sheer skill it takes to pull off some of these images is breathtaking. I dream of a day when a picture book of photographed models wins some kind of a Caldecott Award, but I’m realistic enough to understand that it probably won’t happen this year. Sigh.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson

Are you surprised? It would be understandable. As I said in my review of this book, “Unrelenting, undeniable, unavoidable. Fail to read this book at your peril.” But as good as it is, will that translate to a Caldecott Award? I fear the answer is no. Why? To answer that, let me ask you a question: When does Kadir Nelson win Caldecott Honors? The answer is, when he does works of narrative fiction or non-fiction. Henry’s Freedom Box, for example, or Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. In those books Nelson melded his portraiture style with a storyline beautifully. Over time, however, his best work has rested more heavily on portraits alone. Remember when We Are the Ship didn’t win anything? The prevailing theory about why that happened was that the art and the text had nothing really to do with one another. This book is gorgeous in every way, but the art is essentially, once again, portraits. Beautiful, luminous, breathtaking portraits, but as you can see from the cover they feel more like homages than anything else. And for the record, I would LOVE to be proven wrong on this one.


Best Chances

Newbery Award

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Man, this is such a hard year to predict for Newbery. I suspect that one of the reasons I’m predicting a win for this book is the simple fact that I can remember its name. Have you ever noticed how Newbery contenders have names that are ridiculously hard to remember? I call it the When You Reach Me Effect. You know when a publisher believes in a book when they give it a name that’s so hard to keep in your brain for more than three seconds. This book? Not so hard. Gemeinhart surprised a lot of us this year when he whipped out a book that wasn’t just an emotional journey of a novel, but one that was funny to boot. So maybe I’m giving it a leg up for humor. It has a killer first chapter, strong bones, and it’s difficult not to enjoy it. I haven’t heard a word said against it, though when you’re in that committee room suddenly even the tiniest flaw becomes massive. Still, let’s look at the last two winners of the Newbery Award: Merci Suárez Changes Gears, written by Meg Medina and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Both books had this realistic drive. This slots very neatly indeed alongside them. In any case, if it wins I won’t be able to feign surprise.

Newbery Honors

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Hmmm. This . . . this feels like an Honor book to me. It’s the kind of book where half of the committee might be super dedicated to it while the other half is more lukewarm. It has all the trappings of an award winner in terms of plot, setting, characters, rise and fall of the action, etc. Best of all, it clocks in at a mere 194 pages, which feel like a particular relief alongside all these bloated, overwrought, LONG middle grade novels out in 2019. Oh, and I can remember its name. Like I said before, that’s not a small thing with me.

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

There is a perception out there that Newbery winning books are depressing. Ten years ago Anita Silvey wrote an article for SLJ called Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?. Yet look at the winners and decide for yourself. Nonetheless, books that deal with sad topics can be particularly good at conveying deep and abiding emotions. This book and the next on this list are both beautifully written and very sad. Yet you cannot read this book and not think that it is good at what it does. This is a story that deals with grief openly and honestly. It’s not a fast-paced thriller. It’s not trying to be. It’s just well-written, and I think the committee will probably want to acknowledge that in some way.

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Now THAT’S an award title! Honestly, I have the hardest time remembering what this book is when I hear it. Good thing the book itself is so good. Kadohata actually won the Newbery gold years and years ago with Kira-Kira. Since then she’s kept busy but I haven’t felt as certain of her ability to replicate the win until I read this. If Newberys were handed out for indelible images alone, this book would walk away with everything.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Award committees are not interested in a book’s popularity. Not really. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t take such things into consideration when they look at the books before them. The happiest situation for any committee is when they find a book that balances great writing with massive kid-appeal. Now I’m saying that Craft has a shot at an Honor this year, but if this book ends up taking home the Gold will anybody really be all that surprised? And yet, if it wins the Gold it will be the first comic to ever do so. My suspicion is that the committee is definitely going to want to honor this. Yet because of the separation between the chapters, and the fact that they play out like separate storylines rather than parts of something overarching, they probably won’t go all the way and give it the top honor.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

He’s no stranger to awards and, considering his age, he has decades and decades in which to accrue them. This particular little nugget was a National Book Award finalist, which is no small potatoes, I’ll tell you. So why aren’t I calling it for the definites? Well, I’ve heard some folks out there who have issues with the GLBTQ aspects of one of the stories. They don’t find it offensive, necessarily, but too brief and difficult to consider as is. Their point is that it doesn’t accomplish what it sets out to do due to its brevity. That and the fact that this consists of short stories makes me feel that this title stands on shakier ground than some others out this year.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

I read so many middle grade novels about characters with friends that are drifting away. It was Ramée who was clever enough to realize that if you married that standard plotline to larger themes of social awareness and change you could carve yourself out a pretty unique middle grade novel. I have nothing but respect for this book. The question is whether or not the committee will be able to see past its samey middle grade premise to the smart ways in which issues, protest, and bravery are woven into the text.

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

You may recall that way back in May, this book happened to win the Boston Globe Horn Book Award’s Nonfiction Winner category. And yes, I was reluctant to read it. When I discovered it was a verse memoir, however, I was much intrigued. After reading it I understand at long last why it deserved all the praise it had received. Its chances at winning are there, but remember that Caldecotts are far more likely to go to works of Nonfiction than Newberys. I don’t know why that’s the case, but it is. The advantage of this book is that with its feel of a verse novel, it reads more like Fiction than anything else. We shall see.

Probaby Nots

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Does this book deserve all the things? Heck, yes it does! But lest you start to get cocky and think that the barriers have fallen and everyone loves comics now, I suspect there will be a fair number of committee members this year that fail to see the charm in sequential narratives. More’s the pity since Meconis’s book typifies everything that’s great about historical fiction. Of course, there is always an off-chance that the committee will see this as a nouveau Good Master, Sweet Ladies. I’m just playing the numbers on this one is all.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

What a sheer delight this book was to discover. I love creepy fare for kids so much and this was everything I had hoped for and more. Now when Holly Black’s Doll Bones won a Newbery Honor back in 2014, it was a real step in the right direction for the scary book genre. Alas, nothing has won since (not even my beloved Small Spaces) so I suspect this book is going to be a harder sell. Were I on the committee, I would argue vociferously that by presenting stories that feel separate but instead are all interconnected, Heidicker is creating a highly sophisticated middle grade for those kids that need a little scary in their lives.

The Usual Suspects by Maurice Broaddus

Much as a small press doesn’t have much of a chance when it comes to award season, neither do books from big publishers with tiny publicity budgets that disappear into the morass. By all rights The Usual Suspects should have been on everyone’s Newbery discussion list this year. We should have read multiple think pieces about how the assumptions made by people in positions of authority about the most vulnerable can be incredibly dangerous. Instead, it slipped away. I think it’s marvelous, but until I see it on a single Mock Newbery, I’m going to have to give it up. *sigh*

Torpedoed  by Deborah Heiligman

An utterly deserving, nail-biter of a book. And look at all that space on the cover for big shiny awards! Heiligman has nabbed all kinds of lovely honors over the years, but the Newbery has always remained just out of grasp. If we are lucky and the Newbery committee has some real nonfiction lovers on it, we may be able to get this book some consideration. Alas, history suggests otherwise.

Enjoy predictions? Read some more! For fun, ALSC actually collects all Mock votes of the ALA Youth Media Awards submitted to them here, and they’re really worth checking out. Is your library or school hosting a Mock election? Then be sure to send them your results.

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. Judy Weymouth says:

    I look forward to this post every year. Your opinion of the books published greatly help guide my reading choices. We all experience “too many books , , , too little time” and must rely upon the recommendations of those who devote enormous time and thought and effort to first alert the rest of us to which books appear to rise above others and then dare to suggest those few books that truly stand out. I value the work you do and greatly appreciate reading your posts each day. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  2. Jon Williams says:

    I have Usual Suspects at home and am considering reading it for Maine Student Book Award (meeting Saturday) but the only other person who read it said not to bother. Have strongly would you advocate for me to squeeze it in ? 🙂

  3. I love Christian Robinson (a lot) but interestingly enough I too am not hugely charmed by ANOTHER. Still I respect all those who have waxed lyrical about it.

    As to GOING HOME DOWN WITH DADDY, VROOM! (both adored by moi) and SATURDAY these are wholly extraordinary and would seem to be in serious contention as are A PLACE TO LAND (I agree with every word you frame it with) which is one my supreme faves of the year and I am like most a big fan of Brendan Wenzel’s latest gem. SATURDAY is a sure picture book masterpiece and I agree it seems to be really surging.

    There are several more I really, really like but I’ll just keep things simple and hold a torch here for FIELD TRIP TO THE MOON (John Hare) and THE SCARECROW (Beth Ferry; Fan Brothers), though I don’t know how popular or beloved they might be with the committee. Another title BEAR COMES ALONG would seem to have what it takes to secure committee love too. VAMOS, ALMA AND THE BEAST and HOME IN THE WOODS are mighty fine too and photography score big with HELLO I’M HERE. Love Wendell Minor’s work on HI I’M NORMAN. I better quit while I am ahead.

  4. Still a big fan of Strange Birds by Perez for Newbery

  5. Matthew Wigdahl says:

    I read TRJoCS aloud to my 5th graders and we had the Absolute Best Time together on Coyote’s Journey. One of the best books I’ve read with a class in many years. Fingers crossed!

  6. Really fun post and thanks!! I just got a copy of Look Both Ways and can’t wait to read it. Also, I think Saturday could win for the cover alone- makes me smile every time I see it, it’s so exuberant!

  7. Kevin Bartolotta says:

    Real talk: Coyote was my most-disliked MG of 2019. The editting was sloppy (why does she have a Southern accent in the first chapter), her situation was neglectful and borderline abusive, Rodeo was an inappropriate creep, and most of the ridealongs felt like caricatures. I get what Dan was going for and 3 times out of 4 find him an MG author of great talent, but the whole book felt squicky.

  8. Kevin, I also disliked Coyote Sunrise for some of the same reasons (especially the sloppy editing and length. The attention it’s been getting is baffling. I would be very disappointed to see it win anything when stand out novels like Pay Attention, Carter Jones and This Promise of Change are out.

  9. Kate Byrnes says:

    I was so hesitant about another, but every year I take a wordless picture book and write my own words on post its and read it to my kids to show them that they can make up their own stories with wordless books. I had to go through the pictures probably 10 times before I could get the words down, and I still wasn’t sure. But as always, it’s how the kids respond to it that solidifies my feeling about a book, and my kids LOVED it, the same way they did when I wrote the words to Wolf in the Snow two years ago…

  10. I’m in the “no go” on Coyote too. And for all the same reasons as Kevin. The southern accent was a big sticking point for my 13 year old too. In the end we liked it okay but it didn’t wow either of us.

  11. Rox Anne Close says:

    I held a Mock Caldecott Contest in my second grade class in Utah. We read and critiqued 20 possible contenders for the award. Here are the results:
    1st – Truman written by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
    2nd – The Little Guys written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
    3rd – Bear Came Along written by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Leuyen Pham
    4th – four way tie! Another written and illustrated by Christian Robinson; A Stone Sat Still written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel; Elvis is King! written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (AKA Chris Sickels); and Field Trip to the Moon written and illustrated by John Hare
    My class is very excited to hear the announcements of the winners!

  12. Coyote is my favorite book of the 2000s so I’m gonna go with fingers crossed for that one. I’ve read it numerous times and it will always be one I treasure.


  1. […] Bird switched up her predictions this year by dividing into categories, Heavy Medal did the full balloting process, Colby Sharp made a video of his […]