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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Newbery/Caldecott 2021: Summer Prediction Edition

Boy, and I thought the Spring prediction edition of these Newbery/Caldecott posts was swamped in COVID-19 problems. The farther we get into this year, the stranger it becomes. If you’re anything like me you either (A) Haven’t been able to read much because of pandemic jitters and/or (B) Haven’t been able to read much because you’re actually busier working at home than you ever were working at work and/or (C) Publishers stopped sending physical copies for a while there and you never quite worked up a comprehensive, practical system for organizing what you found.

Well, have no fear. While I fell down in terms of Newbery predictions so far, my faithful librarians at work have been reading books like it’s going out of style and have already plucked some favorites. So while it is still FAR too early in the year for this post, let’s see what cream is rising to the top thus far, hmmm?

2021 Caldecott Predictions

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, ill. Bryan Collier

Drawing inspiration from his own grandmother’s quilt-making, Collier’s work reminded me of what Hudson Talbott did for Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way, all those years ago. Extra points to Tami Charles for writing something that discusses the very matter of the cosmos and then ties it directly into BLM. An important message in a beautiful package, I predict this book will go far when it’s released in the fall. Will it give Mr. Collier yet another Caldecott Honor (it would be his fifth) or the gold proper? Who’s to say? One thing I know; an artist has a much better chance of winning a Caldecott when the text is as strong as Ms. Charles’s here.

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, ill. Yuko Shimizu

The more I think about it, the more I like the fact that Yuko Shimizu’s books looks like nothing else out there this year. It’s accompanying a true story about an ambulance driver that saves the lives of abandoned cats in Syria. The art uses a very specific technique to evoke everything from comfort and pride to abject horror. Years ago I admired Shimizu’s work on Barbed-Wire Baseball, but the art felt a little muddied. I have no such qualms with this, her latest.

Honeybee: The Interesting Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann

Still my #1 favorite. Not that it doesn’t horrify my occasional colleague. Someone was showing the book off in a committee meeting and a staff member with a fear of bees just couldn’t take the sheer realism of Rohmann’s art. But with those gatefolds and the fact that the text probably deserves an award in and of itself, this is possibly the only picture book I’ve seen in 2020 (with the exception of one Canadian import) that actually elicits gasps when you show it to people for the first time.

My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, ill. Jillian Tamaki

I stick by my friends and I stick by my books about friends. You know what a lot of these books on this list have in common? The art, impressive as it is, is always accompanied by a supremely well-written text. The standard white background foregrounded by primarily pink and green art does not, at first glance, look as though it has enough tricks up its sleeve to be a contender. But take a closer look and you can see that what Tamaki pulls off here far exceeds her work on her previous picture book. Except . . . now that I’m looking her up, who knew that she had yet another picture book coming out with Abrams in September called Our Little Kitchen? Will wonders never cease . . .

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis

Eventually folks are going to start figuring out that I just really like Portis’s books. Her specialty has always been simplicity in form, color, paints, and content. This is, perhaps, her most complicated book to date and it reminds me, in a good way, of Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s work. It reads like a riddle book imbued with a Spring theme. But is it Caldecott? I direct you to the page featuring the thunder. Right there. That should answer your question.

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, ill. Cindy Derby

It’s always very gratifying to me when I like a book and then The New York Times concurs. Sometimes when I propose potential Caldecott winners, I have to explain why I selected them. Not so in this case. Derby’s one of those women you need to keep a very close eye on. Don’t blink because she’s one to watch.

Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, ill. Juana Martinez-Neal 

The adult in me wants to fill this list with dark, meaningful, desperately important books. The kid in me want something silly that involves crusty old sailors and playful waves. Why not have both? Juana Martinez-Neal has already won a Caldecott Honor, but she has loads of time to win the award proper. Oh. And here’s a treat. Head on over to 100 Scope Notes and you can see the cover reveal for Ms. Martinez-Neals’ next book, Zonia’s Rain Forest. You’ll be glad that you did.

2021 Newbery Predictions

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

2020 has turned out to be a rough year. We’re facing massive unemployment, the likes of which we’ve not seen since The Great Depression. Good timing, then, to read a book set during that era. It’s funny, but some small part of me, probably dating back to childhood, always assumes that if a book has beautiful writing, it must also by association be boring. Happily, there’s not a word of Wohl’s that I ever find dull. She’s always interesting, her characters feel real, and the words on the page always leap off in new and interesting ways.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

So, physical abuse is apparently the most common topic to watch in middle grade novels of 2020. From this to A Game of Fox and Squirrels to Prairie Lotus to Chirp, it’s in a LOT of the older books right now. What’s remarkable about Bradley’s book is that she works it into the text in such a way that it feel true and awful to the characters, but at the same time you really find yourself enjoying the other aspects of the book. I can see members of the committee getting annoyed with Della’s voice, but if that doesn’t press your buttons then I think you’ll get a real kick out of this.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

I always pair this book with Front Desk by Kelly Yang in my mind. Not because they both have the word “Desk” in their titles (or at least, not entirely) but because in both books you have cute upbeat jacket art disguising the fact that there are some real and serious issues on these pages. My librarians are quite enamored of this book, I should say. They have their quibbles (something about a cupcake subplot?) but overall find it quite strong.

A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

I was quietly impressed with this middle grade debut by Reese. It’s a book about familial abuse, but done in the context of a bit of magical realism. I’m still chewing this one over in my mind, so expect a review soonish. Reese is a good writer from the start and there are layers upon layers beneath this title’s seemingly simple appearance.

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Four starred reviews. A Boston Globe-Horn Book win in the Fiction and Poetry Award section. All this and the book only just came out in February! My co-worker Brian called it, “Intense as hell and beautifully written.” Considering how it tackles issues of race and homophobia, this comes in on the older side of the Newbery equation, but that’s okay. Technically the award goes up the 14. Sounds like this book would fit it to a tee. The only question is, where are they going to put all of its medals? Cause that is one busy cover.

Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome

I read Finding Langston last year, and since I rarely read the sequel or companion title to a book, I was perfectly willing to let Lymon here go. My fellow librarians were having none of it. Not only does the book stand on its own but it’s both a quick read and extraordinary. It clocks in at 199 pages, which is also a major selling point. Sometimes it’s nice not to have to read a book that’s 300+ pages long, right?

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare Le Zotte

Scholastic keeps showing up on my Newbery list today. Interesting. Well, I couldn’t finish up without including this as well. The beginning is a bit slow, but nice. Then it gets to a midway twist that will have your heart pounding and your blood pumping in your veins. Researched within an inch of its life, it’s a great example of historical fiction done well. Let’s see if the Newbery committee agrees!

And what have I missed today? Tell me! There’s still plenty of time before Midwinter.

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. ESE Librarian Bob says

    Very interesting selections! I’ll certainly seek out the ones I haven’t read. (Already placed a hold on the Reese book. Anxiously awaiting the Collier.) I looked up your 2020 summer crystal ball and you did pretty well, 3 and 3. You hit my two favs—Swashby and Show Me a Sign—which oddly both feature relationships between a girl and an old sea dog. As a guy, I hate to admit the Bradley book didn’t fully work for me. There’s physical abuse in Callender’s King too; I share your co-worker’s enthusiasm for that novel. It’s time for queer lit and intersectionality to break through with brave, exceptional writing.

    Any chance of Michaela Goade for We are Water Protectors? I think Robin Ha’s Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir is the best of the graphic novel bunch. And why has the Lindbergh book fallen out of favor? I feel like I’ve missed something.

    • Sharon Verbeten says

      I’m LOVING Candace Fleming’s Charles Lindbergh bio; would love to see it get some Sibert or Newbery love. And, of course, anything she does with her husband is amazing too; can’t wait to see the bee book!

    • I wouldn’t say Lindbergh’s necessarily out of favor. I just wonder if it’s too far in the YA sphere to really count for a Newbery. But I might put it back on again. It really is extraordinary.

      • ESE Librarian Bob says

        Sharon and Elizabeth: Fleming’s having a good year. To me, the Lindbergh bio is the ultimate 2020 book. The celebrated white American hero filled with every kind of hatred beneath the smiling veneer. The Romanov bio was good: this is even better. It is solidly YA, and I’m kind of resentful of YA winning the Newbery even if it’s exceptional. So, yeah, the Sibert and/or Printz. But I’m discouraged by no nonfic Newbery winners except poetry and unique autobiographies for years. I’m sure the authors are even more discouraged. A good list, a good conversation; thanks!

  2. Julie Corsaro says

    I found nothing annoying about Della’s voice in Fighting Words. It’s engaging and oh so real. I hope the actual committee will have the courage to show this gem some well-deserved love. As Bradley notes in the afterword, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by age 18. Anyone who works with young people knows this truth.

  3. Ooeee, Ms. Betsy (and her librarians), some interesting stuff going on here. Is it “FAR too early?” Maybe, but methinks you’ve already picked some winners.

    That Collier book is stunning. And can we keep going from Kadir Nelson with medals for starring players who kept getting honors? You’re right—Cat Man isn’t like anything else & Swashby is funny sweet. I agree with librarian Bob about Michaela Goade for We Are Water Protectors. The image of the girl leading with the feather keeps me going. You’ve talked about Ekua Holmes other years but not Black is a Rainbow Color. Come on, that one’s uniquely beautiful!

    Echo Mountain is beautifully written and not boring, but it’s not surprising either. Maybe that’s wrong; it lacks the weirdness or wildness that I like. I’m not discounting it. There haven’t been many repeat winners in the five years I’ve closely watched this. K. Alexander is all, I think. That could change in 2021.
    Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has also won before. She’s popular. I don’t think it necessarily takes courage to like her books. I haven’t read this one yet. I might respect it. But I chafe at people telling me that I must read it because it’s important and quoting stats. I have my own experiences, like others I know in Indian Country.

    I’m reading and loving A Game of Fox & Squirrels. It has some weirdness and heart with an original, speculative approach.
    IMO, the two other wild cards are Show Me a Sign, which sets up a world then flips it in the middle, challenging most people’s views of deaf people.
    And King and the Dragonflies, Kacen C’s great book—yes, “intense as hell and beautifully written.” This king should get the crown. That would take the most guts and be the most impactful!!!! Would the committee actually choose it?
    Yeah, Scholastic made some good, diverse investments. Huh.

  4. Murray Johnson says

    I have only read “From the Desk of Zoe Washington” and I believe it is a strong contender at this point. I’m excited to read Bradley’s book, but one book that is not is not on your list is “Prairie Lotus” by Linda Sue Park which might be my favorite children’s fiction book this year with Park’s homage to the “Little House” books with look out ignoring the racism of the time period.

  5. I’ll turn 15 in September, but I still like to read and talk about some picture books and a lot of middle grade. Thank you for sharing these good books! I was so happy to see Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransom. I was named after Langston Hughes, I’ve read most of his poems and his stories in The Ways of White Folks and I also LOVED Leaving Langston.

    Alexis was extra salty (lol) but I looked it up and she’s right that not many authors win twice in recent years. I like that new people are recognized. These are some I’ve read and think they’re exceptional and distinct. (Being a blerd, I also looked up Newbery criteria.) In alphabetical order of the authors. (I put stars by the ones I think have the best chance.)

    *King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
    *Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (I’m apologize I don’t know how to get the accents over the names!)
    Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha
    The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
    When You Tap a Tiger by Tae Keller
    *Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
    *The Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
    *A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

    As far as being relevant this year, these books include Black and gay pride and bigotry, immigrants and ICE, abuse of girls, toxic masculinity and anti-Asian prejudice, deafness/sign language and anti-racism. That’s on top of them being excellent.

    I haven’t read Fighting Words. What are some other MG to look out for in the fall? Can someone tell me? Maybe we’ll have to wait for your list, Ms.Betsy!

    I also vote Michaela Goade. I can’t even believe Outside In exists right now. Whoa. That cover by Bryan Collier makes me feel Black boy pride and joy!!!!