Reading the tea leaves for Newbery, Caldecott winners

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It's that time of year, when lovers of children's literature start betting on which books will win the prestigious Caldecott Medal and Newbery Medal on Jan. 28.

It's a big deal and not just for children's literature fans. The Caldecott Medal is given annually by the American Library Association to the best illustrated children's book published the previous year. The Newbery Medal is given annually to the best written children's book.

Together, the two awards often are dubbed the "Academy Awards" of American children's books because they bring instant fame and fortune to the winning authors and illustrators. The winning books also rarely go out of print.

Here's a look at some best bets for the 2013 Caldecott Medal and Newbery Medal winners. Special thanks to Anita Silvey, author of "Children's Book-a-Day Almanac," and Pittsburgh-based children's literature expert Amy Kellman for their suggestions. (Disclosure: An essay I wrote appeared in a book edited by Ms. Silvey, "Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children's Book.")

In addition, many of the suggestions in this column were drawn from the "Heavy Medal" and "Calling Caldecott" blogs, as well as from the results of mock Caldecott and Newbery events held at schools and libraries.

The actual Caldecott and Newbery committees, comprising librarians and other children's literature experts, are sworn to secrecy, so no one knows what books they're considering.

In some years, there are clear front-runners. This year, however, there is a plethora of great picture-book possibilities for the Caldecott.

As for the Newbery, one novel, "Wonder" (Knopf, $15.99, ages 8-12), by R.J. Palacio, has become a runaway best-seller among readers and their families. The novel also has won critical acclaim, yet many children's literature experts seem to discount its chances because it's up against some stiff competition.


"It has been a great year for picture books, even though The New York Times declared them dead a couple of years back," Ms. Silvey said. "The favored book in the industry is [author/illustrator] Laura Vaccaro Seeger's 'Green' [Dutton, $17.99, ages 14 up]."

But there are plenty of other possibilities. And, in fact, some experts actually discount the chances of "Green" winning the 2013 Caldecott Medal because it is a "concept" book -- essentially a beautifully illustrated riff on the color green -- and concept books rarely win the Caldecott.

Meanwhile, there are several previous Caldecott Medalists whose newest books could win them another:

• Paul Zelinsky, who did the illustrations for the hilarious "Z Is for Moose" (Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 3-5), written by Kelly Bingham.

• Eric Rohmann, who illustrated "Oh, No!" (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99, ages 3-6), written by Candace Fleming.

• David Small, who illustrated "One Cool Friend" (Dial, $16.99, ages 4-8), written by Toni Buzzeo.

• Erin Stead, who has illustrated two Caldecott possibilities: "And Then It's Spring" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 3-6), written by Julie Fogliano, and "Bear Has a Story to Tell" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 3-6), written by her husband, Philip Stead.

Philip Stead also has written and illustrated another Caldecott possibility: "A Home for Bird" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 3-6).

In addition to the "competition" among the Steads' books, there are three illustrated by Jon Klassen that have been mentioned as Caldecott-worthy: "House Held up by Trees" (Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 5-10), written by poet Ted Kooser; "This Is Not My Hat" (Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 4-7), written by Mr. Klassen; and "Extra Yarn" (Balzer + Bray, $16.99, ages 4-7), written by Mac Barnett.

Another picture book written by Mr. Barnett, "Chloe and the Lion" (Hyperion, $16.99, ages 5-8), featuring illustrations by Adam Rex, also is a good Caldecott bet.

Two other contenders could be: "Unspoken" (Scholastic, $16.99, ages 7-12), a wordless book about the Underground Railroad written and illustrated by Henry Cole; and "Step Gently Out" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 4-7), written by Helen Frost and featuring photographs by Rick Lieder.

Ms. Kellman, the children's literature consultant, has a couple of books she thinks are worthy of the Caldecott yet doesn't think they are likely to win: "Out on the Prairie" (Charlesbridge, $15.99, ages 3-7), written by Donna Bateman and illustrated by Susan Swan; and "Moonlight" (Greenwillow, $16.99, ages 2-5), written by Helen Griffith and illustrated by Laura Dronzek.

Ms. Silvey also has a dark-horse Caldecott candidate: "Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs" (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99, ages 4-8), written and illustrated by Mo Willems.


Ms. Silvey believes that there is no clear front-runner in the race, and so "once again, we could be in for a Newbery surprise."

One strong contender is a nonfiction book, "Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon" (Flash Point, $19.99, ages 9 up), by Steve Sheinkin. "Bomb" also was one of five finalists for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, but nonfiction is rarely recognized by Newbery committees.

One other nonfiction book also has been mentioned as a Newbery contender: "Moonbird" (FSG, $21.99, ages 10 up), written by Phillip Hoose.

In addition to "Wonder," there are numerous Newbery-worthy novels. Three are by previous medalists: "Splendors and Glooms" (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 9-12); "Liar & Spy" (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, $15.99, ages 9-12); and "The Mighty Miss Malone" (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, $15.99, ages 9-12).

Other potential Newbery-winning novels include (in alphabetical order by author):

"The One and Only Ivan" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 9-12), by Katherine Applegate.

"Chickadee" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 9-12), by Louise Erdrich.

"The Lions of Little Rock" (Putnam, $16.99, ages 9-12), by Kristine Levine.

"Starry River of the Sky" (Little, Brown, $17.99, ages 8-12), by Grace Lin;

"Shadow on the Mountain" (Amulet, $16.95, ages 9-12), by Margi Preus.

"Beneath a Meth Moon" (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99, ages 12 up), by Jacqueline Woodson.

In addition, there are a couple of wild cards: "No Crystal Stair" (Carolrhoda Books, $16.95, ages 10 up), a "documentary novel" by Vaunda M. Nelson; and "Step Gently Out," also a Caldecott contender.


Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library: First Published January 22, 2013 5:00 AM


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