What follows are my predictions. Feel free to follow along when the awards are announced on February 2nd. You may mock, debate, or generally applaud my guesses, but whether they bring home the shining sticker or not, these choices represent some of the best writing for children out there. They may not appeal to all (or many) of your kids, but they maintain a high bar for what children's writing can be.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacquiline Woodson
If this book doesn't win the big prize you will be able to knock me over with a feather. It has already claimed victory at the National Book Awards. Written in verse and detailing the author's life as a young black girl in the 70s, this book is a gem. I still don't have a good read on how kids are embracing the story, but as an adult, I found it beautifully written and poignant. With the current emphasis on diverse books, which has become the hot topic of late, this book is a perfect example of how a story written about a girl of color can deeply touch us to the core.
The Night Gardner by Jonathan Auxier
If you had asked me at the beginning of the summer which book I thought would bring home the Newbery, this book would have been at the top of my list. It is spooky, full of wonderful imagery and life lessons wrapped up in a bone tingling narrative. In fact, if diversity weren't such an important topic for kids books at this point in time, I think this book would have had a chance to win it all. This is the Graveyard Book, but with a bit more whimsey and old fashion fun. However, at this point I don't think it has enough gravitas to bring home the shiny sticker, but I am hoping for an Honor!
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I rarely get overly excited by a book written in verse and this year I have two, count them two books with the poet's touch. Where Brown Girl Dreaming paints a vivid picture in words of moments in the author's history, The Crossover is bolder and stronger in the language it uses, evoking the feelings of a brother who is figuring out how he fits into his family. They couldn't be more different, but they each remain incredibly powerful stories. The Crossover is exciting with action packed basketball games, but it still touches us with it's honest portrayal of a middle school boy and his struggles of growing up. I think more kids will respond to this story because it will feel more relevant for them. This one is my favorite of the two, but I still think that Brown Girl Dreaming may have the emotional edge over The Crossover.
This one is hard for me because I rarely enjoy the books selected. The prize actually goes only to the illustrator, so while the words play a role, it is the drawings that actually must stand on their own and convey a significant part of the story. Every once in a while a book such as This Is Not My Hat wins, but in general I am left feeling a little disappointed with the winner. However, that will not dissuade me from my task of giving you my picks!
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
This book is my number one pick for the shiny sticker. The illustrations are drop dead gorgeous, awe inspiring and fit perfectly with the story. Of course any pick of mine must have a sense of humor about itself, and while this book won't have you rolling in the aisles, it has a subtle humor that is not lost on the reader. It even has some odes to adults who will enjoy the references to other great works of literature. Three bears break their mother's shell and go in search of a replacement, rather than fess up to their crime. Their quest leads them on quite an adventure, only to find that doing the right thing was probably the best course of action to begin with.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Ok, this one is a hail mary. I haven't seen it discussed often in the panels, but I am putting it out there none the less. I love that in this new era with an emphasis on STEM, there is a charming, female centric book that focuses on creating things. But not only creating things, the creative process. What we see in our heads is never what ends up being built, and Spires doesn't cheat in this book by making everything happy and easy. It is difficult, frustrating and painful to create and we don't always get it perfect. Oh, and the book is funny too, with charming illustrations. Bravo!
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston is the story of a little dog who doesn't look like anyone else in his canine family. A trip to the dog park quickly uncovers that two little pooches were switched at birth, but when Gaston is reunited with the family that looks like him it just doesn't feel right. His first family is where he belongs. This one is a long shot, but I put it in because I wanted three books (see the high criteria to which I hold myself.) There are other books being talked about more strongly for the Caldecott, but I just don't feel they speak to children in a compelling way, no matter how gorgeous or touching they may be. So Gaston it is! I absolutely love the illustrations in the this book. They feel European in the best, most innovative way.
Let me know what you think and let's see how I did on February 2nd. Who knew a book competition could be so much fun?