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Elizabeth Bird, discussing dark horses for the Newbery medal, A Fuse #8 Production,

Newbery/Caldecott 2011: The Big Questions

Yes, it’s time yet again to try to figure out what might win this year’s Newbery (for the best written work for children) and Caldecott (for the best illustrated book for children) Awards for 2011.  Let’s try something a little different from Part One and Part Two of this year’s predictionfest.  Now with Heavy Medal restarting and sites like the ACPL Mock Newbery creating reading lists, the true debates are about to begin.  With that in mind, I need to step up my game.


Newbery 2011

I think that the best way to tackle this is to consider all the questions that need to be answered before the committees come to a final decision.  Questions like:


Does it stand alone?

There are a couple series titles this year that may wish to dip their toes into the ring.  The first could be Laurie Halse Anderson’s sequel to hershouldabeenaNewberyAwardwinning novel Chains.  With Forge, Anderson writes a sequel that may or may not be standalone material.  It’s on my old To Be Read shelf and should be due to be perused soon.


The other notable entrant into this category is A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.  If you picked this book up with no prior knowledge of the books that came before it, would it make sense?  According to the Newbery criteria, it would have to in order to win.  And while we’re thinking of it, is this a book for the 0-14 set or it is clearly mature fare?  This leads neatly into the next question:


Is it too old?

Newbery committees often have a hard time resisting the siren song of those books that were clearly published with a teen audience in mind, yet don’t contain much in the way of inappropriate language, sex, violence, etc.  Technically a kid could read it.  So does it count?


This year the aforementioned Turner will have to answer that question.  So too will books like The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.  The title opens with grown-ups leading their very adult lives.  It then turns into a kind of quest for self novel, set on the Oregon Trail.  A strong literary contender, to be sure, but is it for kids?


That question has been consistently asked, when thinking about the books of Lynne Rae Perkins.  Remember that herCriss Cross did win a Newbery, though.  So maybe As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth won’t be considered too old either.  A lot happens in that book and it’s a fun ride.  Speaking of previous winners:


Should we pay more attention to it if the author wrote a Newbery winner before?

Well, it doesn’t hurt.  However, you do have to wonder whether or not we’re talking about these books because they’re extraordinary or because previous winners make it easy to come up with a list of possible Newbery contenders.


Certainly Keeper by Kathi Appelt is worthy of the hype.  To some it comes across as more kid-friendly than The Underneath.  And when you consider how divisive that book was to some when it won, shouldn’t the universal love this newest Appelt book has garnered make it even more of a surefire winner?


Don’t discount The Cardturner by Louis Sachar either.  Though his writing wasn’t winning much love when he came out with Small Steps, this newest book about playing bridge has its fans.  Suppose I’d better read it, eh?


The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz poses an interesting question.  It’s one of the youngest Newbery contenders this year, and I think there’s something to be said for that.  To my mind, it is far more difficult to write a good original book for younger children than it is to write a good original book for teens.  Plus the amazing use of language Schlitz utilizes here may mean that it gets more attention than its 12+ contemporaries.


Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (I much preferred the original galley cover) is also a lot of fun, and best of all it has humor.  I wouldn’t call it a laugh riot or anything, but this was one of the most enjoyable books I read this year.  Some questions have come up regarding the ending and whether or not Holm brings the story to a close too quickly.  To this I say nay.  I think it wraps up beautifully, with great characters, superior writing, and just a dash of history for spice.


Is it noteworthy?

Always the question, right?  You can like a book until the cows come home, but then there’s that horrible sense of “noteworthy” hanging over your head.  For example, I’m rather fond of that Palace Beautiful novel by Sarah DeFord Williams (another victim of an unfortunately girly cover).  To my vast interest I’ve seen librarian after librarian become won over to this book’s clever writing.  But is it noteworthy?  I have no bloody idea.  Sure hope so.


One book that doesn’t have to ask that question isOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.  As mentioned before (before = millions of times) on this blog, this is my #1 Newbery pick.  Love it.  Adore it.  Want it to win.  And I’ll be MIGHTY interested to hear what Heavy Medal thinks about it as well (Jonathan, let’s get a male opinion in here, kay?).


Will the media inside of it hurt it?

While Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a great little book, does the fact that it’s a documentary novel hurt it?  Perhaps.  That’s a question that I’m sure will be bandied about for long periods of time in the Newbery committee room.  I’d love it to get some luvin’, but it may also suffer from the fact that there are mysteries left unrevealed by the story’s close (so maybe this book should belong in the “Does it stand alone?” category).


The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan is illustrated by Peter Sis and may suffer similar scrutiny.  If you take away the art of Sis, do the words stand up well enough on their own?  I’ve heard some folks say that this book felt a little too much like Newbery bait to them.  While I wouldn’t necessarily agree, I can see where they’re coming from.  It’s awful writerly.  Meaningful.  There’s room in the Honors for such books as this, though.  And wouldn’t a silver medal just look so purdy against the cover?


Booga booga! Non-Fiction!

Never gets any respect, does it?  I’d love to believe that books likeSparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman orThe Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone have a shooting chance.  But let us be honest for a moment.  A non-fiction title hasn’t won the Newbery proper since Lincoln: A Photobiography in 1988.  Unless we’ve a really pro-non-fiction committee this year, I can’t see this happening again.


Then again, this is a year where books like The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s They Called Themselves the KKK are gaining attention.  The real question then becomes, are they meant for kids or for teens?


So no funny books, huh?

Well, there are moments of levity in some of these books.  But really, there’s nothing here on the same level as last year’s Honor winner Homer P. Figg. I’m somewhat tempted to consider Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg for a moment, but then I remember that the media inside (read: comics) almost certainly disqualifies it.  More’s the pity.


Wild Cards: The Trend This Year is Horror

In my mind I meld A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and The Boneshaker by Kate Milford tightly together.  Grimmhas the edge in this race.  Though both are the products of debut Brooklyn novelists, Grimm got blurbs from not only a previous Newbery winner (Laura Amy Schlitz) but also the great-grandaddy of children’s literary scholarship, Jack Zipes.  Don’t discount the plucky little Milford novel, though.  With her references to the works of Ray Bradbury, I certainly think she has a shot.  The question then becomes, is it an homage or too similar?  I say homage.


Wait a minute!  Where the heckedy-heck did you putOut of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine?

Expect an answer to that query soon.  These two, somehow surprisingly tied to one another, cannot be discussed without a serious smackdown going on.  To be continued in a future post . . .

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