I am predicting the Newbery and Caldecott.
Why is that hard to believe?
See, here’s the thing…
When you are an author of books for kids, you spend a lot of time at festivals and conferences with other writers (and illustrators). You get to know and love these great people, who also happen to be your heros. It’s exciting!
But the kidlit world is not like the adult literary universe. It’s SOOO overwhelmingly friendly and supportive. By and large we all pretty much like each other and want each other to do well. We do! We’re ALL IN for literacy and kids and making the future brighter, and if that sounds cheesey to you, screw you. Because we really are nice people who believe we’re doing important work in the world, and we love each other, and our important shared project.
When award season comes around, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We want everyone to win! We do. And because of the aforementioned conferences and festivals, we know everyone, for the most part, so the idea that some people will win and some won’t (especially when those people are friends, and their books have been especially buzzy, so maybe they are feeling hopeful) is tricky.
It feels safer to just keep your mouth shut.
But here’s the reason I play along anyway…
The awards actually matter. At least I think they do. Without awards for innovation and excellence and merit, that drive sales and impress librarians and newspapers and fancypants types… it might be even harder to convince publishers to take a risk on something quiet or new or old-fashioned or, well… anything but whatever hit the bestseller list this year.
But also because people work hard, and they dream of being noticed for their hard work, and so it is inspiring to all of us when sometimes they actually are noticed. After the awards are announced, the people who didn’t win fade away into the background, and everyone–really, everyone–cheers for the winner.
And that’s nice.
I am going to make my predictions, with the understanding that there were many amazing books this year. I love many new books. I love many authors. Often, the books that win (and should win) are not the books kids love best. People like to wank about that fact, and have esoteric conversation about the nature of quality, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t matter, because the books kids love best–the Percy Jackson and Wimpy Kid type books–generally sell pretty well without a shiny gold sticker. Often the most literary books (in the eyes of the grownups) also do not win. That’s trickier for me to puzzle out, but it’s also true that these books aren’t written for grownup literary critics either. So they (the critics) can sit around in tweed jackets if they like and bemoan the fact that kids don’t read Mrs. Molesworth anymore, and feel superior. It’s what they want to do anyway…
If you aren’t sure what the Newbery and Caldecott evaluate, you can read up on it... it’s no simple thing to explain.
But so, now that I’ve rambled forever, here we go:
Is it eligible? I hope so. Is it really a book for middle grade readers? I would have read it as a kid. Let’s not assume kids can’t handle scary books. Sadly, lots of kids have scary lives. What I do know is that this book is brilliantly written, weaving fantasy elements into a frightening truth about the world. People like to toss around the term magic realism lately. This is the book that comes closest to being magic realism.
Newbery Honor (only one!)
Okay, yeah, Anne is my buddy, but if you think that’s why I’m predicting it, you’re wrong. I’m jealous as hell over this. I read this book nervously, because people kept mixing it up with my book. I didn’t want it to be better than mine, dammit. Both are purple magical books about recently separated parents and lonely kids with Bread in the title. They pubbed the same day and we share an agent and everyone kept calling my book BREADCRUMBS. I am confessing here. It was hard. But you know what? It’s an AMAZING book. I could not put it down. I stayed awake in bed all night reading. Anne took some real risks in this book. She didn’t wrap things up neatly. She allowed the magic and the story to guide her. And for sheer care in language, for lovely prose, this is the book of the year. I didn’t love the distant storytelling sections so much, but they served a purpose. And it isn’t my book. It’s Anne’s. She can do what she wants. I’d have followed her anywhere…
There were lots of other great books this year, but nothing else I read matched these two. I look for a book to be a solid mix of quality prose and exciting/compelling story. Nothing else I read kept me awake all night, turning pages, but then… also lingered. Both of these were exciting stories, but then they stayed with me. I have beent thinking about them ever since I finished them. I bet I can recite lines from them even now…
Many people have said it isn’t a Caldecottish book, and that it won’t get the gold, but I refuse to accept that. Because I love simplicity. I love humor. And this book has transformed the way a lot of people see a “bestselling picture book.” It looks NOTHING like anything else on the bestsellers lists, and has somehow become a household joke anyway. I’ll confess I don’t know much about art (which is what they give the Caldecott for, not the text) but the dry humor and the edge delight me. I cannot wait to see the imitations of this “surprise hit.” Ha.
I have less to say about these. They’re pretty. I like them. I have a nearly impossible time divorcing the art from the text, because text matters so much more to me, but all five of these books delighted me visually when I picked them up. I feel a little bad about how very Caldecottish they mostly are– how quietly lovely, how pastoral, how generally caucasian, etc. But they are the books I was inclined to include, and so here you go…
I will add, interestingly, that one of these books annoys me to no end, but that I still think it should win. Isn’t that interesting… (don’t ask, I won’t tell you which one)
(Full disclosure: Kate and Lauren are both friends of mine in the inter-web-world)
NOW! TELL ME! WHAT ARE YOUR PREDICTIONS???