I have a selfish reason for compiling this list. It’s my Christmas book list for my kids. It’s also because my kids won’t read (probably like yours!) unless they have a really good book and so I search and search and present, like a game show hostess, blog posts of books that I think my kids will like and they unceremoniously, nay or approve each selection. Usually a nay, by the way. This is what I get back:
“No thanks mom.” (Grasshopper and Sensei politely declining)
“That looks boring.” (PickyKidPix; she is the least concerned about my feelings)
“Ummm, can we choose something else?” (My son squirms uncomfortably when he dislikes a book choice)
“I’ll just re-read Percy Jackson. I don’t want you to spend any of your money.” (What my son actually did all summer to avoid reading a “boring” book)
And now I need chapter books besides action adventure for my son (his teacher is trying to broaden his horizens); realistic fiction and dystopian for PickyKidPix; dystopian, non-stupid helpless girl romance and realistic fiction YA for Grasshopper and Sensei. And picture books for all of us, but only the “good” ones.
To compile this list of contenders, I consulted many gurus including:
100 Scope Notes analysis of overlap with other book awards
Delightful Children’s Books
Anderson’s Bookshops Mock Newbery
and then I went to four bookstores in three towns to read picture books. The books I bought were The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert, Where’s Mommy by Beverly Donofrio & Barbara McClintock, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and West of the Moon by Margi Preus.
Predicting the 2015 Caldecott
My Caldecott Frontrunners
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is my front runner for the 2015 Caldecott as it is many others. That Klassen and Barnett have had very successful partnerships doesn’t hurt their cause! What’s amazing about this picture book is how Barnett packs a pretty action packed adventure into a spare number of words. That’s like writing a Percy Jackson chapter book as a haiku. And Klassen does some of the heavy lifting too! His illustrations titillate! The ending is a remarkable surprise too. I had to re-read the picture book to figure it out. I think that’s what makes a Caldecott picture book; it equally entertains a young child and an adult over multiple readings.
Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
This would be my second pick for the Caldecott. There’s something old time-y about the illustrations that make them seem like a beloved classic bu the real genius is how illustrator Barbara McClintock shows the parallel worlds of the mouse and the little girl Mary in equisite detail. I was really loving the mid-century modern house of the human family as well as the found-object reimagined home of the mice!
Sentimental Caldecott Picks
The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert
I have always loved Lois Ehlert’s exquisite collage art picture books and this book which draws from her lifetime of illustration also includes her personal story. She deserves a Caldecott nod for lifetime achievement (but is that the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement award?!) This is my sentimental winner for the Caldecott and I’d be tapdancing with glee if she wins! If you are a Lois Ehlert fan, you’ll have fun recognizing her illustrations from different books and get a glimpse inside her creative process.
My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I am Not.) by Peter Brown
I really wanted Mr. Tiger Goes Wild! to win last year so you could say that I have a soft spot for Peter Brown. His stories have the “mining the uncomfortable” quality of a truly talented stand up comedian that turns this discomfort into humor. My kids would attest that they always have at least one teacher that they wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with. Imagine running into the teacher you dislike on your own time and in a place you actually enjoy! And then having to spend [uncomfortable] time with said teacher, only to discover that maybe your teacher isn’t quite the monster you accused her of being. Even though the Caldecott is an illustration award, I think it rewards a well told story with unexpected twists. This one delivers on both!
Reminds Me of Another Caldecott Winner
The Promise by Nicola Davies
One of my favorite picture books ever is Caldecott Honor book, The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small, and The Promise reminds me of this one. Both tell a story that goes from grim to uplifting with a changing color palette to visually show the changes the characters are experiencing. That this story is also circular makes me love it more.
Time for Bed, Fred by Yasmeen Ismail
I love the very loose and “no-pencil-sketch-necessary” quality of the water color illustrations of Time for Bed, Fred. It reminds me of A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka which won the Caldecott in 2012. Both are very straight forward and charming dog stories of dog-at-play. I think it’s a contender but I would put my money on Honor not Medal.
Unique Is Good Caldecott Choice
The Flashlight by Lizi Boyd
Do Lift-the-Flaps and Peek-a-Boo cutouts eliminate you for serious Caldecott contention? I don’t know and I hope not. If not, The Flashlight has a lot going for it! The illustrations are both unique and full of surprises. Locate the animals both when they are in the light of the flashlight and when they are not. The Flashlight is charms and delights!
Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
Many pundits have Hug Machine on their Caldecott watch list. Campbell has a very unique illustration style. It’s watercolor but it has a cartoon graphic novel quality as well. I really like how Campbell has included a diversity cast of “hugees” (those being hugged). I think the uniqueness of the characters in his illustrations puts this picture book on the list.
Caldecott Worthy Wordless Picture Books
Draw! by Raúl Colón
I think wordless picture books have a slight edge in the Caldecott competition. It is an illustration competition after all! Out of all the wonderful wordless picture books, I think this is the front runner but necessarily the “best” wordless picture book. This is a wonderful African adventure illustrated in a very accessible way to the reader of any age. The story is very clear, even obvious, to the reader and the illustrations are marvelous!
Quest by Aaron Becker
I loved Journey and will be buying this one for my library and I actually think Quest is even better than Journey, which is high bar to exceed. But I don’t think the Caldecott committee will award a sequel another prize; it’s just too similar, but I hope that I am wrong. Quest is the kind of fantasy adventure wordless picture book that makes kids dream! Is this a “better” wordless picture book than Draw!? I think so by a slight margin.
Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle
This is another wonderfully illustrated wordless picture book. The flaps inside surprise because they are not always set in a predictable way. The strongest element of the illustration for me are the expressions on Flora’s face. Idle successfully conveys a wide range of emotions. I don’t think Flora and the Penguin will get a nod because Flora and the Flamingo didn’t win last year and this, again, is very similar. But I hope the judges wipe clean last year’s slate of books and start with blank minds. Also, I don’t think a Lift the Flap book has even won the Caldecott. (Am I wrong here?). That’s too bad. If flaps are not a Caldecott handicap, I think Flora and the Penguin could win a Newbery honor.
The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
This is my outlier pick. I really like Shaun Tan’s work and Rules of Summer is the kind of wordless picture book that reminds me of David Weisner’s Tuesday or Sector 7. There’s the same quirky “alien invasion under our nose” kind of plot that delights kids. Mine especially! This picture book is a little darker and the reader has to work a little harder to figure out the subplot of what exactly is going on vis a vis the aliens. I don’t think the Caldecott books require the reader to work that hard but it’s work worth doing!
Non Fiction Caldecott Worthy Picture Books
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi
I do love watercolor collage art and it’s been a pretty good formula for past Caldecotts.
The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry by Peter Sis
Who knew that the author of The Little Prince was actually a prince — ok, his mother was only a countess, but still! And that he lead this remarkable life of aviation adventure?! I had no idea! Peter Sis’ genius is telling the story multiple ways from a timeline of events, to a biographical story, to a timeless story of an adventurer simultaneously and without confusing the reader. His clever use of space and shapes helps to seperate the different story lines while transfixing the reader with the adventures of pilots in the dawn of aviation.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Creating this book seems like an endeavor not unlike shooting a movie for Yuyi Morales. Her book looks like she built sets to illustrate each page, including lifelike dolls. But she also paintly effects and Photoshop for a multimedia illustration style that is both unique and arresting. But I wonder if the 3D quality of the images will be deemed too movie-like? Illustration purists might balk at her unique multimedia approach but, then again, it could reward her as well.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
I have a soft spot for this book bedause Sylvia Mendez’ story takes place in Westminister, CA; one town over from where I grew up. I love the cartoon illustration style and I think this is a shoo-in for then Pura Belpré award but the question is: can it win both?!
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson
The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker is also a dazzling book that joyfully exudes the energy and optimism of a trailblazer who . At 104 pages though, I think of this more as an illustrated chapter book than a picture book though there are not page restriction rules for the Caldecott but I think the length makes it a bit of an outlier for the award but perhaps a contender for a Newbery and definitely a frontrunner for the Coretta Scott King.
Predicting the 2015 Newbery
These first three choices are based on 100 Scope Notes analysis of the overlap between the National Book Award and the Newbery. This is the list I need for PickyKidPix who likes to read a possible Newbery winner before the award is announced.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This is everyone’s pick for the 2015 Newbery including mine. Is it a sure thing? I hope so! Jacqueline Woodson’s novel in verse of her own life, an ordinary life made extraordinary, deserves the accolade. It would also help cement the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to show that yes, everyone will read a great book, even if the character is of color. I mean, look at the title: Brown Girl Dreaming. Publishers automatically start calculating how many brown girls are out there that will read this book and what percent of them will buy it? No, no, no! It’s not a book exclusively for brown girls. It’s for everyone. And we are all the richer for having it in our lives.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
This follow-up to Auxier’s exceptional debut, “Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, ” is a Victorian ghost story that follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford and Jaime Zollars
A rambling old smuggler’s inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.
Boys of Blur by N. D. Wilson
When Charlie moves to the small town of Taper, Florida, he discovers a different world. Pinned between the everglades and the swampy banks of Lake Okeechobee, the small town produces sugar cane . . . and the fastest runners in the country. Kids chase muck rabbits in the fields while the cane is being burned and harvested. Dodging flames and blades and breathing smoke, they run down the rabbits for three dollars a skin. And when they can do that, running a football is easy.
But there are things in the swamp, roaming the cane at night, that cannot be explained, and they seem connected to sprawling mounds older than the swamps. Together with his step-second cousin “Cotton” Mack, the fastest boy on the muck, Charlie hunts secrets in the glades and on the muck flats where the cane grows secrets as old as the soft earth, secrets that haunted, tripped, and trapped the original native tribes, ensnared conquistadors, and buried runaway slaves. Secrets only the muck knows.
The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
Alistair Cleary is the kid who everyone trusts. Fiona Loomis is not the typical girl next door. Alistair hasn’t really thought of her since they were little kids until she shows up at his doorstep with a proposition: she wants him to write her biography. What begins as an odd vanity project gradually turns into a frightening glimpse into the mind of a potentially troubled girl. Fiona says that in her basement, there’s a portal that leads to a magical world where a creature called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. And Fiona’s soul could be next. If Fiona really believes what she’s saying, Alistair fears she may be crazy. But if it’s true, her life could be at risk. In this novel from Aaron Starmer, it’s up to Alistair to separate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality.
Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.