Prognosticating the Newberys

On Monday, the American Library Association will announce the winners of their annual Youth Media prognostication-engineAwards.  The oldest and most prominent of these is the John Newbery medal, given “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”* I’m not sure why the ALA words it this way,since the award is for the book, not exactly the author, and a single author can be a Newbery medalist more than once. It happens a lot, in fact. Betsy and Janie have been discussing books that they feel are likely contenders, though not necessarily their favorites. Now the fun begins: guessing who the winners will be!

The Newbery committee is different every year, and though I’m sure they have a set of standards to go by, one can never predict which way the wind is blowing. Some committees heavily favor historical fiction. Some like to deliberately break out of the mold and name some quirky title like The Graveyard Book. Last year everybody seemed to be thinking “diversity.” Previous winners may figure largely in one year’s list, while the next year almost everybody is a newbie. All that is to say that Newbery winners are harder to predict than NFL playoff teams because the selection is so subjective. Our prediction record is not great, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway (and we’ll tell you who the winners ought to be).

Janie goes first:

I’m pretty sure The Thing about Jellyfish will be on the list, and possibly the winner. It has a solid emotional punch along with a science tie-in that teachers should find irresistible. The theme is secular but with a spiritual fillip, which also appeals to teachers. I also think Brian Selznick’s The Marvels will find a place this year.  Selznick won the Caldecott award (for illustration) several years ago with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and The Marvels is just as heavily illustrated.  But I think it will earn points for the story as much as the illustrations (a story I had real problems with). Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans (which we discussed here) also has a good chance, for three reasons: librarians are leaning more toward nonfiction these days, the graphic format is a plus, and Don Brown is new to the list. The committee may want to welcome him with a silver medal (not gold). We talked about The Nest as a strong contender because of all its starred reviews, but something occurred to me: Kenneth Oppel is Canadian. I don’t remember for sure if the author has to be American or the book has to be published in America, but think the former is actually the case.

I just read Roller Girl, a middle-grade graphic novel about girls on the rocky road to teenhood.  The main theme is similar to The Thing about Jellyfish, but Roller Girl is a lot more fun–also honest and friendly and, in its own way, profound.  I think it has a good chance.

I don’t think Gone Crazy in Alabama, Goodbye Stranger, Most Dangerous, or Orbiting Jupiter will make the cut. They’re all by previous winners, which by itself means nothing. But the latter two are more suitable for young adults, and the others don’t seem like contenders this year–just my hunch.

So after all that nattering, here’s my list:

  • The Thing About Jellyfish
  • Drowned City
  • The Marvels
  • Roller Girl

and a couple of wild cards (or just wild guesses):
Lost in the Sun or The Seventh Most Important Thing

Betsy’s turn:
Predicting what will win—or what we think the committee will choose—is humbling! And it’s the point in the year when I realize I have read so. few. books compared to that same committee (and even my own peeps—I haven’t read The Marvels, for instance, which Janie has on her predictions list). I’m betting that some combination of diversity, ground-breaking/boundary-pushing text and story, and “poignancy” are going to feature big. Those sum up the books getting the most buzz. I’m also noticing that many of the titles are about girls—which is a shame. We need boy books, too! That being said, here’s the way I read the scene this year:

  • Drowned City (graphic novel non-fiction done well: two categories that don’t feature heavily in previous winners and “ground-breaking”)
  • The War That Saved My Life (poignancy? check. diversity? check (disability). boundary-pushing text? check (a totally different approach to WWII than we usually see))
  • Goodbye, Stranger (poignancy? check (Stead NAILS the middle schooler’s “voice”). diversity? check (in the sense that each friend is different and that’s okay). boundary-pushing? check (multiple perspectives and subject is sexting—although not too graphic).)
  • The Thing About Jellyfish (poignancy? check (oh, the emotion in this one!). diversity and boundary-pushing are not as strong with this one, but it’s a strong text with that handy science tie-in Janie mentioned)
  • Orbiting Jupiter (poignancy? dripping with it. diversity? check (foster kids and related issues). boundary-pushing? definitely.)
    Listen, Slowly (poignancy? check. diversity? check (Vietnamese-American IN Vietnam). boundary-pushing text? Not as much)
  • Orbiting Jupiter, Listen, Slowly and Goodbye, Stranger are written by previous winners (honors or medals); “quality” or “distinguished” each year is determined against THIS year’s titles and none previous, so it’s not clear how these new titles will stack up against other titles this year. Gone Crazy in Alabama is also getting strong buzz, and occasionally someone mentions The Penderwicks in Spring. I’ve also heard a few other wildcards thrown around, in particular A Nearer Moon.

And what would we like to see win?

My dream list would include

  • Circus Mirandus, reviewed here
  • The Sign of the Cat – a fun, nicely-written fantasy appealing to both boys and girls, with nonstop adventure, no objectionable material, and awesome cats!
  • The Seventh Most Important Thing –realistic fiction right on the border between middle grade and YA, which addresses some of the same themes as Orbiting Jupiter but in a more hopeful way
  • I Don’t Know How the Story Ends – I can’t resist!


  • The Way Home Looks Now—tackles many of the same issues as my predicted winners do, but with a boy, sports, and a bit more hope.
  • The Penderwicks in Spring—because I’m a Penderwicks fan through and through, and because it handles depression in such a positive, hopeful way
  • Goodbye Stranger—it has some edgier content, for sure, but Stead does such an amazing job using the different perspectives in the book. One of the books that has “stuck” with me this year
  • And, any of the following: Circus Mirandus, I Don’t Know How the Story Ends (cheering Janie on!), Roller Girl, Grounded, Drowned City

Be sure and check back on Wednesday to see how prescient we are!


*“Children,” in this context, almost always means middle-graders.  Very rarely does a chapter book find its way to the list.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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