(C) Ages 8-10, (D) Ages 10-12, (E) Ages 12-15, (F) Ages 15-18
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Prognosticating the 2017 Newbery (and other ALA Awards)

Today’s the day Betsy and Janie haul out their crystal balls from under the clutter in the hall closet (Betsy moved across country this year, so she’ll be lucky if she can find hers!) and try to predict this year’s winners of the coveted Newbery award.  Our crystal balls are usually very cloudy–for the last three years we’ve done this, we’ve never accurately predicted the winner, but have managed to pick at least one honor book between us.  The big announcement comes on Monday morning, so we won’t have long to wait.
Janie: As we’ve noted before, every year’s Newbery committee is a completely different group from last year’s, and they keep their deliberations TOP secret.  (There must be some kind of skull & crossbones vow.)  Noting which books received the most starred reviews is a good indicator, but it’s not unknown for the committee to snatch a relatively obscure title and crown it with a gold medal.  Last year they even gave the award to a picture book.  This year, with a fraught political campaign and all kinds of angst about the coming administration, I’m betting the committee is leaning toward political/social justice themes.  Or if they’re depressed, there are a couple of much-buzzed titles that will match their mood.
I think Richard Peck’s latest novel, The Best Man, is a contender because it normalizes homosexuality (not as a family “crisis” or an “issue,” but just . . . well, normal).  The main character’s uncle turns out to be gay (everybody knows and is fine with it), and while that discovery is not the main plot thread, the overarching theme is family coherence.  The story is beautifully written (and all the more disturbing for that).  But, since Peck has won twice—though it’s been awhile—I don’t think he’ll win the medal; maybe an honor.  Likewise Raymie Nightingale—lots of swell reviews, but Kate DiCamillo has scored three times—twice with the top prize.  If the committee would like to give a nod to social-justice themes, I think the most likely candidate is Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, a sweet story about three boys seeking to provide a perfect “last day at school” for their favorite teacher, who has been diagnosed with cancer and will be taking a leave of absence for treatment.  One of the boys is realizing he’s gay, but Ms. Bixby herself is a kind of secular angel, a model of love, acceptance, and coolness that I’m guessing many librarians (since the ALA leans pretty far left) think there’s too little of in this country.
Another strong candidate is March Book 3, co-written by John Lewis, the Democratic Representative from Georgia.  This is a graphic novel series about the Civil Rights movement and Mr. Lewis’s role in it.   March  received the National Book Award for youth literature this year, and it’s uncommon for the ALA to echo the NBA.  But 2017 might be an exception, especially since the recent dustup between Rep. Lewis and Donald Trump.  For fantasy balance, The Girl Who Drank the Moon and The Inquisitor’s Tale are likely contenders.
Here’s my best guess for winner and honors, though I’m not picking a top winner, just predicting it’ll be in this group:
Wild Cards: Garvey’s Choice, a verse novel about an overweight black kid finding his niche, and Snow White.
How about you, Betsy?

Betsy: I’ve spent more time reading nonfiction and non-middle-grades books this year (compared with my usual reading diet), so I don’t feel as prepared to make strong predictions. That being said, my predictions are notoriously unreliable, so perhaps my lack of knowledge will work in my favor!

I agree, Janie, that we’re likely to see some strong social justice themes emerge this year. I also wonder if this year’s Newbery committee will have the same drive to be inclusive and diverse as the past few years’ committees have demonstrated. I think it likely that there will be at least one non-standard/wildcard type choice, whether that’s a verse novel, a book of poetry, a book for younger readers, a nonfiction book…. I’m going to hedge my bets and do a “one of these” line for a couple of categories. I have not read all of these titles (the starred ones are ones I’ve read), but I’ve heard enough buzz to wonder about them….
Strong Contenders (also not predicting “who” will win)
  • 1 “heavy”/pack-an-emotional-punch title: Pax* or (more likely) Wolf Hollow*
  • 1 “social justice” middle grades title (any of the books you mentioned above with LGBTQ themes is likely here as is a book like It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel or another book that highlights the Islamic and/or refugee experience)
  • 1 “wildcard” title (Juana Y Lucas—illustrated chapter book; When Green Becomes Tomatoes*—poetry; Garvey’s Choice—verse novel; Some Writer*—nonfiction; Salt to the Sea*—UPPER end of the age range…)
If you were on the Newbery Committee, Janie, what books would YOU be voting for? (Recognizing that we, unlike the actual Newbery committee, have not read all the books out there this year—they’ve read far more than we have and have likely read many of them multiple times!).
Janie: I’m privileged to serve on the Children’s Book of the Year committee for WORLD Magazine, so I’ve read some great selections suggested by other committee members.  Some of these we’ve already reviewed for RedeemedReader; others I hope to review in the next couple of months.  Also, caution may be advised with a couple of these because of language concerns or hints of an unbiblical worldview, but these books explore sound themes in an age-appropriate way with excellent literary quality—what more could you ask of a children’s novel?  So, my top five picks would be
For the Prinz award (given for YA literature), I’d love to see Calvin take the prize but that’s unlikely.  But The Passion of Dolssa is probably in the running, and it’s almost as good.
Betsy: I love working on those World Magazine committees, Janie, partly because it gives us a platform to read and actually choose books whose worldview elements are as excellent as their literary/artistic elements! My husband and I have been reading David Murray’s thought-provoking and practical The Happy Christian, and Murray reminds readers what we spend our time consuming media-wise can make a big difference in our general outlook. His encouragement, echoing Philippians 4:7-8, is to seek out the joyful and hopeful against a tide of depressing, cynical media. That sums up my desire for these awards because so many of the buzz books this year are depressing and cynical. To that end, I would love to see one of the following more joyful and hopeful books win, particularly because they also celebrate the necessity of hard-but-meaningful effort as we pursue our callings (although it’s highly unlikely!):
  • Save Me a Seat (diverse points of view, cheerful, accessible)
  • Ghost (not as “cheerful” but full of humor)
  • When the Sea Turns to Silver (again, diverse, and multi-generational)

For the Printz Award, I’d like to see something like Every Falling Star or Salt to the Sea win. Both of those are hard, hard books to read (which the Printz committee seems to like–the more issues, the better!), but both end on a strong note of hope for the future.

We’ll have to wait until Monday to see how the Newbery Committee picks!

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