Saturday, January 5, 2008

Predicting the winners

I'm really looking forward to the ALA awards announcement on January 14th, but the stakes are much higher for me this year. As a children's book buyer (for an independent toy and book store), I need to have the winning books available in the store as soon as possible after they are announced. Part of this involves immediately calling distributors and publishers on January 14th at 7:46 am. The other, and more difficult part, is to guess correctly at what the winners might be and to already have copies on hand before the announcement.

Now, if the Caldecott and the Newbery awards were similar to the Oscars, it would be relatively straightforward. You'd simply order the five nominated books for each award, perhaps getting a few extra copies of the ones that were heavily favored. But it doesn't work like that. The Caldecotts and Newberys (and the other ALA awards) are decided by committees and discussions. There are no nominees. ANY eligible book could win.

How on earth can you guess? You can start by listening to the buzz. You can read all the mock Newbery and mock Caldecott winners. You can look at listservs and blogs and see which books are mentioned the most often. You can read Best of the Year lists produced by newspapers and journals.

But there's one big problem with that method... it doesn't always work. 2007 is an excellent example. If you followed all the buzz about who the winners would be in 2007 (and I did) you'd have heard two titles mentioned over and over for the Caldecott... Flotsam by David Wiesner and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Carole Boston Weatherford. It turns out that Flotsam won the Caldecott Medal, and Moses won a Caldecott Honor. But, what about the other honor? It went to Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans, which I never even heard of until it won the Caldecott honor.

And the 2007 Newbery is an even better example. The book that won, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, wasn't on anybody's radar screen. In fact, in her Newbery acceptance speech, Susan Patron mentioned how sad she was that a book she'd poured ten years of her life into wasn't getting any buzz. It won anyway... even without the buzz. And then it was very difficult to find a copy anywhere for weeks (see my review of The Higher Power of Lucky for my struggle to find the book.)

Really, no matter how hard you try, you're never going to be completely right, because you're not sitting in the room with the committees listening to the discussions. And you haven't read every eligible book, like the committees have. But you can at least stock some of the most buzzed-about books... because they probably have a pretty good shot. And, even if they don't win or receive honors... they're still excellent books and deserve to be on the shelves.

In alphabetical order, here are some of the books I'll have on hand at my store on January 14th... just in case. Keep in mind, these are just wild guesses and they are primarily books that have been appearing on multiple lists. Also, in addition to my hunches for the 2008 Caldecott and the Newbery, this list includes some of my guesses for awards such as the Printz, Geisel, Siebert and Odyssey.

  • A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson
  • At Night by Jonathan Bean
  • The Bearskinner retold by Laura Schlitz
  • The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson
  • A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
  • Dog and Bear by Laura Vacarro Seeger
  • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
  • First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Schlitz
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audio book)
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • Jabberwocky by Christopher Myers
  • Old Penn Station by William Low
  • Pssst! by Adam Rex
  • The Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (audio book)
  • Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
  • The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
  • Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
  • And all the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems
I'd love to add The Arrival by Shaun Tan to this list... but since it's not eligible for the Caldecott or the Newbery, I just don't know what award it would win.

Are there any books you would add to this list? I'd love to hear what you think. Remember, though... it's not about the books that you want to win (although there are certainly a lot of books on this list that I'd love to see win). It's about the books that you think will win.


  1. I'm throwing in a guess for Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller for the Newbery. And a guess for A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Lisa Urban for a Newbery honor.

  2. Abby- that's what I get for doing the list from memory, instead of consulting my notes. A Crooked Kind of Perfect is in fact on my list. I just added it to my post.

    Thanks for the other two suggestions... I really appreciate it.