Out on a Limb: Our ALA Predictions

Note: The awards will be announced this coming Monday, and our own Betsy will be there!  Maybe she’ll even snag a front row seat!  If all goes as planned she’ll be Tweeting from the event, and we’ll be listening.

For the last two months, Betsy and Janie have been talking about middle-grade novels that stand a good chance of horse-racingconsideration for the Newbery Award—the oldest and most prestigious prize given for children’s literature in the whole world.  The Caldecott award, given for excellence in picture books, is a close second for age and prestige, and about fifteen years ago the American Library Association added the Michael L. Prinz award for outstanding literature for “young adults” (an amorphous group ranging from 12 to 29!). 

One book, generally marketed in to middle-grade readers (ages 8-13), wins the coveted gold Newbery medal.  The committee can also decide to award a silver medal (Newbery honor) to up to five additional titles.  Or none at all.  There’s a tradition, if not an actual mystique, surrounding the Newbery committee, which conducts its business in top-secrecy.  To my knowledge, no committee member has ever leaked a single hint about what titles they were considering or how they might go about their selection.  There’s probably a penalty of ritual disembowelment if that happens.      

But that doesn’t keep ALA-watchers from guessing and handicapping.  Books considered by the various ALA committees are usually those that received a lot of attention, including starred reviews in the five or six most-read industry journals.  These often include titles by previously-awarded authors.  Humorous novels are seldom considered (one possible big exception this year), because the committee leans toward novels that deal with social issues or weighty matters like death, abandonment, racial conflict, and poverty.  Homosexuality?  Not so much, yet.  The ALA’s Stonewall award is given for excellence in books that depict the LGBT experience, so the Newbery committee is off the hook for that one–even though a couple of novels in the running this year feature secondary characters with same-sex parents (just a touch of controversy; not too much).  Historical novels and historical nonfiction receive more consideration from the ALA than other awards organizations, because of their assumed educational value—these are all librarians, remember. 

With the standard parameters in mind, here are our predictions about likely Newbery winners.

Betsy (no predictions on winner or honor medals, just pretty sure these will get attention):

Janie’s prediction for the winner–

Her prediction for Honor books:

And one wild card (haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like Newbery timber):

  • Zebra Forest

What would we like to see win top honors this year?

Betsy (again, no particular order, just what I’d like to see with medals and why)—

  • Doll Bones (plot, mood)
  • Jinx (world-building, setting, plot)
  • The Water Castle (plot, setting)
  • P.S. Be Eleven (setting)
  • True Blue Scouts (voice/setting)

Janie (for general excellence and thought-provoking content)

Sometimes, though, a Newbery winner blasts all expectations and comes out of the blue—debut author no one ever heard of, few if any starred reviews, little or no buzz.  If that happens, forget we ever said anything.

The Caldecott awards are second only to the Newbery in age and importance.  Here are Betsy’s predictions for likely winners:

And if Betsy were on the committee, here’s what would get her vote:

  • Journey
  • The Dark
  • Moonday
  • Tea Rex
  • Battle Bunny

The Prinz award is the newest of the Big Three, and it reflects a) the growing popularity of Young-Adult fiction and b) the growing unsuitability of YA fiction for younger readers.  Odds-on favorite to win, in Janie’s view, is Eleanor and Park, which she started to read but didn’t continue because of bad language and sexual situations.  That’s not to say that E&P isn’t well-written and thought-provoking, but the thoughts provoked are probably not too helpful for building a Christian worldview.  Here’s what would win a thumbs-up from her in this category:  

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3 Responses to Out on a Limb: Our ALA Predictions

  1. Betsy January 26, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    A note for our readers: we reviewed Splash of Red by Jennifer Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet back in the fall (it was a picture book biography walk through of sorts). It won the NCTE Orbis Pictus award this week for excellence in nonfiction for children. The awards on Monday morning are ALA awards, so they may win again. Orbis Pictus honors included Locomotive by Brian Floca and Brave Girl (another book illustrated by Melissa Sweet), both of which we’ve reviewed. Let’s hope our winning streak continues :-).

  2. Betsy January 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    oooh… Empire of Bones would be super fun!

  3. Megan January 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Great predictions! Can’t wait for Monday…

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