Along with my fellow book lovers across the country, I CANNOT WAIT to hear which titles will be named tomorrow by the American Library Association as the most distinguished stories for kids and teens of 2018. This has been my first year as a full-time K-8 librarian; while so much of my energy in the past as a classroom teacher had been dedicated to lesson plans and grading papers, this new position has required me to stay even more current with quality children’s literature. So, I’ve gotten to spend more of my time reading and reviewing and adding new books to my school’s library collections. This is the first year I feel like I've read enough to have some solid award predictions, so here they are!
THE CALDECOTT MEDAL
For the Caldecott, I have a clear favorite. I actually got goosebumps while turning the pages of Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. The artwork has such depth, as she incorporates photographs and textures that have significance to her story: a brick from her home, cloth from her mother’s dress, childhood artwork, leaves, embroidery, etc. This memoir details her own experience coming to America alone with her 2-month-old son will certainly speak directly to those who have personally lived this, but also has the power open heart and minds. Morales focuses on what immigrants leave behind, but more importantly, on what they bring with them and can contribute to their new home. As a librarian, I was moved to tears by her testimony about the comfort she found at her public library, and the power she held in her hands when given a library card and the gift of books. This story is both topical and timeless, and should be read by the entire human race.
Here are my other favorite picture books of 2018 that I think deserve a Caldecott Honor:
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
This beautiful story is about a grandfather and his grandson who learn to use art to overcome their generational and language barriers. I definitely got choked up when they found a way to connect through a mutual love of drawing.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
A young boy learns to accept himself for who he is, and finds love and support from those around him. The artwork is just stunning, with a beautiful message.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
A powerful lesson about how assumptions blind and divide us, and how quick we are to condemn the unknown while ignoring problems in your own backyard. Plus, a very clever use of gutter space!
Love by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Loren Long
This book is filled with gorgeous artwork and heartbreaking observations about love in its many forms -- some obvious and some overlooked or under-appreciated. Resonates more with older readers than your typical picture book.
We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Because funny stories are important too!! Penelope Rex discovers that she has an easier time making friends when she doesn’t eat them, and learns an important lesson about treating others how she wants to be treated.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
Another important story from Jacqueline Woodson with colorful, engaging illustrations -- this book is perfect for anyone who has ever been new somewhere or felt different, and should be read on the first day in schools everywhere.
THE NEWBERY MEDAL
The Newbery is a lot harder for me to narrow down, since most of the books I tend to read for my job fall into this category. I have three personal favorites that are definitely standouts, and I think each is deserving of the Medal for different reasons.
Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier
This was undoubtedly the most charming and whimsical story I’ve read in a long time, with an important theme of speaking out against child labor and dangerous work conditions. Sweep follows the story of Nan Sparrow, an orphan and the best chimney climber in Victorian London. This reads like a fairy tale from the world of Charles Dickens, and made me laugh, cry, and cheer out loud. I have been aware of Jonathan Auxier since The Night Gardener, but this story from him had some special magic for me.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani Filled with gorgeous language and vivid imagery, The Night Diary tells the story of one family after India gained its independence from the British Commonwealth in 1947 and was divided into two countries. Nisha's father is Hindu and her late mother was Muslim, leaving Nisha feeling torn when conflict between the two religions intensifies. The home she has always known is now part of newly formed Pakistan, which Nisha and her family must risk everything to leave. The book is written as letters to Nisha’s late mother, which will break your heart.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
This one was my personal favorite of the year! Mia and her parents are Chinese immigrants who came to America with only $200 in their pockets. They accept a job managing a motel for a horrible man who constantly exploits them, but Mia’s parents quickly discover how they can make a difference in many lives, but at great risk to their own safety. Meanwhile, ten-year-old Mia is strong and earnest and learns how to use the power of language to persuade. Front Desk is about fighting oppression with empathy, optimism, and a strongly worded letter.
2018 was absolutely jam-packed with incredible characters and stories for upper elementary and middle grade readers, and it’s been impossible to keep up with them all. I’ve loved so many of the books I’ve had a chance to read this year, but I think any of these seven titles are the strongest contenders for a Newbery Honor -- along with the three I already mentioned, since they can’t all win. (Many I’m hearing others talk about more sadly remain on my “to read” list, that only gets longer and longer with each passing month.)
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
For fans of Raymie Nightingale, here is more of the beloved Louisiana Elefante’s story. Her honest and innocent voice is sweet and endearing, and I loved every page of this quick read by the incomparable Kate DiCamillo.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Written in Woodson’s classic lyrical style, Harbor Me tackles some truly heavy topics facing American kids today: race relations, death of a parent, imprisonment, and deportation. I challenge you to hold back tears when Haley finally finds her voice at the end of the book!
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book has stuck with me for months after reading it. When 12-year-old Jerome is mistakenly shot and killed by a police officer, the ghost of Emmett Till guides him through the afterlife. Among friends and family members, Jerome's spirit also communicates with the daughter of the cop who fired the fatal shot, and he realizes that more than one life was shattered by his untimely death.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
From the author of All Stand for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, this book has an equally sincere young narrator in Mason Buttle. A heartbreaking story about tragedy and misunderstandings with a very satisfying ending.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Heartbreaking and eye-opening tragedy about the plight of many girls around the world who are forbidden from receiving an education. (Plus, possibly the most beautiful cover art I have ever seen.)
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Candice sets out to solve a decades-old mystery that ended her grandmother's career and destroyed her reputation, and reveals ugly, racist secrets lurking in the town's past.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Zoey learns how to argue in debate club, and pushes her mother to stand up for herself too. An eye-opening portrayal of poverty, verbal and emotional abuse, and gun culture.
THE PRINTZ AWARDS
I admittedly don’t read as much YA as I used to, since I’m working with a K-8 population, so I haven’t read a lot of the books that are getting buzz for Printz awards this year. My favorite for the Medal is definitely The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. This book was physically difficult for me to put down once I started it -- I’m an avid reader and fall in love with books fairly easily, but this one claimed a unique hold on my heart immediately. Xiomara’s journal entries are fierce and powerful, even in the midst of her adolescent self-doubt. The writing was mesmerizing, and it was a story I wish I had when I was in high school.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka is a tough one -- which award is it the strongest contender for?? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it’s named for a Caldecott, a Newbery, OR a Printz. But since the content pushes it more into the YA range (I’d say 13 and up on this one due to the heavy content dealing with addiction, abandonment, and abuse) and since my other categories are too crowded as it is, I’m calling this one for a Printz award. I devoured this graphic novel memoir in one sitting, and found it to be heartbreaking yet so uplifting at the same time. If Hey, Kiddo doesn’t get some sort of award tomorrow, I think readers everywhere will riot.
CORETTA SCOTT KING AWARDS
I’m betting that three books I listed as favorites for a Newbery Honor will also be considered for the Coretta Scott King Award: Harbor Me, Ghost Boys, and The Parker Inheritance. In the running, I'd also include Rebound by Kwame Alexander (novel-in-verse prequel to his 2015 Newbery Medal winner The Crossover), and all THREE books that Jason Reynolds published in 2018: Sunny and Lu (both from his Track series) and For Everyone, a poem written to fellow dreamers everywhere.
Meanwhile, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi seems like a likely candidate for the John Steptoe Award for New Talent.
Alright, well there you have it. I will be anxiously awaiting the announcements tomorrow morning!! What are your predictions?