Preparing for the Red Carpet of Literature!

In the bookselling industry, there is no bigger day than the Monday morning each year when the Youth Media Awards are announced by the American Library Association. Nerdy book people like me will be up at the crack of dawn to hear the audio feed live, as the awards are announced on the East Coast. There are numerous awards, like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for "substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature" and the EB White Award, given to the best read aloud. But, of course, the final awards of the morning are the Caldecott and the Newbery Awards.

In the scheme of things, my little opinion doesn’t count for much—certainly the Newbery and Caldecott committees don’t listen to me!—but I am going to share my predictions/hopes for this year’s awards with you. This is a big step for me—it is my first year of making actual predictions on paper.

The Newbery Award is given to the best written book of the previous year. It is almost always a chapter book for the 4th-6th grade set, but last year we were all surprised that a picture book, Last Stop of Market Street was chosen. Here’s my prediction for this year:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker This is a book about a boy and his dog. Except that the dog isn’t a dog—he’s a fox. But he’s been raised since he was a kit by Peter. The story starts with Peter’s father driving Peter and Pax to a remote area—where the father insists Peter give up Pax. Peter reluctantly gives up his pet, but feels incredible remorse and realizes later that he must rescue Pax, who has never spent a day in the wilderness on his own.

Pax, once he is dropped off, just sits by the side of the road, knowing that his boy somehow mistakenly left him there and that, of course, he will soon return.

The book is the process of Peter and Pax reuniting. But as they get closer to each other, more and more time passes. And with each passing day, Pax reverts more to his fox nature.

The beauty of this book is in the perspectives. Told completely in third person, we see the story of Peter in the odd chapters and the story of Pax in the odd chapters. Pax is not anthropomorphized at all—as he becomes more in tune with his instincts, we see how foxes really perceive, react, and live. These are my favorite chapters.

So what happens when Pax and Peter finally meet up? It ends the only way it could end, and it is beautiful.

The Caldecott Medal is award to the best illustrated book of the previous year. There are so many incredible entries. Just when I think I’ve made up my mind, a blogger will mention one that I hadn’t really considered. Then I add another one to my list.

This is my prediction for the Caldecott Award:

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel This amazing picture book is all about perspective. Many different animals come across the cat as he wanders inside and outside, and they all see him differently. Literally. The bee sees him with its 100 eyes. The fish sees him through a water-filled glass bowl. Some of the animals “see” the cat with their instinct or preconceptions. Like the dog, who truly has no respect for the cat, sees the cat as lanky and snarly. This creative perspective on how we look at things has a lot of crossover for how people look at animals, other people, and situations—we all see things differently. So much good discussion can be had from this wonderful, colorful story.

Be a Friend by Salina Yoon We at Once Upon a Storybook have a Salina Yoon bias, we must admit. But, truly, we believe this book is worth a Caldecott. The color palette is beautiful for storytelling, and the use of dotted lines to show how Dennis, the main character—a mute boy—talks with his hands, is really unique. I really love this book. It tells a beautiful story of friendship, both through words and pictures, which complement each other perfectly.

Miracle Man by John Hendrix I am a Christian, which might make you think I am biased toward this book. But if you take a look at it, you, too, will be wildly impressed by the creative artistry of John Hendrix, who uses creative typeface to tell the story. “Rise and Walk,” Jesus’ words to the lame man, are created as buildings of the town. Every page takes awesome liberties with text. Butterflies float together to make the word “Alive.” Yes, this is the story of God’s Son, Jesus and how He walked the Earth. But it is also an artistic masterpiece. Please take a look at it!

There are dozens of books that could win Caldecotts and Newberys this year. There is traditionally a single book that wins each Medal, but there are also Honor books (sometimes too many!), so my hope is that at least ONE of my predictions/selections will be chosen as a Medal or Honor winner.

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Mike ButlerComment