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Beanbag Amerika
February 7, 2018

The Newbery and Caldecott Awards (the "Oscars of the children's book world") are presented annually by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The John Newbery Medal was established in 1922, and is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children up to the age of fourteen. It has customarily been given to works of fiction for middle-grade readers, but in recent years has been awarded to graphic novels, picture books, works of poetry, and nonfiction as well. The Randolph Caldecott Medal was established in 1938, and goes to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children—again, including material for ages up to fourteen, so graphic novels for older readers are also eligible. The award committees for both medals also select at least two runner-ups or, "Honor books."

Many libraries all over the country hold "mock" versions of the awards, as librarians love to discuss books and spread the word about our favorites of the previous year, as well as speculate on what we think might be named the actual winners. At Brooklyn Public, our Children's Book Showcase Committee (a volunteer committee of nine children's librarians from branches throughout the borough) got together last November, along with members of the Youth and Family Services Team and the children's book selectors from BookOps, to choose our shortlists. It was a tough debate, but after several hours we managed to pare it down to a list of seven contenders for the Mock Caldecott and five for the Mock Newbery (see below for the full shortlists).

For our Mock Newbery discussion, nearly fifty librarians met around a single round table. A member of the Children's Book Showcase Committee gave a short introductory pitch for each title, explaining what distinguished it in the field of children's literature, and the group as a whole talked over what we thought were its strengths and weaknesses. In the end, each participant turned in a voting slip with their top three choices, which were weighted and tallied.

Our Mock Newbery Medalist in a landslide was...

Book Cover: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

The story of a young New York city boy whose beloved grandfather was training him to be a blues musician until his sudden death. Conflict with his mother drives Clayton on a search through the subway tunnels to see if he can find his way back to the music he longs for and honor his grandfather's memory. The subject matter is deftly handled with a mixture of humor and seriousness. The characters are easy to relate to and very true to life, the setting is vividly depicted, and the language beautifully descriptive and accessible for young readers.

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And our Mock Newbery Honor books were:

Book Cover: Undefeated
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

A nonfiction book for older readers that covers some of the early history of college football and the extraordinary athletic achievements of Jim Thorpe, within the social context of the Carlisle Indian Schools, which ripped young Native American children away from their tribes and families in an effort to eradicate their culture. A fascinating read even for non-football-lovers, one that we'd be happy to recommend to many of our young patrons.

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Book Cover: Beyond the Bright Sea
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Twelve-year-old Crow, who was set adrift in the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts as a baby, is now on a quest to find out where she came from: could she be from the now-abandoned leper colony on a neighboring island? Many of us felt that the craftsmanlike writing style of this novel was the strongest of all the choices on our shortlist.

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One week later, we met again for our Mock Caldecott discussions. Again, each title under consideration was introduced by a member of the Children's Book Showcase Committee who spoke on its strengths. But we then proceeded to break into five smaller discussion groups to pass around copies of the picture books and talk over their merits and shortcomings. Each group picked an informal winner by consensus, but the final votes were again tallied from individual ballots. The voting was very close, with no clear frontrunner. The top three books were divided by a single point each!

In the end, by a whisker, our Mock Caldecott Medalist was:

Book Cover: Wolf in the Snow
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

A nearly wordless picture book which tells the story of a young girl who rescues a wolf pup lost in the snow, and is then rescued by it in turn. We were impressed by Cordell's visual storytelling and ability to convey a complex, compelling plot through brushstrokes alone, and the amount of emotion conveyed in his stylized, almost cartoonish character renditions.

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Right on its heels, our Mock Caldecott Honor books were:

Book Cover: Before She Was Harriet
Before She Was Harriet illustrated James E. Ransome, with text by Lesa Cline-Ransome

A picture book biography of Harriet Tubman, told in verse, presented in reverse chronological order and showing in realistic, light-filled detail that the great anti-slavery hero of history was once a young girl called Minty who looked up at the moonlight and dreamed of freedom.

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Book Cover: After the Fall
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat

A a whimsically illustrated and surprising story of overcoming trauma to come back stronger and achieve greater heights than ever before.

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We hope you'll check out some of our winners and other shortlisted books, and see how they stack up against the real winners, which will be announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting on Monday, February 12th at 10:00am Central Time. Click here to access the livecast!


Mock Newbery Shortlist
  • Auma's Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
  • Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
  • Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin


Mock Caldecott Shortlist
  • After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again written and illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Before She Was Harriet illustrated by James E. Ransome, text by Lesa Cline-Ransome
  • The Book of Mistakes written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
  • Egg written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
  • Hey, Black Child illustrated by Bryan Collier, text by Useni Eugene Perkins
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
  • Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Tags: Book Talk

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