Early Newbery Possibilities

The Newbery Award is given by the Association for Library Service to Children to

“the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” – Newbery Medal Terms and Criteria

Additional criteria notes:

  • Children are defined as being up to and including the age of 14.
  • Books must be published in the U.S. first; titles originally published elsewhere are not eligible.
  • The author must be a U.S. citizen or resident.

The Newbery committees as of late have been delightfully wide-ranging in their choices including everything from picture books to graphic novels to poetry to memoirs to non-fiction. So this year, I’m breaking up my lists a little differently. Looking at everything with three or more starred reviews from the six journals I track, I’m dividing titles into four lists. The first list is novels since even with the titles noted above, this is what makes up the majority of past Newbery winners and honors. The second list is everything else solidly in the age range: graphic novels, non-fiction, picture books, poetry collections, etc. The third list is YA titles that technically hit the age range, but are probably too old. The fourth list is books that I think are ineligible – mostly due to nationality of the author, but there’s a few listed there for other reasons. To be clear: I am not affiliated with the Newbery committee and I have no knowledge of their official rulings on eligibility – I’m making my best guesses based on the terms and criteria and internet searches regarding citizenship/residency.

As of the end of March there were 71 titles with three or more starred reviews.

ETA 5/10/17: Please see the note towards the bottom of this post for some additional links and commentary on The Secret Project and Undefeated.

List one: Novels (11 books)


Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (3 stars)
Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley (3 stars)
The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget (3 stars)
Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter (3 stars)
Hello Universe
 by Erin Entrada Kelly (4 stars)
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (3 stars)
Posted by John David Anderson (3 stars)
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. by Brian Floca (3 stars)
Speed of Life by Carol Weston (3 stars)
Train I Ride by Paul Mosier (3 stars)
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of My Follies, Fortune, and Fate by Avi (3 stars)

List two: Picture Books, Non-Fiction etc. (25 books)


Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights by Deborah Kops (3 stars) – non-fiction
All Ears, All Eyes 
by Richard Jackson, illus. by Katherine Tillotson (4 stars) – picture book
Antoinette.by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson (3 stars) – picture book
Big Cat, Little Cat
 by Elisha Cooper (5 stars) – picture book
Egg by Kevin Henkes (4 stars) – picture book
Flying Lessons and Other Stories ed. by Ellen Oh (5 stars) – short stories
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, illus. by Floyd Cooper (3 stars) – picture book biography
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (5 stars) – non-fiction
A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illus. by Chris Appelhans (4 stars) – picture book
Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure (3 stars) – biography
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illus. by Adam Rex (4 stars) – picture book
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Elizabeth Zunon (3 stars) – picture book biography
Life on Mars by Jon Agee (3 stars) – picture book
Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, illus. by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee (3 stars) – picture book
The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum (3 stars) – non-fiction
Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden (3 stars) – non-fiction
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith (3 stars) – picture book
Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley (3 stars) – picture book
Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illus. by Molly Bang (5 stars) – non-fiction
Round by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Taeeun Yoo (3 stars) – picture book/science
The Secret Project by Jonah Winter, illus. by Jeanette Winter (5 stars) – picture book
This House, Once by Deborah Freedman (3 stars) – picture book
The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney (4 stars) – picture book
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin (4 stars) – non-fiction
The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering (3 stars) – picture book

List three: Young Adult books that are probably too old (18 books)
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson. (4 stars)
American Street by Ibi Zoboi (5 stars)
Bang by Barry Lyga (3 stars)
Bull by David Elliott (4 stars)
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (4 stars)
Crossing Ebenezer Creek 
by Tonya Bolden (4 stars)
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (3 stars)
Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr (3 stars)
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas (6 stars)
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (4 stars)
Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (3 stars)
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (3 stars)
A List of Cages by Robin Roe (4 stars)
The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (3 stars)
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (3 stars)
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (4 stars)
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (5 stars) – non-fiction
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (4 stars)

List four: Ineligible Titles (17 books)
Away. Emil Sher, illus. by Qin Leng.  – Canadian
Beck by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff  – UK
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan – Chinese
Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr – UK
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge  – UK
Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illus. by Salvatore Rubbino – UK
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood ed. by Patricia C. McKissack, illus. by Brian Pinkney. (3 stars) – compilation; includes previously published materials
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin – nearly wordless picture book
The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius – Swedish
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez. Nobrow – Colombian
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes – contains previously published poems
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen – Canadian
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illus. by Ekua Holmes – Chris Colderley Canadian
Town Is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Sydney Smith – Canadian
Walk With Me by Jairo Buitrago, illus. by Rafael Yockteng – Colombian
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell – nearly wordless picture book
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illus. by Jun Takabatake – Japanese

ETA: 5/10/17

Scott Rader was kind enough to leave some links in the comments that I am going to copy in here before we get to my original narrative. I encourage you to go read these in depth looks at both The Secret Project and Undefeated from respectively Debbie Reese, a Nambe Pueblo Indian woman, children’s literature scholar and publisher of American Indians in Children’s Literature, and Beverly Slapin, co-founder and former executive director of Oyate and current editor and publisher of De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children. I’m sorry that I did not take the time to research these titles more myself before commenting on them in the narrative below and have updated my thoughts given what I’ve read.

Some Critical Analysis of The Secret Project: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2017/03/not-recommended-secret-project-by-jonah.html

And of Undefeated: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2017/03/beverly-slapins-review-of-undefeated.html

I haven’t read anything from the list of novels yet, but I have read Flying Lessons and Other Stories which is definitely worth a look even though I understand that short story collections can be hard sells when building consensus. Steve Sheinkin has a previous honor and his non-fiction consistently figures in the mock discussions I follow, so I’m hoping to have time to look at Undefeated soon as well.

ETA 5/10/17: I still think that Undefeated is likely to feature in the Newbery conversations this year, but I’m less eager to read it and I suspect that the concerns Beverly Slapin raises in her review will be enough to knock it out of serious contention. When the committee is winnowing it down to just those few most distinguished books of the year, I would imagine that flaws like these make it far easier to take a book off the table and move on to others. Add in the fact that it’s non-fiction, which is honored much more rarely, and the chances start to seem pretty slim.

Now that I’m back to working with children’s programming and storytimes, I’m looking at picture books more than I have in years which has been a delight. Of the picture books I’ve seen so far, I don’t think Egg has the makings of a Newbery, but I could see Heavy Medal looking at either Big Cat, Little Cat with its spare prose that evokes so much emotion (or is that only true for pet owners?) or The Secret Project as it takes on the building of the atomic bomb (but those last spreads rely wholly on the visuals, so maybe not?). Neither of them has me pulling strongly for them, but if someone else was, I could probably be convinced they were worthy of contention and discussion.

ETA 5/10/17: After reading Debbie Reese’s evaluation of The Secret Project, I apologize for breezing through this book and not taking the time to see how it erases Native people from United States history.Clearly, I have a long way to go in unpacking and trying to dismantle my White privilege. Since picture books are honored by the Newbery even less than non-fiction, I don’t expect to see this one in the Newbery conversations at all come mock award time.

I’ve also read Little Fox in the Forest and Wolf in the Snow which is how they ended up on the ineligible list – there’s not enough text in either to work as Newbery books. Little Fox just has words on a chalkboard and Wolf has sound effects like barks and huffs. Now Caldecott is an entirely different matter…..

What have you read? Anything you think has a good shot at the Medal? Any other of the picture books on list two that need to be moved to list four for lack of words? Any authors where you think I’m off on the nationality or residency? In the meantime, I’m off to enter April’s starred reviews. Happy Reading!


8 thoughts on “Early Newbery Possibilities

  1. I don’t think All Ears, All Eyes has a shot. I loved the illustrations but the prose is pretty spare. Same with This House, Once. Gorgeous, but not Newberry material. Antoinette was darling but not unique enough to be Newberry-worthy, I don’t think. I have sadly not read any of the chapter books–evidently I need to get on it! (In my defense I am new to children’s! Eek!)

    I’m glad you’re getting to read more picture books! They are a constant source of delight for me. Thanks for posting this, Jen!


    1. Thank you so much for sharing these links! I was able to take the time to read through them this morning and they are invaluable resources. I had missed the conversations around both of these books. I should have looked harder for information about both and read The Secret Project more carefully. I have to go to work now, but plan to update this post this evening with these links. Thanks again for sharing!


  2. Does having one contributing author from outside the U.S. disqualify Out of Wonder? That makes me so sad! That book is breathtaking.


    1. If Colderley really is Canadian, then unfortunately yes. I went back and forth on how to mark that one, though, because I could not find a lot of biographical information on Colderley – he could be an ex-pat since his bio on the book just says he lives in Canada.

      This is when it helps me to remember that awards are not the be-all and end-all – hopefully Out of Wonder finds its way into lots of kids’ hands and classrooms even if it isn’t eligible for the Newbery!


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