A Few Thoughts on the 2016 Newbery, Caldecott, and Geisel Awards

Jan 13, 2016

There's nothing quite like the announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards bright and early on a Monday morning to get your week off to a good start. (At least for me, anyway.)

I didn't stay as current with newly published books during 2015 as I would have liked (I'm going to take 75% of the blame and give the remaining 25% to my library because, seriously,  they are so slow when it comes to processing new books). Because of this, I don't have as many opinions on the winners as I have in past years. But I'll share the few I have.

First, the Theodore Seuss Geisel award (given for the most distinguished beginning reader book).

Last year, I said I wished we could get a bit more variety in the easy reader department instead of Mo Willems, Mo Willems, Mo Willems (although I will say he deserves all the recognition he's received), and I got exactly that this year. Not a Mo Willems book in sight (but not because he didn't write some good ones. Just check out Diva and Flea if you don't believe me).

The medal went to Don't Throw It to Mo (I guess since Mo Willems didn't win anything, something with Mo in the title had to win), and A Pig, a Fox, and a Box, Supertruck, and Waiting won honors.

I think I've mentioned that I'm a Round 2 Cybils judge this year in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter books category, and both Don't Throw It to Mo and A Pig, a Fox, and a Box happen to be on the Cybils shortlist. Because of that, even if I had an opinion on them, I couldn't share it here. However, you maybe remember that our library doesn't seem to be a fan of promptness, so it's not hard to keep my mouth shut because I haven't read them yet. Grrrrrr.

I wasn't surprised to see Kevin Henkes on the list. Everything he writes/illustrates seems to be gold. I actually haven't read Waiting yet though because of that one thing I already mentioned twice so far in this post. Nor have I read Supertruck because of . . .  my own negligence (I can take the blame when it's my fault). So obviously, my opinion is worth about zippo in regards to the Geisel.

Then there's the Randolph Caldecott award (given for the most distinguished picture book) .

Trombone Shorty, Waiting, Voice of Freedom, and Last Stop on Market Street won honors. And Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear received the medal.

I have to say, I have been waiting months to read Finding Winnie, and that's not an exaggeration. It was published during the last quarter of the year, but the book world was buzzing about it long before then. There happened to be two picture books about Winnie-the-Pooh published this year. The other one was Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the Pooh. That one was published at the beginning of 2015, so we've read it. I've been dying to know how Finding Winnie compares, and by the looks of its shiny new medal, it must be even better. (Let this be a lesson to me, sometimes it's worth it just to buy the book.)

As for the other winners, I've only read Last Stop on Market Street. I really did awesome this year with keeping up, you can see.

And finally, the John Newbery award (given for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature):

Before the Newbery was announced, I thought to myself, Well, there's no way I read the Newbery winner this year since I only read one eligible book. (I couldn't even stay current with the easy readers and picture books, remember?)

But then a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, won the medal, and so I had, in fact, read the winner after all. That was a real shock, and also, kind of a delightful surprise.

It is not unheard of for a picture book to win the Newbery medal, but it's only happened once before (in 1982). However, you may have noticed, Last Stop on Market Street also won a Caldecott Honor, and I don't know that the same book has ever been awarded a Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor (I'm sure someone has figured that out by now, but not me.) So it was kind of a record-breaking year.

Three books were awarded Newbery Honors this year: The War That Saved My Life (I've had this reserved at the library a couple of times this year and still haven't read it, although the audio won the Odyssey award, so maybe I need to listen to it instead), Roller Girl (sigh. another graphic novel--remember how I felt about the one that won last year?), and Echo (a book that I know very little about but sounds great).

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the awards this year and look forward to reading many of the winners, I must admit that the longer I follow these awards, the more disenchanted I become with them. For one thing, I'm finally acknowledging the fact that the winners are selected by a committee of human beings who are governed by their own personal biases, tastes, and beliefs, and I believe that shows in the books that are selected. If you took the same set of books but had two different committees judge them, you'd come out with different winners. Maybe not all completely different, but some of them for sure. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's kind of fun to see what themes and trends emerge every year. And I know each committee takes their responsibility very seriously, and I respect them for that, but they're still human. So I'm starting to give less and less credibility to that shiny gold sticker on the front that says "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Most distinguished in the opinion of fifteen people, you mean.

Also, as with so many other things, the ALA awards have become as much about making a political statement as honoring the best literature. It's frustrating and annoying and oh so aggravating to me, but it's the way it is. Because of that, I can guarantee you that some of the more recent winners in the last five years are not going to stand the test of time. In fifty years, our children and grandchildren are going to look back at some of them (I'm not pointing fingers) and wonder why on earth we thought that was "distinguished" literature.

I'm curious to hear what you thought about the winners or just your opinion on the Newbery and Caldecott awards in general.


  1. Wow so appreciated your 'behind the scenes' thoughts. Actually I've been considering for a while that some choices have more of a political statement motivation. Yes stand the test of years is the litmus test

    1. Yep, totally. We'll know in fifty years which ones are the true winners!

  2. Thanks for presenting these. I find the various awards less helpful each year. I find myself drawn the award winners from 20+ years ago. My children participate in a Black Eyed Susan Book Club. The Black Eyed Susan is a Maryland Reader's Choice award. That's one of the biggest ways I stay on top of award nominees. I'm so glad I found your blog through House Full of Bookworms. I would love for you to link up with us at Literacy Musing Mondays #LMMLinkup. http://www.foreverjoyful.net/?p=731

    1. That's a good idea. It's true that many times the state awards still recognize the truly outstanding books without trying as much to please everyone.

      Thanks for commenting and introducing yourself! Off to check out your blog now!

  3. I agree, Amy. I see a lot of political correctness and forced diversity in these books. I'm sure some are great, but I've read a couple of the winners, and I'm convinced they won because of their racial component.

    I didn't find a lot on this year's list that intrigues me, but I am dying to read "Finding Winnie" and also the nonfiction YALSA finalist about John Audubon ("This Strange Wilderness").

    1. Totally agree. I'm happy to see more diversity in books, but I don't think diversity alone is a merit for excellence.

      Yes, I just got Finding Winnie from the library yesterday! (Although, I saw that it's under $10 on Amazon, so maybe I should just buy it!)

  4. I have a friend who challenged herself to read every Newbery winner this year. I think that's a great challenge but couldn't help thinking that there are many more Newbery Honors that have stood the test of time better than the winners.

  5. Now THAT would be a fun project--comparing Newbery honors vs. winners and seeing which ones have held up over the years!


Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground