This weekend, while many people placed bets on the Super Bowl, I jotted down my predictions for the Newbery Award, one of the most celebrated and notable awards in children’s literature. Every year I make my guesses, and I am almost always surprised.
Once again, I was surprised this year, but in the best possible way. On Monday morning, I was thrilled to learn that The Crossover by Kwame Alexander had won the Newbery, and that El Deafo by Cece Bell and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson had taken honors. All three are incredibly powerful, thought provoking, and important books. All three celebrate diversity. All three are unique and innovative. The Crossover and Brown Girl Dreaming are both written in verse, and El Deafo is a memoir in graphic novel form. These formats make them even more unexpected and exciting choices for Newbery selections.
When I think about the young readers who will be picking these books up, I get even more excited. The Crossover, a book about two brothers who play basketball, is much more than just a sports book. It’s a story about family. It’s an exploration of sounds and words with a hip-hop beat. It’s the perfect and unique blend of basketball, poetry, and real life. Kids who pick it up expecting a great sports story will get one, but they will also get a powerful, realistic story with captivating and bold poetry.
Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful memoir Brown Girl Dreaming is equally as powerful. It’s the story of Woodson’s childhood, her experience growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 70s, and her journey towards becoming a writer. El Deafo is the memoir of Cece Bell who began to lose her hearing at a young age and had to wear hearing aids. It is the story of her struggle to fit in with other kids her age, and it’s an uplifting, humorous story of courage.
What I love most about this year’s books is how original and accessible they are for young readers, how they are powerful without being intimidating. These are the kinds of books that connect with kids. These are the kinds of appealing, eye-opening books that lead to wonderful, relevant discussions. I can’t wait to talk about them with the young readers I know.
Caitlin Corless is a youth services librarian at the Essex Free Library in Essex, VT. An avid reader of middle grade and young adult literature, she is also a middle grade fiction writer and a member of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Committee.