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2021 Caldecott Medal Predictions

My head was getting pretty big there. I was riding high after my back-to-back 3-5 Caldecott Medal predictions in 2018 and 2019.

When 2020 came around. I thought, “I’m so sure of these Caldecott picks, I’m only going to pick three this year. Let’s go 3-3.”

I did not go 3-3 (but I don’t regret my predictions one bit). I said at the time I was jinxing myself, so at least I got something right?

So today I return to you, hat in hand, with my humble picks for 2021 Caldecott glory.

Caldecott Medal Prediction:

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

The Caldecott winner must have wow factor. It must have an instant “These illustrations are gorgeous” quality. These are the gut-level responses that get committee members to fight for a book. We Are Water Protectors has both

Caldecott Honor Prediction:

The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey

The Old Truck is a story carried by illustrations but the illustrations themselves have a story. Created using over 250 hand-made stamps, this sort of unique process is something the Caldecott committee will be proud to champion. Oh, and the fact that the illustrations nail so many elements of the Caldecott criteria doesn’t hurt.

Caldecott Honor Prediction:

Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

The story of a kid finding a magical elevator button that opens up new worlds is, like Flotsam and Journey before it, the perfect vehicle for picture book illustration. Filled with subtle visual foreshadowing, dramatic page turns, and jaw-dropping cinematic spreads, Lift rises to join the year’s best picture books.

Caldecott Honor Prediction:

Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Ooh boy, am I really going to drop a jazz reference here? I apologize in advance. But here’s the thing: like a great work of jazz, when instruments seem to be in glorious conversation with each other, so are the the text and art talking to each other in Swashby and the Sea. Every spread reveals more subtle, skillful visual storytelling details, and I think the Caldecott committee is going to notice all of them.

Which books do you think will win Caldecott this year?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Amanda Bishop says

    Lift has been a favorite amongst my students this year. I think the playfulness and imagination of this book speaks really well to kids. I honestly think the Caldecott committee is going to have a tough time of it this year. I was blown away the books that were published during this year. I’d be surprised though if one of those didn’t win the medal this year.

  2. There were so many terrific picture books this year. I think that the hand-created stamps used in The Old Truck are really innovative and the book is beautiful. Sometimes there is one book which is anointed the winner by popular acclaim in advance; if it doesn’t win, some readers get angry.

  3. I’m now in a middle/high school, but I bought my three year old son The Old Truck, and it has become a part of his regular nightly rotation. I often wonder when it comes to awards if we are able to read them “as kids” or with adult eyes. Some of the recent Newberys I’ve loved just don’t seem to grab their age group the same way, so I’m excited to see a book he loves like The Old Truck also make so many “best of” and prediction lists.

  4. Susie Highley says

    I don’t think she will win again, but to me, Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth is a true masterpiece. Seven years in the making, incorporating children from different countries, their ideas, and even their artwork, it’s awe-inspiring.

  5. Amanda McCoy says

    Ooo, interesting! I forced myself to solidify my predictions before I read yours, Travis. Great picks.
    My predictions:
    Winner – The Old Truck
    Honors – Lift, Swashby, Water Protectors, Honeybee
    Personal Favs – Hike, Outside In