Chris's Blog Archive

Caldecott Thoughts

Sunday February 15, 2015

If you’re a fan of children’s picture books, I’m sure by now you know that ALA/YALSA has named their 2015 award winners. The category I watch with the most interest is the Caldecott Award given to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children“. Here are some personal thoughts on this year’s awards.

When I was watching the live webcast of the YALSA conference in Chicago, the first thing that struck me about the Caldecott announcement was that they named six honor books! I didn’t know the Caldecott committee could even pick so many honor books! I was looking through the list of past winners going all the way back to the 1930s and I didn’t find a year when they had given out six honors- five a few times, but never six. Apparently I was not alone in my surprise as you could clearly hear a loud gasp come from the audience. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a bad thing, in fact I think just the opposite. This is a great way for amazing books to be recognized and I’m really happy for all the honor winners.

The second thing that surprised me was when they started naming the titles of the honor books. I was unfamiliar with about half of the list. If you follow the Caldecotts each year, you start hearing about certain books that generate a buzz. They show up repeatedly on top ten lists, receive multiple starred reviews and often win mock Caldecott awards. For me, this was true with only two of this year’s honor books- Sam & Dave Dig a Hole illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett and The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (more thoughts on this book later). But I had never heard of Nana in the City written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo or The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Mary GrandPre, written by Barb Rosenstock or This One Summer illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki (more on this book later, too). I am really looking forward to discovering these new (to me!) titles. The last book to receive an honor was Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. I have heard of this book, but I haven’t had the chance to look through it yet, so that’s another one I can’t wait to see.

To get back to The Right Word, I was thrilled that this book received an honor. Melissa  Sweet is a dear friend of mine and lives about five minutes away from my house. I congratulated her when this book came out because I knew it would go places. It’s stunningly beautiful! If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. I think you’ll agree- it’s a gorgeous book.

And to get back to This One Summer, this is an interesting choice. Now in all fairness, I have to say I have not looked through this entire book yet, but I know it is receiving a lot of mixed reviews. I think that most people agree that it is beautifully illustrated and from what I’ve seen, I totally agree. I think the controversy arises because of the format and the content of the book. This is a graphic novel. It’s not really a picture book. I love graphic novels and I’m always awed by the amount of work that goes into producing one. I mean, three hundred and twenty pages of pure illustration! That’s astounding! I have a hard enough time illustrating a 40 page book, I can’t even imagine the work involved in creating a graphic novel! So kudos to Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. But the other thing is the content. This is a coming-of-age story about two girls. It deals with subjects most adolescents are curious about, including sex. I think this is perfectly fitting, but there are a lot of readers who are turned off by the language. As a result, some people don’t think This One Summer should have received a Caldecott honor. I don’t necessarily believe that, but I think the ALA and YALSA should seriously consider creating a new category that recognizes excellence in the field of graphic novels for young readers. I believe these books deserve to be honored with their own designated, prestigious award.

Finally, a big congratulations goes to the winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal– author/illustrator Dan Santat for The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend. Dan’s a first-time Caldecott winner and he must be flying high! Well done!