Friday, January 22, 2010

Reflections on the Caldecott Medal

On Monday (January 18, 2010), at the American Library Association conference in Boston, Mass., the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Awards were announced. That ceremony has often been called the equivalent of “the Oscars” for all of us in the children’s book field.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Caldecott Medal, primarily because of the wildly diverse range of winners and honor books the category has included. Here is the charge of the Caldecott Committee: “The[ Caldecott Medal] shall be awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year. The award shall go to the artist, who must be a citizen or resident of the United States, whether or not he be the author of the text.”

The guidelines for the committee appear in their entirety on the ALSC (the Association for Library Services to Children) Web site, but the line of greatest interest to me is this one: “A ‘picture book for children’ as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story--line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”

Consider this year’s Caldecott Medal-winner, Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse. Aside from a few animal sounds, there is no text at all. The entire story unfolds through the “visual experience.” What greater “unity of story,... developed through the series of pictures” could a book have? Notice how he varies the pacing: full-bleed spreads of the lion staring at the mouse that’s disturbed him, for instance, and much later in the story, a series of small panel illustrations when the mouse works to free the lion from his trap made of rope. (Full-bleed refers to the illustrations “bleeding” off the edges of the paper, using the full expanse of the spread.)

Then look at this year’s Caldecott Honor book illustrated by Marla Frazee, All the World. Nowhere in Liz Garton Scanlon’s text does it say anything about a family. That whole story line is developed through the illustrations alone, and yet it provides the through line for all of the other activities in the community. Thus Frazee creates a “unity of story” within the lines suggested in Scanlon’s lilting poem. The poem's overriding theme explores the idea that all the small moments connect to a larger shared experience—and it plays out in Frazee’s intimate scenes, or vignettes, that lead up to majestic full-bleed spreads.

Contrast those with the 2008 Caldecott Medal–winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, in which Brian Selznick creates stretches of wordless sequences that move the story forward, within a larger prose narrative. The story is about a filmmaker, so the idea that the book “essentially provides the child with a visual experience” contributes a great deal to the reader’s experience.

These are fun conversations to have with young people. Their observations are so keen, and when they feel passionately about a book (whether for OR against it), they come up with some very persuasive arguments. Give it a try!


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  2. Jenny, thank you so much for stopping by my blog! I always love your interviews on Shelf Awareness, and am so glad to now know about your blog, too.

    Your posts about the Caldecott and Newbery were very interesting. My MFA picturebook class held a mock Caldecott committee where we chose The Lion and the Mouse as winner, with All the World as an honor, along with Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. We were thrilled when two of our three picks were chosen!

    Next year I want to try a "customer choice" award in my store to get their opinions.