Chasing the Caldecott

Chasing the CaldecottIt could arguably be called the Pulitzer Prize of children’s literature, and chasing after the coveted Caldecott Award is serious business for anyone who illustrates children’s picture books. It’s also a decision that’s being taken very seriously in my classroom of second and third graders.

The Caldecott Medal is named after Randolph J. Caldecott (1846-1886), an English artist and children’s picture book illustrator. It’s awarded each year “to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year” by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). This year the winner will be announced on Monday, February 2nd, and I need to move fast because I have a few more books that I want to share with my students before the big day!

For the second year in a row, my school is participating in its own Clash of the Caldecott. Classrooms read from a list of possible candidates; we have been reading what we call “Caldecott hopefuls” since the beginning of October. So far my classroom has read 25 outstanding picture books, which are all eligible for the award. And as I just mentioned, I have a handful of books to squeeze in before the final announcement. Each week we discuss the illustrations, what makes them Caldecott worthy, and every student casts a vote for his favorite of the week. This week we will choose ONE book from our list of favorites, which we think deserves the 2015 Caldecott. Then, we wait.

Last year, my choice for the Caldecott didn’t win BUT it received one of three additional awards given for Honor Books. So I’m going to go with my gut again (and cross my fingers, because that couldn’t hurt either).

Here are my top 5 picks for the 2015 Caldecott Award:

  1. Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Jonathon Bean

One of the first things I usually do before reading a picture book (to either myself or to children) is I take time to study the front and back covers. I make predictions about the characters, the setting, or the plot, and I almost always guess what medium the illustrator might be using. But this book is different. Really different. The cover says it all. Seriously. If you open up the book and look at the front cover and back cover together as one piece, you see the entire story played out from beginning to end. The setting changes, the characters’ emotions change; my 4 year-old daughter was able to think through the whole story just from studying the cover. This book has so many layers (figuratively and quite literally). The illustrations actually show the reader several layers, which create movement and feeling. Bean’s illustrations remind me of a modern day Ezra Jack Keats, and Underwood’s simple, simple, simple text allow the reader to dive more deeply into the visual. This one is my TOP pick for the Caldecott.


  1. Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

 The greatest thing about this book is that there are actually TWO illustrators. That might not seem like a big deal, but in this book it is. Hawkes’ illustrations are the large, somewhat abstract paintings while Harrison creates the small, detailed and delicate miniatures in the story. These two illustrators could not be more different in their artistic styles, which mimic the styles of the two lovable main characters, but together Hawkes’ and Harrison’s work tell a beautiful story of friendship and being true to yourself. Perhaps one of the truest themes in the story is that we all see the world from different perspectives; an artist’s vision is unique because creativity comes from within. Harrison’s precisely painted miniatures are a distinct contrast to Hawkes’ illustrations, which on many pages made me feel like I was walking directly into a Van Gogh painting.


  1. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen

 It’s Jon Klassen. There’s not much else to say. Plus, kids LOVE this book.


  1. Gravity by Jason Chin

 I think this book is spectacular. As soon as you open up to the first page, you can see where Chin is headed with this one. We are not just reading about gravity; gravity is taking over the book and everything inside of it. Chin takes a complicated scientific concept and makes it extremely easy for children of all ages to understand. By using expansive double page spreads and panels, as well as playing with the placement and size of text, Chin is not only able to explain his topic clearly, but beautifully. He also throws in a little bit of humor (check out the crab towards the beginning of the book and pay close attention to the banana). And of course at the end, you will find facts and additional information about gravity.


  1. Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

 Aviary Wonders is well loved by the students in my classroom. It is set up as a mail order catalog that encourages you to create your own customized bird. Set in 2031, the company was “created” after bird populations declined as a result of habitat loss and other factors. There is even a small biography of the fictional company’s founder at the bottom of the copyright page. As you open the catalog, you are given detailed and unique options from which to build your bird (bodies, beaks, feet, wings, flight patterns). Aviary Wonders Inc. then provides assembly instructions and outlines how to care for your bird. The catalog comes complete with a section for troubleshooting and an order form should you need to purchase additional parts. The illustrations in this book are mesmerizing; Samworth’s use of color is compelling in and of itself. In the beginning of the book, my students couldn’t wait to put the parts together and create their own bird.   However, as we continued reading, my students became sadder and more aware of the artificiality of these birds (Samworth’s desired effect we presume). With a touch of dark humor, and a whole lot of reality, Samworth shares with us what might happen if we don’t think more consciously about our environment.

What were some of your favorite picture books of 2014? Will any of them win the Caldecott or take home a Caldecott Honor? Be sure to watch the live webcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards from Chicago starting at 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, February 2nd, 2015.

More Resources:

Watch the 2014 Newberry and Caldecott Awards Banquet, including speeches from last year’s award winners!

What goes into choosing a winner? The committee nominates, reads, shares, and discusses many, many books throughout the year. Click here to read the criteria for choosing a Caldecott winner.

And just when you thought you had enough books on your “To Read” list, here is a list of all the Caldecott winners from 1938-2014

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Nicole Clevenger

Nicole Clevenger is an imaginative mommy and 2nd-/3rd-grade teacher who believes that the best approach to life is hands-on. She is here to share her love for language, reading, and play by creating lessons that inspire. Nicole holds an MEd from The Ohio State University and a K–8 Teaching Certificate. When she’s not in the classroom, Nicole is diving into every picture book and middle-grade novel she can get her hands on, as well as learning alongside her two daughters.


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  1. Caldecott winners were announced this morning, and this year I predicted one out of the seven winners (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole received an Honor). The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend ended up winning the coveted Caldecott Award, and if you haven’t seen this book yet I highly recommend you check it out. I adore it, and kids really do fall in love with Beekle (I know the students in my classroom were big fans). I can’t wait to see what my students think about the winners! What are your thoughts?

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