Category Archives: Children’s Books – Awards

Runaway Reading

The first box arrived Thursday. Inside were seven picture books. I’ve been told to expect about 175 more before the January 15 deadline, from which my fellow judges and I will select the 2019 winners of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize, and an honor award.


I’ve never judged a picture book contest before, but by virtue of having won the Margaret Wise Brown honor this year with Little Wolf’s First Howling, I was asked to help choose next year’s winners.


My fellow judges are Elaine Magliaro, who authored this year’s prize winner, Things to Do, and E.B. Lewis, a five-time Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator of 70-plus books for children. Over the next months we will read and note our responses to the submitted books and figure out how to work with each other as we wend our way to a decision.

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 7.10.04 PM

The 2018 Margaret Wise Brown Prize winner by fellow judge, Elaine Magliaro




Books illustrated by fellow judge, E. B. Lewis

Presented annually by Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize recognizes the author of the best text for a picture book published during the previous year. The award is a tribute to one of Hollins’ best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors. Winners are given a $1,000 cash prize, which comes from an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancé at the time of her death. It makes sense that the award is for text, since Margaret herself was the author of all those wonderful classics, not the illustrator.

This focus on text contrasts with the ALA’s Caldecott which is “awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” (from ALA site, emphasis mine)

I will have as hard a time considering text without illustrations as I would considering illustrations without text. I think these two ways of telling must work together to serve the story in a picture book. It will be interesting to see how my thinking about this progresses. In fact, I am eager for the education this experience will offer.

I look forward to reading the 2018 crop of picture books — and to sharing my favorites with friends and family.


Who Was Randolph Caldecott, And Why Do We Have An Award Named After Him? (and a bit more from the V & A Study Rooms)


Most American illustrators know about the American Library Association’s Caldecott Award, but how many know anything about Randolph Caldecott? I received a Caldecott Honor in 2004, but I knew very little about him myself. My only reference was from Maurice Sendak’s essay in Caldecott & Co. which I read many years ago. There, he writes:

“Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out – but the picture says it. Pictures are left out – but the words says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.”


I took these words to heart when I first read them. I realized that my favorite children’s book illustrators (of which Sendak is one) do just that – they augment the story rather than just retell it visually. I aspire to do the same. I thank both Sendak and Caldecott for that guidance.

Sendak goes on to state:

“Caldecott is an illustrator, he is a songwriter, he is a choreographer, he is a stage manager, he is a decorator, he is a theater person; he’s superb, simply. He can take four lines of verse that have very little meaning in themselves and stretch them into a book that has tremendous meaning – not overloaded, no sentimentality anywhere.”


While I was in England I intended to write a post about Randolph Caldecott, but somehow never managed it. People in England are much more familiar with Caldecott’s work than most of us in the U.S. It’s not uncommon to see copies of books illustrated by Caldecott in used bookstores there. On my first visit to Foster’s Bookshop, I found a book illustrated by Caldecott on the sale table. I didn’t buy it, but I snapped a few photos, of course.




Caldecott was born in Chester, England in 1846. He started working in a bank at the age of fifteen, studying art on the side. In 1872, he moved to London to pursue an art career full time. Five years later, he began his well-known work in children’s picture books.


His work was also published in novels, travel books, and various periodical publications, and he was commissioned to design the British Afghan war medal.

He had suffered from poor health since childhood, and died in 1886 while visiting the U.S. with his wife. He is buried in St. Augustine, Florida. There is a memorial for him in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. He was only forty years old.

The image below is a sadly prophetic self portrait from The Babes in the Wood (1879).

R Caldecott-Sore sicke.png

Frederic G. Melcher established the Caldecott Medal for the “most distinguished picture book for children” in 1938, fifty-two years after his death. The medal features a relief of this image from The Diverting History of John Gilpin, an animated tale told in 253 lines of verse by William Cowper (1731–1800). It was printed by Edmund Evans in 1878 (the same engraver who worked with Walter Crane).


Havoc. Falling babes. The women in Caldecott’s illustrations always look so calm and imperturbable. He isn’t usually so flattering of the men.


When I went to the V & A drawing and print study rooms I requested to see a sketchbook of Caldecott’s from the mid-1870s.




I also saw a box of loose drawings and paintings from their collection.










His drawings of faces and hands are wonderfully expressive. His line and brushwork are both fluid and accurate. He excels at rampant gestures.



He accomplished much in his forty years. It is easy to see how his work influenced Beatrix Potter and other illustrators as well as Sendak. I recommend The Randolph Caldecott Society UK and the Randolph Caldecott Society of America if you want to learn more about his life and art.




Sorry. No pictures this time. Just a little story:

There was once this girl.

She had many strengths and quite a few weaknesses.
She was shy, emotional, stubborn. She could draw and she liked to make things.
It turned out her weaknesses were also her strengths and vice versa,
but she wouldn’t learn that until she was much, much older.

Not the end.

I recently had to put together a curriculum vitae, or CV, of my work. As a freelance illustrator I don’t have the need to do this very often. Thank heavens.

I have a problem. When I have to list everything I have done that someone might want to know about professionally, my head freezes up. It’s like when someone asks you what your favorite song is, and all you can think of is the tune you liked best in 7th grade.

If you are confident in yourself, with never any doubts about your abilities or self-worth, then you can stop reading at this point and go do something else today. I don’t want to bore you.

But if you have difficulty putting yourself forward because of what you haven’t done, then I counsel you to stop, and look instead at what you have accomplished.

If you think all of us who have published books, received awards and recognition, and generally produced some very cool work, don’t shake in our boots when we look at the next level of expectations we have set for ourselves, you are wrong. Every potential success is also a potential failure. And rejection hurts. Yes it does.

Take me, for example: I tend to focus on my failures; my inadequacies; the thing I want to do before I die, but haven’t managed yet. I don’t also see my accomplishments and what I am capable of. Sometimes I have to be reminded by someone who is not myself.

A number of years ago I went to a book-signing event for David Small and his wife and collaborator Sarah Stewart. I had published two children’s books of my own at that point, and was trying to figure out how to write my next book. I spoke with David and Sarah about the insecurity I felt about writing. Before she left, Sarah gave me a card on which she had written “persevere,” along with a sprig of rosemary from her garden.

I have kept that card with its now brittle, little sprig. It reminds me that stubbornness can be a good thing. When you grow up it can become determination. And being emotional can provide you with the empathy necessary to tell good stories and work well with others. Being shy, well, being shy won’t stop you from writing a blog or even giving a speech, and maybe it will keep you from boring others by going on and on about yourself. Maybe.

Unless you are in preschool and have yet to learn to tie your shoes, then you must have done something that took determination and effort. Think about it. What are you proud of having done, and why? Now remember those achievements. Put them into your CV notes before you forget again. When it is time to move forward to the next opportunity, hold your head up, even if you are nervous. Rejection hurts but you move on. You have faced down challenges before and done some impressive things. I am here to remind you.

And this too: Persevere.

Rosemary sprig

Coming Soon: The Mock Caldecotts

My Current Favorite: LOCOMOTIVE by Brian Floca. Big and beautiful and true! This is a book to spend hours pouring over....

My Current Favorite: LOCOMOTIVE by Brian Floca. This is a book to spend hours pouring over….

As the year draws to a close, Mock Caldecott groups start compiling lists of the books they’ll discuss through early January. It takes time to get copies of the books, read through them, read through them again, compare them to other books being mentioned for the prestigious medal, deliberate, consider.  So November – right now –  is when the real conversations start and the winnowing down to a manageable list begins.

Some of these Mock Caldecott groups involve librarians in districts around the country. Some are formed by groups on websites such as GoodReads. Many teachers discuss and vote for favorites with their students.  Anyone can have a Mock Caldecott discussion – gathering together as part of virtual or real communities with a shared interest in picture books.  Author Leda Schubert tells you how, step-by-step, over at Write at Your Own Risk this week.

The goal of the discussion is usually 1) to guess which book might win or 2) to toot the horn for a chosen – possibly overlooked – favorite. I sat in on a 2013 Mock Caldecott discussion at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and it was definitely an eye-opener. Some books that I thought were not really “distinguished” enough had great champions in the group; some books I loved left other people cold.  A few – just a few – were loved by almost everyone.  For example, we were thrilled by Unspoken by Henry Cole, and voted it our favorite.

Unspoken by Henry Cole, a favorite which went unmentioned by the committee in 2013.

Unspoken by Henry Cole, a favorite which went unmentioned by the committee in 2013.

But Unspoken did not even get an Honor Medal; Creepy Carrots did, which didn’t even make our list. Mock Caldecott winners are often off the mark, because the dynamic of every group of readers can be so different. The eventual winner of the medal that year, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, was considered “cute” by our group, but not really “distinguished,” which is the criteria the American Library Association says should be used to choose the winner. The real Caldecott committee sometimes tries extra hard to find something both kid-friendly and distinguished – not an easy task. Sometimes they do an excellent job of honoring brilliant illustrations (for which the medal is awarded) without ignoring the need for a story well-told, and the Mock Caldecott groups try to do the same.

I can’t imagine what the pressure must be like if, when the final decision about the medal nears, opinion is divided (though the person who led our discussion at VCFA – Leda Schubert again – had been on the Caldecott committee before and told us it was all quite civilized – no one came to blows.) The book that wins the medal will be elevated to Oprah-level attention immediately, will be sought out by every K-3 teacher in America, not to mention parents and grandparents (and even, sometimes, kids!)  and will most likely never go out of print. The committee members will be hailed as geniuses by some and dismissed as nincompoops by others, all within 24-hours of the announcements.

I thought those of you reading BOOKS AROUND THE TABLE might like some quick links to websites/blogs that report their lists and the results of their discussions (usually just before the January ALA conference when actual winners are announced.) You’ll find links if you scroll down past this collection of cover images for books mentioned again and again in the Mock Caldecott lists. If you have favorites that are getting overlooked, use the Comments field to share the titles with us so we can all check them out!


Building Our House (written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean)

Building Our House (written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean)

The Mighty Lalouche (written by Michael Olshan, illustrations by Sophie Blackall)

The Mighty Lalouche (written by Michael Olshan, illustrations by Sophie Blackall)

Journey (wordless, illustrated by Aaron Becker)

Journey (wordless, illustrated by Aaron Becker)

Matchbox Diary (written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline)

Matchbox Diary (written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline)

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (written and illustrated by Peter Brown)

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (written and illustrated by Peter Brown)

Inside Outside (wordless, illustrated by Lizi Boyd)

Inside Outside (wordless, illustrated by Lizi Boyd)

The Dark (written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen)

The Dark (written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen)

Bluebird (written and illustrated by Bob Staake)

Bluebird (written and illustrated by Bob Staake)

Tortoise and Hare (written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney)

Tortoise and Hare (written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney)

(And don’t forget the book which opens this post – Locomotive by Brian Floca. It’s big and beautiful and non-fiction, which I couldn’t get enough of as a kid.)

There are many other books that make multiple lists – I’ve singled out just ten of those mentioned consistently.  Here are links to several Mock Caldecott lists (not all lists have been finalized…some are just being compiled, some come in seasonal sections – Spring, Summer, Fall….)

1. Fuse #8 Production list (Scroll past the Mock Newbery to reach the Mock Caldecott list. This is compiled by the savvy and influential librarian, Betsy Bird, of the New York City Library.)

2. Watch. Connect. Read. (The author of this blog is a K-5 librarian – I wish we could put someone like him into every elementary school in America.)

3. Read, Write, Reflect. (A fine bunch of books under discussion, and ditto the comment I made above. The leader of this discussion with students is a 5th grade teacher named Katherine Sokolowski.)

4. Allen County Library System list (Indiana librarians – they have a particularly lively discussion and add many books throughout the year.) Click here for their blog site (One Book, Two Books, Old Books, New Books) and then enter “Mock Caldecott 2014” in the search box.

5. Calling Caldecott (compiled by The Horn Book)

6. Ashland University (Ohio) list, through August.

7. group (they list “Currently Reading” – about four books discussed at any given time) as well as several past months’ reading suggestions – scroll down at the site to see those.

You’ll find plenty of other interesting discussions going on – just enter “Mock Caldecott 2014” as your search terms.

You can keep an eye on these through December and early January to see what books get added. And you can collect a stack of your favorites (or even some non-favorites – to keep the discussion lively!) from the library, invite friends over, and talk about which ones you would give the award to. Here is the ALA description of what the winner should be: “The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.”

Use that as the guideline for your discussion.

I'd like to thank every committee member who agreed to give the book the Caldecott medal. Nicely done.

I’d like to thank the committee that agreed to give this book the Caldecott medal in 1942.  Nicely done.