Jan 22, 2012

Formula for an Award Winner: PBP5 =Caldecott

Formula for an Award Winner: PBP5 =Caldecott

This post is “link laden” because there are so many authoritative and informative sites regarding Caldecott books, lists, criteria, and observations. I couldn’t resist including some favorites.

I’ll be up early tomorrow morning to learn the ALA selections for the 2012 Caldecott and Newbery winners and honors titles, and for sixteen other award categories for young readers. I know I’m not the only one anxious to hear the committees’ decisions. Many in print, posts, and tweets have been speculating and finger- crossing about favorite titles.

(SeeThe Happy Nappy Bookseller post of personal nominees for the Pura Belpre Awards, Coretta Scott King Awards, too.)

Once the news is out I’ll be eager to read opinions about winners and other notable titles, as well as reports on other goings-on at the annual Mid-Winter ALA Convention in Dallas.

For now, though, before the hoopla begins, I want to focus on the Caldecott Award  itself. In a future post (soon) I’ll reflect on what the “power” is in picture books, and why I use this expression in the blog title and in my workshops. For now, the timing of the Caldecott allows me to draw back the curtain on my fundamental belief about that power: picture book illustrations are the key to leading readers of all ages to discover truth, understanding, and connection in books.

The official Caldecott criteria are straightforward enough.  When it comes to the books being considered, committee members are guided by these standards, and I quote:

       Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
             Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
             Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
             Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the    pictures;
              Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

My translation says the winner must demonstrate:

Superior art...
      That visually tells the story or facts...
In a style suited to the purpose of the book...
So that it enriches and extends every element of the content...
For young readers.

A useful site, EmbracingtheChild.com,  provides links to all Caldecott books, including teaching resources. If you scroll down the covers alone suggest the range of topics, techniques, formats, and focus among previous winners. 

Many have embraced Mock Caldecott activities to encourage PB fans young and old to explore and consider the current crop of picture books released using these guides. ALA sells tool-kits for mock elections for Caldecott and Newbery awards, but there are numerous guides available online. Here’s just one example.

Now back to that formula in the title, and the upcoming, on-going discussions that will ensue once the announcement is made.  The five points noted above represent the “power” of picture books , thus PBP5. Someone wins tomorrow, others will be honored, but an extensive array of others were seriously considered. The good news is that there are so many candidates for the Caldecott each year.

When any picture book is read or shared, keep these five criteria in mind. Consider yourself a committee of one to seek and notice excellence.

Then create your own “buzz” about books that rise to these standards. And look for other titles by those who produced winners in the past and in years to come.

Check the tabs above for links to a meager few of my many favorites- winners, honors, and others.


  1. I have my own standards for picture book excellence.
    The visual that came to me while Allyn Johnston and Marla Frezee about the process of creating a picture book spoke was two hands woven together finger to finger. The words were a perfect story. The pictures were a perfect story. Neither repeated the other.

  2. Very nice. And the final product is much stronger for the weaving. What I love about a Mock Caldecott is that this always evolves- participants, young or old, develop personal criteria. I'll bet Marla's Stars was high on the list for consideration this year. http://marlafrazee.com/

  3. I love your translation of the criteria - really breaks it down. I tend to find the winners reflect more of the first line "superior art" than the last - "for young readers."

  4. To me "excellent art" is a given, as a starting point. There are certainly plenty of PB out there with commercial or ordinary levels of illustration, but there are SO many with superior art.
    The last point, "for young readers", is something I interpret very broadly, since I think it is essential to extend PB appreciation and engagement throughout the teens. The middle three are the meat of the issue, IMO. That's what Pen & Ink mentioned, I believe, that capacity for illustration to extend, to reach, to explore, to enrich- to make the story something so much more than the text, yet fully engage with the text (or unwritten narrative).


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.