The “Academy Awards” of Picture Books
While the rest of the country was placing bets on the New England Patriots vs. the Seattle Seahawks or looking ahead to Boyhood vs. Birdman for Best Picture, my thoughts were consumed with debating The Right Word (a lushly illustrated biography of Peter Mark Roget) vs. The Farmer and the Clown (a sparse and moving wordless picture book).
On Feb. 2, the American Library Association awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” On a practical level, that gold sticker on the cover of a book influences librarians’, teachers’, parents’, and gift buyers’ decisions to buy, read, and teach the book for years to come.
This year, the Caldecott Medal went to Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Caldecott Honors (essentially runners up) went to six books, including The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.
Prior to the awards, the Success Academy network staff met to discuss some of the notable picture books from 2014, choosing our favorites and attempting to predict which one would win the Caldecott Medal. Of course, our principals, teachers, and curriculum team members talk about children’s books all the time, but these Caldecott conversations also brought together members of our Tech, Operations, and Advancements departments, among others — a powerful testament to the importance of books to our entire organization. These staff members took time out of their incredibly busy days to study the books our scholars will read and discuss in their classrooms.
When evaluating picture books for use in the classroom, we look at a huge range of characteristics, from strong writing and well-developed plots, to genre and subject matter, to diversity of characters and setting, to name just a few.
But I think our Caldecott conversations remind us to focus on the illustrations—the artist’s medium, palette, use of perspective—and to pay attention to the details. It’s also important to appreciate book design, layout, and font (even if they aren’t technically part of Caldecott criteria). I’d like to share just a few of the things we found notable about the picture books we discussed. We may not have correctly predicted the Caldecott Medal winner, but we identified many exemplary picture books that our scholar will be reading for years to come. Take a look at the pictures below to see just a few of things we look at when we’re looking at picture books.