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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

What makes a book a winner?

January 17, 2007

Later this month, the winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal will be announced at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). This honor will be determined by a group of 15 hardworking members of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

These people — a new group each year — have been pouring over books to name one title out of the 4500 or so children's books published during 2006. Their charge is to identify of "the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

In other words, this committee of 15 from around the country is trying to determine tomorrow's classic today.

A graduate student I know was intrigued by the idea of quantifying a book's "enduring quality". How well do past Caldecott winners hold up? Are they still read? In order to find out, she asked several library systems about use of a specific book — the 1963 Caldecott Medal winner, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking, 1962). Even though the numbers she received back were not scientific, they were based on actual use statistics. And the figures are truly amazing.

In a large urban library system, The Snowy Day was checked out almost 3000 times over the past 9 years or about 300 times every year. A suburban library system estimated that this title was checked out more than 3100 times during the past 5 or so years. These numbers suggest that a book — one that is older than most of the parents and teachers who use it with their children — is being checked out from a library almost every day.

Why? I think it's because Keats effectively captures a young child's thrill in a snow-covered landscape and the pleasure in playing in it. Keats' simple language and timeless illustrations present a joy that is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

We'll soon learn what the 2007 Caldecott Committee hopes will become the next picture book classic. If it holds the emotional essence that Keats captured in his book, it may just be; after all, Peter (and his snowy day) has become a recognizable old friend to several generations of readers.

A complete list of all Caldcott Medal winners and honors can be downloaded from ALA.


There are specific criteria that the committee looks at, Matthew. Take a look at them on the [url= American Library Association [/url] website. What is "distinguished" for one group may vary from others. Does everyone define "distinguished" (or even agree on what a picture book is) in the same way? Probably not, but that's good as far as I'm concerned; makes for interesting discussions!

You may want to take a look at the lists on Reading Rockets. They're organized by topic and there are books for children 0-3 years as well as 3-6 year olds. For books that may share well with both ages, you may want to start with a collection of Mother Goose rhymes (I like the one illustrated by Rosemary Wells. The illustrations are light, fun, and engaging as is the selection of rhymes by Iona Opie). Let me know what else you come up with!

what books should I read to a baby that is 18 months old and a child who will be 4 on August 23rd? I really don't know what books to read to them or if it even matters what I read to them? Someone please help

You're right, Brie. The Caldecott is given to the artist (who may or may not have written the book). The book that wins the Caldecott Medal is the one that presents the reader with a "visual experience." But the awards criteria stipulate that the text (and all other elements) have to be worthy of the art.

"shall be awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year." Isn't the Caldecott more about the art then the actual story in the book?

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"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom" —

Robert Frost