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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.

Awards season – with a few surprises

February 5, 2015

The Newbery and Caldecott (and other Youth Media Awards) were announced yesterday in Chicago at the midwinter conference of the American Library Association. This year’s Caldecott honorees (gold and silver both) remind me that these books are for a wide range of readers, potentially children up to and including age 14.

The Caldecott went to a particularly imaginative and quite charming book that was totally off my radar screen. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend written and illustrated by Dan Santat (Little Brown) is a sweet story of an as yet unimagined (by a real child) imaginary friend. Even young children will get this unique story of friendship which is made even more accessible through well composed, appealing, and sensitive illustrations – a true visual experience for readers.

The official ALSC definition of a “’picture book for children’ as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”

Of the six Caldecott Honor books named, only one was surprising to me. It is making me think about how that definition applies to This One Summer (First Second), written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. It’s a rather sophisticated coming-of-age story told in graphic novel format. Its themes make it most appropriate for and appealing to the upper range of the Caldecott’s potential audience.

Middle school readers are sure to engage with the book but is it one that can be appreciated primarily as a visual experience? One recognizes that there clearly is “collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures” and that the text is equal to the illustrations. But how would the book work without the words, design, and format? Is this book’s power based “primarily on the illustration”?

One thing is clear: the graphic novel format – aka comics – has certainly come of age.

Other 2015 Caldecott Honor books named this year may be bit more traditional in format. They are: Nana in the City (Clarion) by Lauren Castillo, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (gentle illustrations for a gentle story); The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Knopf) by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPré (bold shapes and colors from the illustrator of the Harry Potter books); Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen; Viva Frida (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter) by Yuyi Morales (visually arresting); and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (Eerdmans) by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (chockfull of illustrations).

Winners all – representative of a rich year in picture books for children – up to and including 14 years of age.

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"Reading is not optional." —

Walter Dean Myers