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.