1. Look at the cover. Feel the cover. Imagine the sticker.
2. Take the paper jacket off and check out the inside cover. I am sure there is a word for this part of the book, but I only have my non-librarian training to fall back on. Note whether the inside cover is is different from the paper jacket or the same. (I am looking at Frog Song right now, and the enormous frog on the inside cover made me burst out laughing. Such a contrast from the serious red jacket frog.)
3. Now, examine the end pages. Those are the pages that are glued onto the hard cover. Sometimes the endpapers are illustrated or decorated, sometimes they are simply solid heavy paper. Note that. Are the back endpapers the same as the front? Do the choices make sense? Is anything important going to be covered when the book is processed in the library? (If so, this book is in Serious Jeopardy. A moment of silence for one of my favorites during MY year.)
4. Title page is usually next for me. Decorated? Plain? I am never sure who decides on endpapers and title page design, but these are important decisions. If it’s dull, I take note. Since the title page often has a lot of white space, this is when I usually notice if the paper choice works for the book.
5. Read the book all the way through without reading the words. I know. But this has to be essentially a visual experience. Does it hold up with no words? (This is NOT to say the words don’t matter, it’s just important — at least to me — to see how the book works without words.) LOOK AT THE PICTURES VERY SLOWLY. This was the hardest part for me when I started reading and evaluating picture books. You just don’t want to miss any detail. Read from left to right, paying very close attention to the page turns. Pay attention to white space and pacing.
6. Read the book with the words. Do the pictures play well with the words? Do the illustrations extend the text? How does the illustrator tell her story? (I know, I know, most Caldecott winners are men, but maybe the feminine pronoun will subliminally influence the committee.) How does line, color, texture, white space, etc. tell the story? Is the art consistent from page to page? Always notice the page turns.
7. Go back and check every single gutter. The Caldecott committee members take a pinky swear to examine every damn one of them. Does the art match up across the gutter? Is a main character sliced in half by one? If something “gets lost in the gutter,” murmurs of disappointment will cause the chair to sigh deeply. The nominator of the book might wipe away a tear.
8. Caldecott committee members get seven nominations each. That’s all. (Look at our fun and fabulous preliminary list. Only seven could remain for our mythical committee member when December rolls around.) So, for a book to move forward in an individual committee member’s mind, it has to “beat out” all the others that have been submitted and suggested. So, things get serious at step 8. It’s here that a reader has to look at that part of the criteria that talks about things that detract from the illustrations: “Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc.” I refer you to my rant last year.
9. At this point, the initial reading is over and the real fun begins.