It’s hard to know where to go when your second graders are more interested in figuring out why Mr. Tiger Goes Wild did not win a Caldecott than they are in telling you they missed you while you were in Philadelphia. No one wanted to tattle on each other or tell me long stories about their basketball games. They just wanted to Figure This Out. So, this post might be better on Lolly’s upcoming teacher blog (“Lolly’s Classroom” coming soon!), but let me tell you how I handled this one with my students.
I told them the truth. It wasn’t quite as hard as “Mom likes me more,” but it was close. Facts are facts: the committee liked the other books better.
Their response was quick: “But why??” Indeed.
My students and I had a LOOOONG discussion about Mr. Tiger and How This Might Have Happened. Since I have no idea what happened, I asked them. I turned on the voice memos on my phone and pushed record. Here are some of their transcribed comments:
I: “His back legs are always darker than the front.” (Cries of “that’s just the shadow!” erupted at this point.)
J: “The leaves in this book are like the leaves in The Curious Garden and in Grandpa Green.”
C: “The leaves are like the leaves in I Want My Hat Back.”
K: “I think the tiger was a little too wild, like it should have been called Mr. Tiger Goes Really Wild.” (I tried to stir up something with this, but was unable to.)
B: “I thought the book was not very bright when he went into the wild. I thought it should be a lot brighter. And I thought the inside cover should have been the paper cover.” (This cover idea was a much-discussed point during the discussion last week — my kids were nuts for the orange, black, and white tiger-striped cover. Go figure.)
G: “You know how you said the pictures need to show more than the words? The pictures are exactly what the words say. You could tell the story with no words at all.”
Well, well, well. My head exploded a little bit with G’s comment. I had to read the book twice to try to see if there might be something to this as a discussion point. I had to admit that G might be on to something here. I don’t necessarily agree with her, but I can definitely see how this could have taken up some time in the committee. The phrase “extending the text” is an important one when folks talk about picture books. On most spreads in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, the pictures show exactly what the words are saying and nothing more. I bet the committee hashed this one out.
Something else happened when I reread the book with my husband (bless his patience) for the zillion trillionth time. A question. Why did the whole town chill out and change while Mr. T was in the wild? I understand why Mr. T changes, but I can’t really explain from the words or the pictures why the rest of the town changed. They could not wait to send the wild tiger away. Why the change of heart? That question might have come up in the committee, right? Also, the “…where he went completely wild!” spread is immediately followed by the “lonely in the field” wordless spread. That pacing seemed a tad rushed. Did someone on the committee notice this?
There is a wonderful thread that runs through Polly Horvath’s novel The Trolls where the characters are plagued with wonder about the beautiful man who just disappears. They spend the rest of their lives thinking of reasons why he left. I hope my students are not similarly plagued by “Why did a Caldecott NOT go to Mr. Tiger?” Because they will never know.
One thing they noticed and loved this time through — and this was noted by a child who never voted for Mr. Tiger at any time — was how much they appreciated these two spreads and how fun it was that they are the same image, really. No one noticed THAT before and it was a fun “AHA” moment for them.
Watching my kids worry over this reminded me of how it feels to be on the real committee. You love a book. Others have concerns. You answer those concerns as best you can, but you really listen to them. You have to decide if the concerns are enough to change your mind or not. You listen to the discussions of all the other books. Some people point out things you totally missed. You consider these new observations. You vote. You discuss more. You listen more. You vote again.
You practice saying, “The Committee chose Locomotive for the medal.” For the rest of your life, people will try to figure out why your committee chose this book over all the others. You can never say more.