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Five questions for Robin Smith of Calling Caldecott

Robin SmithSince its debut in 2011, The Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog has been a destination for picture-book lovers eager to discuss favorite books in the months leading up to ALA annual — and to make their best guesses about what will win Caldecott gold. The Calling Caldecott team is Martha Parravano, executive editor of The Horn Book Magazine; Lolly Robinson, creative director of The Horn Book, Inc.; and Robin Smith, longtime Horn Book reviewer and second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, who has been with Calling Caldecott from the very beginning.

1. Calling Caldecott has been running for six years. What’s one thing you have learned about picture books in that time?

Robin Smith: I have learned that there are many, many excellent books published each year, and it’s hard to find new words to describe the ones I like. It can be challenging to come up with interesting ways to say, “This book is distinguished.” Also, I have learned not to fall in love with a book until I check to see if it’s eligible. [Illustrators must be U.S. citizens or residents to be eligible for Caldecott recognition.] Damn you, beautiful international books! I fall in love with you all the time and have to move you to the ineligible shelf.

2. How do you “do” the blog together?

RS: Well, we chat online a lot. We have a few conference calls, usually at the beginning and end of the blog cycle. At the beginning we come up with our list of books. We try to pick titles that we think could bear a sticker, and we also try to find some that are new and surprising to our readership. It’s fun to find a pearl before everyone else does!

Each of us decides which books we want to talk about, and then we ask others to join us as guest bloggers. That way we get lots of points of view — teachers, librarians, and other children’s book people have all helped us out. Sometimes there are burning issues, and we try to talk about them when it makes sense to do so. We like it when we three disagree about a book, but it rarely happens!

3. What trends have you seen? Which do you think are here to stay?

RS: I think books with comics-type elements, whether you call them graphic novels or comic books or something else, are here to stay.

Books with lengthy texts are rare these days. When I look at Caldecott winners from the past, they have a lot more text to them. As a second-grade teacher, I wonder if this trend has something to do with the way young readers think about picture books. Once they can read a few words, they want to jump to chapter books immediately. That’s why I read lots of picture books aloud to my second graders. I want them to hear the rich language of picture books and see the beautiful art gallery that an exceptional picture book is.

4. Which books are you still lamenting?

RS: The Farmer and the Clown. I love it and my students loved it. I will never get over the negative things I read about it, people’s interpretations that I don’t agree with.

I have a few regrets from my year on the real Caldecott committee, but if I told you what they are, I would be blacklisted by the ALSC gods for the rest of my life.

5. If you could change one thing about the official Caldecott rules, what would it be?

RS: I would love to see the confidentiality rules loosen up a bit. I would love to have a list of the last twenty books left in consideration for each year’s committee. It would give us many things to argue about in late January each year!

From the December 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good Picture Book?”



  1. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    If I were texting, I’d be sending a big heart icon to you, Robin. I admire and appreciate your perspectives and opinions on the picture books you review for Horn Book, and write about on the blog. I love Calling Caldecott and get so much from the book choices and discussions each year.
    Thank you so much.

  2. I agree with you completely about The Farmer and the Clown. Thank goodness this wonderful book did receive recognition in other places . . . much like The Hired Girl. We are living in a strange time right now. Our views and opinions of just about everything are so diverse. I value the willingness of those like yourself to courageously state a position that many find problematic. Thank you and thank Horn Book.

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