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Introducing Robin Smith

Robin SmithRobin and I are pretty sure we met once, but it was at an awards ceremony so we hardly remember it. When you’re at an award event, it’s like being in a candy store, but instead of rows of Snickers bars there are rows of your favorite authors and illustrators. Who has time for fellow book reviewers?!

So we decided to re-meet and interview each other via email. Here’s an excerpt from my interview of Robin and she’ll follow up soon with her interview of me. We hope this will keep you entertained while we find books and get ready to buckle down to business.

Which Caldecott Medal did you help select? What were the honor books?

Robin: I read books that were published in 2010 for the 2011 award. The winner was Erin Stead’s A Sick Day for Amos McGee and the honor books were Dave the Potter and Interrupting Chicken.

How did sitting on the Caldecott Committee change the way you evaluate picture books?

Robin: I had to really open my eyes to the whole book — from the endpapers to the gutters to the very fine points of consistency from page to page. Up to then, I had read for the story first and then slowed down to see if the rest of the book played nicely with the story. I was pretty confident in my ability to find books that kids liked — but that is not the charge of the Caldecott Committee. (Though it’s pretty nice if that works!) I learned how to look at each page and page turn and how to slow WAY down to read the pictures. I do read differently now — slower and more deliberately–and I will never see a gutter the same way again!

Which other committees have you served on?

Robin: BGHB, Geisel, Coretta Scott King

What is a deal-breaker for you when you are reviewing picture books? What makes you stop looking?

Robin: When you are on an award committee and get boxes of books every day and only five of them might find themselves with a shiny sticker, you have to move things onto stacks of yes, maybe, absolutely not. For me, absolutely not means that the art is inconsistent, doesn’t make sense to the story,  or the story itself is vapid, trite or just like a million other books. (The word “derivative” is overused in this business. but it probably is the best word for these books.) If I read any factual mistake, I close the book. If the main character gets sliced in half by the gutter, I can’t read on.

I’ve heard a rumor that you are crafty. What are you most proud of having made?

Robin: I am crafty, but not like a fox is crafty. I love to create things with my hands and have been a knitter since I was four or five. I made a quilt for a friend’s baby where each block held fabric images snipped from all sort so of collected bits and bops of fabric. I finished the top and was very happy. I woke the next morning and realized the whole thing was way too busy. The sashing between these beautiful blocks was too busy. I had to do something. I cut the whole quilt up and sewed completely new (and very calm) fabric between the blocks. In the end, I loved this quilt more than anything I had ever done and I greet it warmly whenever I visit this friend. Now that I think about it, it was a lot like editing and revising. Painful and annoying, but worth it.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Best description of editing and revising I’ve ever read: “Painful and annoying, but worth it”!

  2. Throw in some knitting in that pic, and it might just be the picture that captures Robin best of all: Exuding joy, holding a stack of books, ready to read and teach in her classroom. Those lucky students.

  3. I have loved following your Calling a Caldecott blog. I too am a 1-2 grade teacher? How does one get to be on the Caldecott or Newbery committees? It would be a dream come true for me.

  4. Robin Smith says:

    The short story is

    1. Join ALA
    2. Join ALSC
    3. Volunteer with the online volunteer form

    The longer story is be active wherever you can–libraries, talking about books to parent groups, writing on blogs (like this one) and message boards like CCBC in Madison, Attend the ALA meetings and other book-related organizations like USBBY. If you are from the DC area, join and be active in Capitol Choices. Take part in your state’s book awards for children, if that’s an option.

    Good luck!

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