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To honor or not to honor

Caldecott Honor questionPicking honor books is one of the mysterious parts of the whole book committee experience. On the Caldecott committee, the manual is strangely quiet on the question of honor books.

After the winner is (finally, sometimes) chosen, “The committee then addresses the question of whether to name honor books. The committee may name as many or as few as it chooses, or none, keeping in mind that the books should be truly distinguished, not merely general contenders. Honor books may only be chosen from among those that appeared on the final medal-winning ballot. When honor books are announced to the public, they are announced in alphabetical order, by author, so as to accord equal honor to all books.”

So, there you are in your little committee room, bathing in the happiness that you and your new best friends have chosen THE winner. You take a little break, pour a cup of tea and your chair takes a breath. “Now we will decide on honor books.”

There are a few possibilities for what might have led up to choosing the winner. The winner might have been almost unanimous, with one ballot doing the trick.  OR each member might have voted for a different first place book. (I bet that’s a nightmare!) The winner and  one other book could have been neck and neck, with the rest of the pack close behind or far behind. If that happens, all the first place votes probably went to the two main contenders and there are just scraps of votes left for any other title. See how sticky and tough it could get?

It can be daunting to gear up for another round of discussions when things are not crystal clear. Sometime it is perfectly clear.

And here is what we had on the Mock Caldecott here:

Balloons Over Broadway 46 56 68 488
Blackout  43 41 50 395
Grandpa Green  68 65  52 571
I Want My Hat Back 47 66  64 514
Me…Jane  89 61  52 643


With our vote, we looked at the first place votes. Me…Jane was the clear winner, even though it did not have the majority of first place votes. 89 is not shabby. Grandpa Green had 68 first place votes and 571 votes overall. Clearly people thought it was distinguished. When you look just at the first place votes, the last three books were almost tied. So, we had to decide between having just the one honor book or four. That was the only choice the vote gave us. The total votes weren’t quite as tied, but we kept coming back to the fact that an equal number of voters thought these three books were distinguished enough to be the winner. That’s it. So, we had a nice large slate of honor books.

I am a fan of honor books myself. I even think there is a perfect number of honor books. I like 3-4 honor books and feel a little ripped of with a small list. (I have served on committees with sparse honor lists and have had to accept it.) But, that’s just me. I just like to spread the wealth around a bit.

How about you?


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Thanks for sharing how that worked. I’ve wondered why there is such variation on the number of honor books. I wish that the committees would err on the side of more because I also feel cheated by a two book honor list.

  2. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    We need a “More-honors-not-less” club. There is probably a moment of diminishing return, but I like to have 3 or 4.

    I especially like a bunch of honor books of Coretta Scott King or Pura Belpre books or really any of the nonfiction awards. I am not well-read in certain areas of nonfiction and a nice long list of books honored by people who are experts is really helpful for me.

    One thing I did not mention because my blabbiness was overwhelming even me was that the real committees often looks at all the results (if there were a lot of votes) when deciding honor books. That can help the committee decide how strong the support is for the various titles. It’s amazing how consistent these results can be, even when a bunch of books drop off or two books are duking it out for the lead.

    In my class, I read each ballot aloud and tally the result one vote at a time. It’s the only way to truly understand weighted voting. I always suggest that people who run mock elections allow actual balloting.

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