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In which we check in with current Caldecott committee member Travis Jonker

travis photoTime for a reality check, everybody! Robin, Lolly, and I have been immersed in our mock Caldecott world, but in fact there is an actual 2014 Caldecott committee out there ;), feverishly preparing for their closed-door marathon sessions at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, which begins on January 24. Travis Jonker — Michigan elementary-school librarian; author of the 100 Scope Notes blog, hosted on the SLJ website; and current committee member — was kind enough to give us this report from the field (complete with helpful accompanying art. What could be more appropriate?).

CC: Travis, you and the other members of the 2014 Caldecott committee have about three weeks left before you convene. Can you give us an idea of where the committee is in the process?

TJ: It’s home-stretch time. Each member of the committee has submitted their nominations, creating the pool of books we will be discussing in-depth when we meet at ALA Midwinter. It’s a busy time, but exciting as well.

CC: What will you be doing for the next three weeks to prepare?

TJ: I’ll be in my Caldecott cave (i.e., basement), steadily adding to the pile of empty dishes on my desk as I reread (and reread) and compile notes on all the nominated titles. I’ll also have the Caldecott criteria close at hand, making sure all of my notes are focused and concise for final discussions at Midwinter.

travis desk








CC: What’s the most helpful step you’ve taken to try to sort through the scads of terrific picture books we are seeing this year?

TJ: By far the most helpful step has been reading to kids. As a school librarian, I’m lucky in that I get to have read-aloud time every day. When you read a book twenty-seven times in a week, you pick up on things that might have been missed after just a handful of readings.

CC: How many picture books do you have in your house at this point?

TJ: Over 600. I took things back to the dorm room with my temporary Caldecott shelf — plywood boards and cinder blocks. Unfortunately, I didn’t go big enough. Future committee members: make your shelves about 50% bigger than this.

travis shelves


Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Oh, I am so jealous, Travis. This brings back such happy memories. And a little bit of panic.

  2. Go, Travis — and everyone else on the committee!

    I’m so excited to hear results.

  3. Ruth Anne Champion says:

    Great advice about the bookshelves. Always need more space! Looking forward to the announcements!

  4. Sounds like a daunting but exciting time, Travis. Good luck!

    We have begun our Mock Caldecott with my 3rd, 4th & 5th graders in my school library. One of my third graders said today, “This is so difficult! I feel like the fate of this illustrator is in my hands!” I reassured him that we were just a pretend Caldecott committee, but was so pleased he understood the weight of the decisions.

    One of my fifth grade classes, during a warm-up in December, became very interested in the “original work” criteria, which brought to mind the newly published, “God Got a Dog” (formerly “Got Went to Beauty School”) by Cynthia Rylant. Since the illustrations by Marla Frazee are all new, even though the poems are a reprint, does this book qualify for a Caldecott this year? We concluded that it does, but I’d love someone with more experience to weigh in on that.

  5. Oh, I love that third grader’s comment!

  6. I shared this interview with some students today and more questions arose. Maybe somewhere here can help answer them:
    – Travis says he has over 600 books on his Caldecott shelf. Do all the committee members have the same books to read?

    – Who decides which books the committee reviews, out of the 1000s (?) of picture books published each year? And how is that decision made?

    Thank you – on behalf of the inquiring minds at the Oak Bluffs School!

  7. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Hi Lynn and Oak Bluffs School! I will attempt to answer your questions, although other, more experienced, people are also welcome to chime in.

    Here’s how the system works, in large. All year committee members gather picture books — publishers send them books, they look at books at conferences and libraries and bookstores — and gradually they begin to sort them into categories. Let’s say definite Yesses, Maybes, and Nos. So the 600 are probably basically the same titles except for those a committee member might discover on his or her own.

    The books that end up on the Caldecott table in January are those that have been nominated by committee members. There are 15 members and they each get, I believe, 7 nominations in total — 3 each in October, 2 in November, and 2 in December. So you can do the math: If you happen to have a like-minded committee, you will end up with not so many titles. If not, there is a possibility for a larger list for the committee to consider.

    You sound like you have a very smart group of kids, which is wonderful — so I encourage you to read the Caldecott manual which we link to here. That will give you a better sense of the procedures and processes of the Caldecott committee.

    Please keep coming back with any questions you may have. I’m really glad you are interested.

  8. Sam Bloom says:

    I would guess this year’s Caldecott committee IS looking at Frazee’s illustrations (copyright 2013), but the Newbery committee is definitely NOT looking at Rylant’s poems (copyright… not 2013). If I’m not mistaken, when you have a reprinted story/collection with new illustrations, the illustrations would be fair game for that year’s Caldecott committee. But like Martha said, I’m guessing you’d get a better answer from the manual!

  9. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thanks for the question, Lynn. Yes, Frazee’s illustrations would be eligible. Years ago, Trina Schart Hyman illustrated John Updike’s _A Child’s Calendar_ and the committee deemed it eligible, though the text had been published previously.
    Good eyes, Oak Bluff students!

    And thank you, Lynn, for showing us how meaningful a Mock Caldecott experience can be for students.

  10. Thanks, Everyone, for helping to answer all our questions. January is the best month in our library!
    One reason our students have so much fun with our Caldecott unit, I believe, is that they are once again immersed in picture books. Most 3rd, 4th & 5th graders have “moved on” to beginning chapter books, novels, and graphic novels, and the constant expectation for them to be reading “on their level” and getting better at reading can weigh heavily. The chance to spend four or five weeks reading and talking about picture books offers a welcome respite.

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