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My Head Is Full of Books

If you are here looking for analysis of the awards, you are too early. I am typing this about 7 hours before the ceremony. Check back later for reactions.

Here are some things I am thinking about, having spent the past few days immersed in books:

Here is the sad truth: I do not see every book that is published in a given year. (When I was on the Boston Globe/Horn Book committee, I felt like I saw every book, but not in a normal year.) One way I learn about new books is to read The Horn Book, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Bulletin for Children’s Books, Booklist, and the many book catalogs that arrive in our mailbox. Still, things slip through the cracks.

So, while I am at ALA, I try to look at picture books in the booths. For those of you who have never been to ALA or IRA or NCTE or any of the alphabet soup of organizations that help put books in the hands of librarians and teachers, it’s something to behold! There are booths and booths filled with books and posters and pens and bookmarks. There are also smiling folks milling about, ready to tell you about their books. Most of these people are amazingly nice and seem to enjoy talking to every librarian on the planet. I do not fare well in these encounters, as I just feel awkward. The best of these meetings today was when I got to have one editor show me all he loved about a book coming out in the spring. He was glowing with admiration for the words and illustrations, and I loved watching that enthusiasm.

The worst was when someone flatly asked, “Why didn’t you have any of our books on your ballot?” The fact is, I have no talent for remembering which book comes from which publisher, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you which book came from which publisher. I just don’t care. I can barely remember who the authors and illustrators are–how in the world would I know who the publishers are? I remember pictures and stories. That’s all my small brain can hold.

Oh well.

This year, instead of jotting down titles and losing the pieces of paper, I used my trusty phone to photograph books I found especially intriguing. Last year at Midwinter, I was taken with On a Beam of Light. This year, the one book that impressed me was called The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Inexplicably, it is the one cover photo that refuses to download to my computer. So, jot that title down, friends, and take a look in OCTOBER of 2014 for it.

Most of the following books are not published yet, but I leave you with these images. These are some of the books I want to learn more about over the next few months.


More from the announcements tomorrow. Counting the minutes.

2014-01-25 12.02.14 2014-01-25 12.08.39 2014-01-25 12.09.30 2014-01-25 12.15.49 2014-01-25 12.28.52 2014-01-25 12.32.06 2014-01-25 12.53.17 2014-01-25 12.58.43 2014-01-25 13.00.12 2014-01-26 10.31.33 2014-01-26 10.37.36 2014-01-26 10.39.42 2014-01-26 10.41.37 2014-01-26 12.38.35 2014-01-26 12.38.39 2014-01-26 12.41.32 2014-01-26 12.42.37 2014-01-26 13.31.02 2014-01-26 13.32.53 2014-01-26 13.35.06 2014-01-26 14.05.32 2014-01-26 14.08.59

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. Thank you, thank you for these images! Can’t wait to start seeing these books – thrilling. I am so excited about tomorrow morning. Looking forward to your next posting.

  2. Like many others I will have much to say later on the proper post.

    But ONLY 3 Honor books this year is rather ludicrous.

    Why do some committees play this kind of game?

  3. I was fortunate enough to see a little bit of THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS at NCTE–on a cell phone. What a book!!

  4. Of course Peter Brown and the fans of MR. TIGER GOES WILD must be in a state of shock. And no wonder. Nobody could have seen this snub coming from a mile away. He wins an Honor for CREEPY CARROTS last year, and then when he ups the ante artistically for MR. TIGER he is ignored. And I emphasize the word “ignored” because they could easily have added another Honor to the tiny shortlist.

    JOURNEY is a masterpiece, and we all figured it would be there, though most thought a gold the gold rather than the Honor.

    Yes in the end LOCOMOTIVE did pull a SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY as that rare non-fiction winner, but gain it is a masterpiece and few could question the logic in finally honoring the under-rewarded Floca by going the full distance with him.

    Flora and the Flamingo? Great book. No argument there.

    Mr Wuffles? Another treasure of a book. No argument there, though it is clear that all Caldecott committees absolutely adore David Wiesner. They ADORE him.

    But, the omissions are what shock us here:

    No PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO (though it did win the Sibert)

    Opting to ignore each and every one of the above books taken as an en masse snub is unconscionable. But heck this is all about the opinions of a relatively select few.

    There is NO ARGUMENT over the books they chose–each one is a masterpiece, the argument is rather what they LEFT OUT and the decision to only give THREE HONOR BOOK citations.

  5. Also, a few others should be added to the above list of IGNORED books:


  6. I love that someone else uses their phone to photo-document books – it’s my favorite note-taking tool these days! And a huge thank-you for sharing your pics. This NW girl couldn’t make it to Philly, and seeing your images brings me excitement and inspiration. My fingers are crossed for ALA in Vegas!

  7. I am still in a state of shock that only THREE (3) Honor books were awarded. What goes on in these people’s minds when they make such decisions?

    It’s a win-win situation when more are awarded. More sales, wider appeal to the target audience, more motivation for the artists, etc., etc. And to pull this in a picture book-rich year is senseless.

  8. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Sam (and others who are sitting in wonder)–
    I don’t have a lot of time to write this, what with traveling and all, but, I am loathe to second guess the committees, especially because I know just how seriously each member takes his or her job. And how much work it takes serving. Though I am surprised about Mr. Tiger (especially since I admired it so much), I have to respect the committee. There is a process and things turn out the way they do because the committee members’ eyes and ears and minds are open. They look at so many details that we will never know about and reveal both concerns and strengths that outsiders might never know.
    I will write about this later–or maybe Martha and Lolly will chime in with their thoughts. But, in brief, my biggest surprise was when Parrots Over Puerto Rico won the Sibert. (not unhappy–just surprised!)

    What were some happy surprises for you?
    Trends you noticed?

    Also, over breakfast my ALA family and I were talking about how hard a day it is for folks (and that means most authors and illustrators) who are not recognized at this much-anticipated ceremony. There are so many wonderful, deserving books and I am grateful to ALL the publications and bloggers and publishers and librarians who help us know about all of them, whether they sport a shiny sticker or not.

    PS I was especially happy when The Year of Billy Miller won a Newbery Honor. Just sayin’

  9. Robin, methinks you make quite a bit of sense there. It is true that these members do take this task and honor seriously and they would pick up some details and possible imperfections that would probably be ignored by those who are sometimes blinded by enthusiasm.

    I guess in the end, the shock about MR. TIGER GOES WILD being completely left off is secondary to the fact that only THREE books won honors in such a fantastic year. I’d love to hear what others think of this.

    And Robin, I must admit I was also very surprised that PARROTS won the Sibert. I love the book but I was thinking they would pass it by, partially because of some suggested technical mistakes in the way it was presented. But thrilled the book received this recognition!

    ame for A SPLASH OF RED, which won a Siebert Honor. I was thinking it might win a Caldecott Honor, but it wasn’t meant to be.

  10. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    We all know how I feel about honors. I love them.
    However, no committee would feel comfortable giving an honor unless the votes are there. And, remember, each member has exactly three votes. Your list of books is very long and you have to choose. So, even if you love, say, On a Beam of Light (as I do), you might like three other books more.
    Pity the poor committee members who have to choose favorites from so many deserving books–it IS, as authors so often tell children, like picking their favorite child.
    And, if everyone on the committee votes for the same titles for first and second place, the third place books might be too widely distributed to garner enough votes for say, four or five honor books.

    In my year, there were just two honor books. That’s what the committee chose.

  11. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Sam, that is really NOT how the committee works. There is no “game.” There is discussion, there is persuasion, there is blood, sweat, and tears, and there are 3 votes per committee member. Then the numbers dictate what happens next. We can mourn the lack of our favorite book, perhaps, but we can’t mourn the lack of 20 books or however many you listed. The Caldecott Award is not the same as Notable Books. It can NEVER recognize all the books that deserve our love and recognition.

    For that we need those who love the books to go out in the world and talk them up and share them with children, regardless of the presence or absence of stickers.

  12. People looking at this thread are probably sick of seeing my name (and rightly so) but I wanted to say two more thing.

    1.) I apologize to Sam Bloom for my gangbuster observations of two weeks ago when I said MR. TIGER was a cinch to win reognition for either the Gold or an Honor. I laid out my arguments but in the end I have egg in my face! Ha! This year proves again that you can never figrue out where the committee will go.

    2.) Those who have long made claim that committee goes gaga over wordless books, have their convictions further strengthened by today’s announcement, as ALL THREE of the Honor books are wordless: JOURNEY, MR. WUFFLES and FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO.

    Only LOCOMOTIVE has words. The alien words in MR. WUFFLES in voice bubbles doesn’t qualify that book as a “talkie.” Ha!

  13. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Actually, I have heard some folks argue the Mr. Wuffles has lots of words–the aliens and ants talk.
    Children have decoded the speech, apparently! It’s consistent and translatable, according to them.

    If you add to that the language the panels, it has a lot of “language.”

    Something tells me the committee noticed this too.

  14. Martha, I am sorry that you took my comments as more aggressive than I intended. And as a 30 years teacher and the parent of five kids I know well that it doesn’t take a sticker on a book to validate it as a work of art. The “game” I spoke about was a figure of speech not a literal proclamation of what happened. You can support the committee all you want and stand behind every one of their sections, but in the end this is all about personal taste. These members don’t have a stranglehold on common sense, not artist bearings at all. Today’s decision is in the end the decision of a relatively small committee, who may know quite a bioit about picture books, but whose taste is no more worthy than yours, mine or anyone else’s. I’d like to think that my massive personal collection, my 16 years on my town’s library board, my personal passion for children’s books and my year-by-year dissection of what I feel are teh year’s best would entitled me to both declare what I think are the best books and politely criticize the selections. You martha, in my opinion are the equal (or more) than anyone on that committee who voted.

    Are we to accept that Ann Nolan Clark’s SECRET OF THE ANDES (which won the Newbery) is a greater book that CHARLOTTE’S WEB, which is one of the greatest children’s books of all-time? Right. Or that a book like HEY AL! was stronger than Paul Zelinsky’s RUMPLESTITSKIN? Or that A BALL FOR DAISY was more artistically worthy or more emotionally moving that GRANDPA GREEN? No, this are the opinion of a committee, a worhy and tireless and super-qualified committee, but a committee nonetheless. As such the ALA announcements, are now more valid than the Oscars, the results of film critics’ groups, the Emmys, the Nobel Prizes, the Tony’s or any other book award.

    Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking these results speak for all other teachers, book aficionados, librarians and many others who have their own views at what art is.

  15. You do make an excellent point there Robin. I will withdraw on my original assertion.

  16. Eric Carpenter says:

    Robin, did you get a chance to look at SPARKY! while at the random house booth? Beautiful book. Very funny and very dry. Looking forward to talking about this one along with those pictured above next fall.

  17. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Nice to see you here, Eric! I have a terrible feeling I did not even stop at their booth. Sometimes I walk by and there is some booksigning going on and I don’t make it back. I will look though. Thanks for the lead.

  18. Susie Highley says:

    As Robin said, I believe it is not that the committee sets out to say, “Let’s have four honor books because there are so many good ones”, but rather it depends upon exactly how the numbers fall. Members vote, and books going on to the next round are dependent upon where they fall. Once a book is out, it’s out forever. Members can conceivably change their votes from round to round to “save” one for later. It is a very precise process.

  19. Suzie, I understand all that, and I realize that there has to be system that is consistent and geared to achieve the best result. Yes, it does have to do with where the numbers fall and the ballots are weighted. True enough. My lamentation has less to do with how they determine their choices but rather with the end result. I will always consider MR. TIGER GOES WILD, THE MATCHBOX DIARY, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT, THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, STARDINES ACROSS THE SKY, THE DARK and A SPLASH OF RED as top rung 2013 picture books. I actually prefer every one of those books over FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO, which I still like.

    But I have come to realize that the result is what it is for better or for worse, and as long as people realize and accept that this is a committee (a very hard working committee to be sure!) and only a fraction of the book loving community.

    In any event, LOCOMOTIVE, JOURNEY, FLORA and MR. WUFFLES are absolutely among the best picture books of the year, so in my view they didn’t slip in that regard. It is the smaller number of honor books that continues to bug me.

    But it is what it is, and I have moved on. I am looking forward to what 2014 has to offer and am now preparing to show and read some non-American titles from the past year that I purchased on recommendations and all really look fantastic:

    Gobble You Up (India)
    Jane, the Fox and Me (Canada)
    The Hole (Norway)
    You Are Stardust (Canada)
    My Father’s Arms Are A Boat (Norway)

    I have also ordered MISTER ORANGE, which I know won the top prize from the group who evaluate the non-American books.

    The themes in these books are darker and deeper, and while not likely to be understood by the youngest kids, they still can be appreciated in different ways.

  20. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Now that I looked it up, I remember seeing that in the summer. I will keep an eye out for it when it is published.

  21. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Dear Arika,
    I wanted to pop myself on the forehead that it took me so long to think of that trick. I use my phone so much in my classroom but it never occurred to me that I should use it at ALA. I used to be on the floor of the exhibits, balancing an over-stuffed book bag, cheap hotel pen, some random piece of paper I scrounged out of the trash (I never remember to bring paper), my purse and three posters I just had to have.
    This year, it was just me and my little phone, clicking away.
    They had a google glass exhibit: if you EVER see me clicking away with those, it’s time to smack me upside the head. 🙂


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