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Hooray for Winnie!

I am thrilled that Finding Winnie won the Caldecott Medal. Even though I had looked at it closely when I posted about it here, the announcement prompted me to take another look.

We’ll never know exactly why the Caldecott Committee chose it, but here are some aspects of the book that could have raised it above the rest of the pack.

  • It’s a history book with heart. Blackall’s portrayals are accurate but also ALWAYS emotionally resonant. Over and over in this book, her subtle shifts in composition and palette provide clues. Sometimes they encourage forward momentum, and sometimes they encourage us to stop and look, and think.
  • Mattick’s three-story approach could have resulted in confusion. Surely it presented a challenge. How would an illustrator make a cohesive whole from that text? Blackall (and perhaps her editor and designer) made spot-on choices that clearly delineate each story and allow the mother-son “glue” to remain a constant visual element without upstaging the two bear stories.
  • Blackall has a distinctive style. She draws humans and animals accurately but with an added sheen of sweetness and benevolence. (Perhaps this style got her in trouble in A Fine Dessert.) While she tends to accentuate the positive, she doesn’t shy away from hinting at the realities of war. After all, WWI was a pretty horrific event, even if the worst of it is not an integral part of this story.
  • There were some bold choices regarding the endpapers and the family album at the end of the book. The jacket and different book cover are also significant choices. Clearly the Committee saw them as clear and purposeful, adding to the book’s excellence. There is a lot to discuss in this book, both in the content and the delivery. I can imagine both adults and children having extended conversations about some of the choices.
  • School librarian Elisa Gall’s comment on our earlier post mentioned that her kids noticed lots of “Easter Eggs” and references to Ernest Shepard’s illustrations for Winnie-the-Pooh in Blackall’s pictures. For example, on the title page, Winnie is up a tree on the right. Look closely to find an owl and a rabbit on the left page. Remind you of anything?
  • Reading the book cover-to-cover is an emotional experience with a surprise ending. Blackall’s art is straightforward and unassuming. It’s not the kind of art that cries out to be noticed and awarded. But the entire experience sneaks up on you in a most satisfying way. Blackall’s use of different styles for the framing story (pen-and-ink sidebars on a muted background) and the two bear stories (full color, full bleed) is straightforward enough. Then at the end, the mother-child story blooms into an unexpectedly significant story of its own. First we see a family tree in full color on its own page. Then, on the next spread (which is also the final illustration in the book), the familiar scene showing Lindsay, Cole, and Cole’s bear is suddenly in full color/full bleed. They are looking at the same album whose cover takes up the entire right-hand page of that spread. A deep green background behind the bed hints at the Winnipeg forest that began the book. We come full circle.

The comments at the end of our earlier post about the Winnie books point out more reasons to love this book. Now it is your turn. Why do YOU think the committee awarded this book?

•   •   •

Some of you have asked about Last Stop on Market Street and what we think of its double honor as a Newbery winner and a Caldecott honor book. I say, “Yay!” Of course, I was surprised to hear it named the Newbery winner and had to rush back to the office to read it all over again. Before, here on this blog, I was more focused on Christian Robinson’s art. But yes, I absolutely think the Newbery Committee knew what it was doing. Awarding picture books, though rare, is not new, and I encourage you to read Martha’s excellent  “Alive and Vigorous”, a 1999 Horn Book Magazine article that argues for opening up the Newbery to picture books. If you want to talk about Market Street vis-a-vis its Newbery Medal, I encourage you to comment on our sister blog, Heavy Medal, where Jonathan Hunt has put up a post considering that decision.

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.

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Comments

  1. When I first read the book, the image that seared itself in my mind was the soldier and bear, foreheads pressed together and staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Lump, meet throat.

    I’d read at least two dozen 2015 picture books prior to this one and had several favorites (Boats for Papa, in particular). But I saw this image and thought immediately, “If this book doesn’t nab the Caldecott – even for this *one* beautiful drawing – there is no justice in the world.”

    Well, whaddya know. Justice.

    Even if that’s indeed a silly overstatement. And it is, it is. But still. So happy.

  2. I love Winnie too; the distinguished visual storytelling, the emotional heft, the flawless way Blackall navigates the two storylines. But I’d like to give a shout-out to the Caldecott Committee for the four Honor books they chose as well… add them together and you’ve got a stellar line-up of five books. Great work, committee!

  3. My students LOVE this book. The cheers were loud and joyous when I announced to each class that their pick for the medal won. It is a beautiful book that with many readings to many classes of different ages was accessible and kept everyone’s attention.

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