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From the 2017 Caldecott committee


Two weeks ago, as chair of the 2017 Caldecott committee, I had the honor of making phone calls to five individuals — and making a little magic happen in their lives. I know that the magic, enchantment, and adrenaline rush that was the experience of the 2017 Caldecott committee is still going on. When I look at photos (and yes, there were MANY) taken by committee members over the weekend before the Youth Media Awards were announced, we appear to be anxious, determined, and exuberant all at the same time. Such was our committee.

The story the photos also tell is that of the bonding that takes place during the year of reading and during the thoughtful deliberations and discussion that occur at ALA Midwinter. Somewhere along the way we crossed the imaginary line between committee and family. So to my 2017 Caldecott FAMILY, let me acknowledge the pride I feel in your work and in our selections for the Medal and Honor winning books. Martin Blasco, Miriam Lang Budin, Marian Creamer, Stacy Dillon, Erica Dean Glenn, Brian Hart, Holly Jin, Lauren Liang, Susan Melcher, Janet Mumford, Laurie Reese, Lisa Von Drasek, Ashley Waring, and Brian Wilson: as the song says, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

On to our winners! I’ve included annotations from our press release and my own comments, as well thoughts from some of the committee members.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat illustrated and written by Javaka Steptoe, and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Like Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, Steptoe’s illustrations radiate energy and immediacy.  A patch-worked canvas of scavenged wood, painted and collaged with photos, and images of human anatomy, evokes the improvisatory nature of Basquiat’s art. Radiant Child resonates with emotion that connects Steptoe with Basquiat and Basquiat with young readers. [press release]

There is so much rich detail in Radiant Child that I see something new every time I look at it.  Especially poignant to me is the spread where Jean-Michel’s mother goes away and the heart on his shirt sleeve is broken, as it captures so much of feeling that readers of all ages can identify with and recognize.

Martin Blasco: “Javaka Steptoe in Radiant Child not only captures the spirit of young Basquiat, but also re-creates his time and place with an artistic endeavor worthy of admiration.”

Miriam Lang Budin: “I find Radiant Child as layered, energetic, and surprising as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art itself. I’m awed by Javaka Steptoe’s ability to crystallize the intentions and impact of such a complex artist so that children can grasp the inextricable weaving of his life and his work.”

Brian Wilson: “Javaka Steptoe’s use of wood found in the places where Basquiat once lived adds power and immediacy to the stirring and groundbreaking Radiant Child.”

Leave Me Alone!, illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, and published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership.
At the end of her rope, Granny is desperate for time alone to finish knitting sweaters for a house filled with dozens of rambunctious children. Brosgol’s expressive watercolor and cartoon art present a genre-breaking journey taking Granny from the traditional forest setting to the mountains to the moon and beyond. [press release]

I love how Vera Brosgol uses left to right, bottom to top diagonal lines on the pages to indicate just how far Granny will go to be alone. Then on her return the line of the fireplace is in the opposite direction, with the traditional hearth iconography welcoming her home.

Brian Wilson: “When the grandmother in Leave Me Alone! enters the wormhole in order to find peace, my jaw still drops because of the fantastic imagery.”

Stacy Dillon: “I’d say that Leave Me Alone! defies genre while paying homage both to traditional folktales and to the child audience. The whimsical illustrations are masterful in both color and line.”

Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, and published by Little Bee Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group.
As they work throughout the week, slaves look forward to their afternoon of music, hope, and community in Congo Square, New Orleans. Christie’s folk-art inspired paint and collage images powerfully capture the emotions of this little-known historical event.  Vibrant color and brilliant use of line heighten the impact of the rhyming couplets. [press release]

Caldecott2017_congosquareI took a few days off after Midwinter and traveled to New Orleans for a quick getaway. Someone on the committee, I forget who, suggested I go to Congo Square. My books had already been shipped back to Walla Walla, so I asked a friend who works at the State Library in Baton Rouge to bring a copy to me when he visited the last day I was there. Book in hand, off I went to Congo Square. I had visited several years previously, but on this day I was overwhelmed with emotion as I looked around me and Mr. Christie’s illustrations danced before my eyes in this very special place.

Brian Wilson: “The climactic dance in the haunting and unforgettable Freedom in Congo Square always makes me tear up.”

Miriam Lang Budin: “I just recommended Freedom in Congo Square to an education school student and so enjoyed paging through the book with her to point out the expressiveness of Christie’s figurative paintings, which are so reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence’s work in his Migration Series.”

Martin Blasco: “Christie’s illustrations in Freedom in Congo Square seize the poetic spirit of Weatherford’s written word, bringing to life this unique story of an iconic place.”

Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis, and published by Candlewick Press.
A diverse community of anthropomorphic bugs is intrigued by an unfurling sprout.  Carson Ellis deftly depicts the mysteries in and imaginary, natural world.  Through intricate details and the witty humor of a made-up language, Du Is Tak? is a treasure trove of visual and linguistic literacy. [press release]

Where to start with Du Iz Tak?? I read late last week that this book will be translated into other languages. This struck me funny at the time, but in order to maintain linguistic integrity and nuance, I see now why. The language is easy to speak and easy to read aloud, and most importantly easy for a child make connections between the language text and the illustrations. The humor is bitingly funny, from the cocoon that sleeps through everything to the banana slug that wanders in and out of the visual narrative.

Brian Wilson: “I adore all the little subplots and mysteries in the visually witty Du Iz Tak?, and the fact that each page-turn is a surprise.”

Martin Blasco: “Du Iz Tak? is an outstanding rendition to the power of imagination. Carson Ellis takes us to a unique place. A place with its own voice. Fun and more fun.”

They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel, and published by Chronicle Books LLC.
A cat’s walk through the world becomes a surprise-filled exploration of perspective and empathy. As the feline encounters a variety of creatures, the thoughtful composition paired with spare language and repetition focuses on each individual’s perception of it. Wenzel’s use of a range of art materials reinforces the idea that the essence of the cat might be in the eye of the beholder. [press release]

I come by my Crazy Cat Lady status genetically and honestly, and They All Saw a Cat appealed strongly to these sensibilities. This story of perception is perfect for dialogic reading and asking those delicious “why” questions of preschoolers. It’s deceptively simple, yet raises awareness of sense of self and how one is viewed by others.

Brian Wilson: “After I read They All Saw a Cat to a group of preschoolers recently, the excited children asked me to go back to their favorite spreads. Each child had a different favorite rendition of the cat. I ended up reading the book to them three times, and they still wanted more.”

Miriam Lang Budin: “They All Saw a Cat is such a delight to use with children. Since it is a book about perception, the children’s own perspectives about what Wenzel intended invariably add depth to my own appreciation.”

Our committee selected some extraordinary and visually spectacular books.

As our work winds down, we look forward to our celebrations in Chicago at ALA’s Annual Conference. We encourage children, parents, teachers, and librarians to explore these books and take the time to savor each one. Enjoy!



About Rhonda Gould

Rhonda Gould, executive director of the Walla Walla County Rural Library District in Walla Walla, Washington, served as chair of the 2017 Caldecott Committee.



  1. Sam Juliano says:

    Fabulous delineation of the process that resulted in this stupendous lineup and of the mindset of the members, who admirably divulge what they saw in this picture book treasures. Congratulations to Chairperson Rhonda Gould and to this visionary Caldecott committee, of which so many children’s book experts like Brian Wilson were able to successfully navigate this year’s remarkable picture book riches. Each of these five are irrefutable masterpieces.

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