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It’s Raining Books

book boxesThe 2018 Caldecott committee is likely getting some interesting parcels right about now. Brown cardboard boxes, shiney red bubble-wrap envelopes, annoying padded mailers that spew paper fibers all over the place when opened. The book deluge has begun. As Karen MacPherson (who served with me on Caldecott 2016) remembers, “It was always a thrill to get boxes labeled for the Caldecott Committee and to think that our winning book might be in one of those boxes.” I reached out to some past Caldecott committee members to ask them how they dealt with this book bounty. Here are a few remembrances, along with a few of my own.

School librarian Laura Given (Caldecott 2016) was so excited to receive her first box that she took a picture of it leaning against her front door, and she kept taking these photos. At the end of her “year in packages,” she put them all in a video to share with her incredulous students. You can view it here. Sarah Bean Thompson (Caldecott 2016) shared that her son had just turned one when she started on Caldecott. “He started getting so used to seeing packages show up at our doorstep on a regular basis that he started calling packages ‘books’! Still, at age three, he thinks any package that comes in the mail must contain a book and that they’re all for him, of course!”

School and library marketing departments have gotten quite clever with their shipments in the effort to make their books stand out. Every so often they will send a book they are particularly excited about with a little something extra inside, usually related to the theme of the book. One year I served, everyone on the committee received a culinary-themed picture book bundled with an antique spoon. When last year’s The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles arrived, there was, floating in a sea of bubble wrap, a small glass bottle with a message inside.

Along with the deluge, committee members also have to cope with the book schlep. As Jennifer Ralston (Caldecott 2016) reports, “I often had to use library carts to transfer boxes of books from my office to the car. Then, when I got home, I had to lug the boxes down the basement stairs to my office area. It was quite a workout! Sometimes I would make 10 trips up and down the stairs. As I unpacked books, my cats ‘helped’ by jumping in the boxes.” Committee members often rely on others to do the schlepping, but a bit of bribery can work in those cases. Tessa Michaelson Schmidt (Caldecott 2016) reported that student workers who acted as couriers around her library didn’t mind lugging to her packages to the top-floor location, since there were usually chocolaty treats waiting for them upon delivery.

Carol Edwards (Caldecott 2014) had a dilemma about book shipments when she went on vacation, so she asked a neighborhood boy to check her porch for a small fee. He took his duties very seriously and he brought her a huge pile upon her return. “Even though he was in middle school, he wanted to sit and watch me open each package, and he looked them all over. Sometimes he would read one [of the books], and then I knew to pay special attention. It gave me some insight into how the covers, title, and just the look of a book could be really influential on readers.”

After the books arrive, it can be difficult to figure out where to put them. Angela Reynolds (Caldecott 2015) took over her craft/art room. “I put all my supplies in storage bins and shoved them into the guest room for the whole year — and turned that room into the Caldecott Room. Three years later, it still has not recovered. It is now a craft/art/books room. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world!”

Those of us in small NYC apartments are quite jealous of committee members with basements or storage space at work. I had two nonworking fireplaces in my apartment when I served on the 2009 committee, and they made excellent picture book shelves. I described my storage system to a kindergarten class I visited that year, and they were appalled. They were convinced I was going to accidently set the books on fire! One colleague at Brooklyn Public Library, who had just finished serving on the Notable Children’s Books Committee, bequeathed her Ikea “Billy” shelving system to another Brooklyn librarian who was coming on to Caldecott. Miriam Lang Budin (Caldecott 2017) recommends: “Never relinquish an inch of shelf space once you’ve acquired it!”

And when you have the books, how do you sort through it all? Committee members need to keep track of what they have, what they’ve read, and what they plan to suggest or what has been suggested by their colleagues. Brian Fahey (Caldecott 2016) found it easier to store the books in their original cartons. “Keeping them in their original boxes helped me because for some reason I was able to remember the books in association with each other… That helped me create some mental filing system.” JoAnn Jonas (Caldecott 2013) resorted to using her floor to store and sort books. “The accumulation was intense. I tried to keep them in some order … alpha order by title … I had so many piles, literally one for every letter of the alphabet. They took over my living room, which was fun so I could sit there and read … Looking at the covers as they rotated to the front was fun, too, so many people came in and read with me, it was a wonderful way to share them without anyone knowing which might be my favorites.”

Now only Caldecott committee chairs get books from self-published authors and illustrators, but this wasn’t the case in 1982 when Sue McCleaf Nepeca served. While working for a regional library system, she was interrupted during a meeting and called out to the parking lot. “There stood two guys who had driven from San Francisco to Ohio to hand-deliver their dad’s picture book.” They were convinced their father was going to be more famous than Dr. Seuss, and they were driving across the country to deliver the book to every single member of the Caldecott committee.

As any former or current Caldecott committee member will tell you, the book deluge (or sometimes book tsunami) is wonderful, but it is not without challenges. We wish the 2018 committee well during their year in packages! If you’ve served on Caldecott before or on another award committee, please feel free to share a story from your book deluge in the comments below.


Rachel G. Payne About Rachel G. Payne

Rachel G. Payne is coordinator of early childhood services at Brooklyn Public Library. She has written for School Library Journal, Library Trends, and Kirkus and was a contributor to Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos (2013) and Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start (2015). Rachel served as chair of the 2016 Caldecott committee and as a member of the 2009 committee.



  1. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    So interesting. I loved reading this. Thanks!

  2. Carol Edwards says:

    Totally agree with Miriam. Never ever relinquish book space once you’ve carved it out.. Once you’re on a committee you just need more books than ever before. I certainly buy more books and give more away.

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