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Our Picture Book Year

Jules: So, we here at Calling Caldecott have wrapped up our book coverage, and it’s almost time for the mock vote. (More on that tomorrow!) But before that happens we thought we’d have a brief discussion about the year. No predictions here, because no one has a crystal ball. But we thought it’d be fun to look back at 2018 as a whole.

Martha, is there anything about Picture Books in 2018 that stood out for you? Any general themes, ideas, moments, discoveries you’ve had, mediums used, etc.?

Martha: I suppose for me it is the sheer variety and diversity of the books. It really does feel like there’s a new openness to all kinds of stories and approaches and topics and media — for the very youngest through older readers. It really is phenomenal that this year we have a picture book that takes place on one afternoon on a makeshift futbol field in the Caribbean AND one that covers years of a lighthouse keeper’s life in a northern sea AND one that’s set in the folkloric night sky AND one that’s set in Worcester, Massachusetts, etc. etc. I feel like each one of them was allowed to be the book it needed to be — and that we needed to see.

Jules: Yes! Isn’t it a great time to be alive and reading picture books?

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how it’s The Year of the Woman in picture books. Something in me hesitates to say that, only because … well, I’ve always loved the work of female illustrators. In general, I love the work of women — in literature, in film, in art, in the sciences, etc. I’m drawn to their stories. I’ve given a lot of space in over a decade of blogging (at my own site) to the work of female illustrators — not because I made some concerted effort but because women make really interesting art and stories and contributions to the world. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I think we should always highlight the work of women artists. Forever and ever amen.

But, having said that, yes. DANG. It has been a year for compelling, exquisitely crafted, and sometimes subversive books by women. Were there more than normal? Or did the field as a whole pay more attention to them this year? I don’t know. Either way, hooray for these artists.

Martha: I don’t know, either. I do feel, as I said, that it feels like doors are opening that maybe weren’t so open before…

Jules: What new insights, if any, did you gain from reading this blog? On that note, how about a round of applause for our talented guest posters!

Martha: Yes yes yes! — I learned SO much from the other posters this year. And from the comments. No matter how carefully I look at a book or how much time I spend with it, someone else always sees something more. For instance, I referred above to The Field. Our guest posterSabrina Montenigro, noted the placement of the soccer ball on the page as if it were the sun. It’s such a great insight. And there was a comment on my post about Libba where someone had noticed that the artist made the train tracks look like the fret of a guitar. I totally did not see that. It’s an important realization to have as a mock “committee member” — that you can’t possibly see or know everything on your own. You need the whole group’s insights.

Jules: I remember that about Libba, because it was my comment. But it was me pointing out that a musician friend of mine had pointed that out to me! And it kinda blew my mind, too, because I had not noticed that myself (that is, that the train tracks on the cover look like guitar frets). This is precisely what I love about this blog and our contributions from guest posters and those who comment: I learn something new with every post, it seems. And, yes, there is so much value to the insights of a group of people looking closely at the choices an illustrator makes.

For my part, I already loved Nina Crews’s Seeing Into Tomorrow (oh, how I love this book), but when I read guest poster Autumn Allen’s insights, it opened the book up to me in new ways. What a talented writer Autumn is. And as a person of color, she sees the book in ways I (as a white person) had not at all considered. She wrote (as but one example of many thoughtful observations she made):

“These images of black boys in nature is a reprieve from a world in which they are often either vilified or victimized, presumed to be trapped in the ghetto, the concrete jungle. How fitting the title — Seeing Into Tomorrow — for a work that looks forward to a freer future for black boys while simultaneously looking backward to youthful days when wonder at the natural world could be all-consuming.”

I wonder: did you change your opinion about anything during the course of the year? Is there, say, a post that made you see a particular book in a new way and/or completely shift your view of the book? For me, Martha, your post about They Say Blue was a revelation for me. I knew that I loved the illustrations in that book, but I was still making sense of the text in my mind. Your post made little explosions go off in my brain, particularly when you wrote:

“[This book is] about the concept of color, but it’s also about the nature of childhood in the way it A) really gets and B) so profoundly expresses how a child experiences the world. The book is specific to this one child’s perceptions and experiences but universal in that those perceptions and experiences can be applied to everychild.”

After reading that and re-visiting the book, I had a deeper appreciation for the flow of the text.


Martha: Oh, I’m glad. It’s such a remarkable achievement. For me, there wasn’t necessarily one Calling Caldecott post that changed my opinion about a particular 2018 book, but Elisa Gall and Jonathan Hunt’s post on board books made me so much more aware of the age range definition in the Caldecott criteria: “Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.” With the graphic novel This One Summer winning a 2015 Caldecott Honor, it seems like the barrier holding back recognition of books for the upper-age range has been removed. But a book for the very, very youngest? I think we are still to realize that.

Jules: Will you be at Midwinter to see the announcements in person?

Martha: No, not this year. I’ll miss being there to hear the announcements in person. But I will be hanging on every word through the livestream. I’m sorry to miss being in the room this year. It’s exciting that there’s a real chance that a woman of color could win the Caldecott Medal for the first time ever, and it would be awesome to be there if and when that happens. But I’ll still be just as happy about it watching from afar…

Jules: I also will watch the livestream from home. It’s my favorite day of the year. Picture books are about much more than awards. Sometimes your favorite gets nothing, and sometimes a book you don’t care for gets a big shiny sticker. Countless fantastic books every year are published that get little to no attention. BUT I love the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements (for all the awards for which picture books can win — not just the Caldecott), because it’s not often in the general culture that picture books are celebrated. Know what I mean?

Martha: I do, and I have a really good feeling about this year. There’s SO much to celebrate.

About Martha V. Parravano and Julie Danielson

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog. Julie Danielson, co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog, writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.



  1. I have lost count of the number of spectacular reviews that have been posted here at Calling Caldecott this year, and there are about a half dozen that are of Hall of Fame quality. If I am forced at gunpoint to choose a personal favorite review it would be Martha’s extraordinary piece on THEY SAY BLUE (Jillian Tamaki), a book that is among my own personal Top Ten of 2018. As to SEEING INTO TOMORROW (Nina Crews) I too have become smitten with this book in a very big way. THE FIELD is quite an amazing book as well.

    I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my New Jersey school’s Mock Caldecott results from yesterday here:

    “Blue” Wins Fairview’s Mock Caldecott Medal!

    194 ballots were cast by Fairview’s first and second graders at the Number 3 School Annex on Monday and the result was the biggest landslide by the gold medal winner in the six years the voting has been staged. Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s wildly popular “Blue” scored a whopping 191 points via regular weighted tabulation of each student getting three choices in order to outdistance the second place finisher “The Wall in the Middle of the Book” by better than a two-to-one margin (191 to 94) but in emulating a Caldecott committee of four years ago we decided to award six (6) books the Caldecott Honor silver medal. The results are as follows:

    Blue (Laura Vaccaro Seeger) 191 (Medal)
    The Wall in the Middle of the Book (Jon Agee) 94 (Honor)
    Big Bunny (Rowboat Watkins) 75 (Honor)
    Ocean Meets Sky (Eric and Terry Fan) 59 (Honor)
    We Are Grateful (Traci Sorell/Frane Lessac) 58 (Honor)
    Dreamers (Yuyi Morales) 55 (Honor)
    Imagine (Raul Colon) 49 (Honor)

    Though we began this five month venture with over 200 picture books, the final batch numbered 70. Of those we have the seven (7) final winners above and nine (9) other books that finished with 30 points or above:

    Dude! (Aaron Reynolds, Dan Santat) 44
    Wild Orca (Brenda Peterson/Wendell Minor) 41
    The Unwanted (Don Brown) 37
    A Parade of Elephants (Kevin Henkes) 36
    Nanny Paws (Wendy Wahman) 35
    Bub (Elizabeth Stanton) 34
    In the Past (David Elliott/Matthew Truman) 34
    A Big Mooncake For Little Star (Grace Lin) 34
    Thank you, Omu! (Oge Mora) 30

    Hence we have sixteen (16) books that really impressed the 194 students and teachers of the Number Three School Annex to the tune of Top 16 out of around 200!!! Still there were many other books that received point and kudos to all the wonderful books and their creators. It has been quite a ride since September! Thanks to all the teachers and classroom aides for their assistance in today’s event! (A fair number of books I consider absolute masterpieces like “The House That Once Was” by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith; “Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse” (Marci Campbell, Corina Luyken) “Nothing Stopped Sophie” by Cheryl Bardoe and Barbara McClintock, Seeing Into Tomorrow (Nina Crews), “Drawn Together” (Le/Santat), A Home in the Barn (Jerry Pinkney), “They Say Blue” (Tamaki) and Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall probably were more complex and intricate for the mainly first grade voters) There are others I count as masterworks, but I can’t list they all here.

    Fairview’s student body is now 82% Hispanic, and 6% Arabic. The other 12% is a mix, African-American, Italian, Croatian, etc.

  2. Steph Gibson says:

    Could you describe how your Mock Caldecott works? How do you share so many books with your first and second grade students?

  3. Hi Steph!

    Our Mock Caldecott basically constitutes the complete curriculum from September to January. I introduce, read and discuss books to all the district’s first-grade classes (five) and one second-grade class which is also housed in the same building, where my wife is the Principal. (Number 3 School Annex, Fairview, Bergen County, New Jersey) I appear for forty minutes three times a week in the six full classes and present the books I have purchased on my own and also through the school’s allocation. My town’s public library -where I serve as a Trustee- is located around the block from our school is visited regularly to secure books from our county cooperative system and during this four month and a half project I am constantly picking up and returning books, all of which of course have 2018 release dates. I am always online, not just at The Horn Book but at other book review sites to keep abreast of releases. We conduct a preliminary vote to narrow the final pool down to 60-70 titles, and the plan is always to showcase the titles on three long tables in a school hallway (as we did yesterday) and spend the day of voting supervising the classes who are given a schedule as to what time they will be called down. As I stated above the voting for the final stage is to have kids choose THREE books in order of preference. Tabulating is 3 points for the #1 choice, 2 points for the #2 choice and 1 point for the #3 selection. Hence my role as literary enrichment teacher for the period from school’s opening day till yesterday is strictly focused on the Caldecott race. With three days a week and approximately five (5) books a period depending on the length, I am able to introduce/read/discuss 60 books a month.

    On my FB page yesterday I posted photos of the 70 books remaining in the final voting rounds on the tables (clearly visible) and some of the students examining and casting their ballots. I fully understand why you’d be curious as a regular classroom teacher (which I haven’t been since I taught literature to the seventh and eight graders in our system) could never manage that many books in a classroom situation where there are so many other subjects to tackle. My role allows for this kind of over-indulgence. 🙂 Thank you!

  4. Ooops, one more addition to the above comment. Of the 70 books in the final round displayed yesterday, 64 are owned, 6 on loan. I plan on buying two of those loaners. :

  5. Steph Gibson says:

    Forty minutes three times a week with each first grade class is also an amazing luxury! Thank you for the details. I am thinking now about how I might be able to manipulate my schedule. Thank you for the inspiration!

  6. Steph, thank YOU so much for your kind regard. This has been quite a year for picture books as Martha, Julie and others have voiced numerous times. Have a great 2019!

  7. Sam,

    So you read 5 books per period to these classes? My kids could never sit for that many books in a row! The calmer classes manage 2; the antsier ones, 1.

    I am the librarian so after we read and discuss, they get to check out books, which they are eager to do, so that may explain part of their antsiness.

  8. Rachel, the number varies but the wordless books, the books like BLUE and SEEING INTO TOMORROW and ADRIAN SIMCOX that have few words fit comfortably in. I was relating the average. As I set the template early in September and do my best to inject the vocal drama, I usually get good results especially when you factor in that I have a vote after each class to select a winner from the completed books. Of course there are some days like the ones where I read THE UNWANTED or HEY KIDDO or THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER where I can only read ONE BOOK for that period, but the vast majority of times I am able to swing with a quintet (or quartet). I mean it takes 5 to 7 minutes to read BLUE for example, even though I work to stimulate discussion. My job with this annual project has always been to introduce as many books released during the year as I can, and like others the ones I am really passionate about get the most spirited presentation. I have done this for six years now, and am reasonably pleased with the results and enthusiasm from many of the kids. But I understand and fully respect your own report, made even more telling that you are a librarian.

  9. Molly Sloan says:

    Announcing the Portland Jewish Academy Caldecott Club 2019 Results:
    By a landslide, Drawn Together was our winner!
    We re-ballloted to determine that The Wall in the Middle of the Book, A Big Mooncake for Little Star and Stop that Yawn are our three honor books this year.
    There were other beloved books such as Blue, Dreamers, Heartbeat, Adrian Simcox and the Stuff of Stars that had many votes but didn’t make it to our final ballot. It was a great year and we have some very enthusiastic 3rd, 4th and 5th graders who will be waiting with their hearts in their throats to learn the winners on Monday morning. Hooray that it’s on the west coast this year!

    Thanks to Calling Caldecott for keeping the conversation lively this year, as always!

  10. Thanks, everyone! I love reading about mock votes across the country.

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