2019 CaldeNotts

I love following along here at Calling Caldecott, reading posts and comments from extraordinarily astute and observant picture book evaluators and measuring the books in question according to their insights, whether or not they line up with mine. Indeed, perhaps the most gratifying function of a blog like this, for me at least, is the practice I get polishing my capacity to make space for opinions and evaluations that differ from my own. And, of course, the other great benefit is the simple exposure to wonderful books that weren’t yet on my radar.

For these very reasons, I have run a CaldeNott program for a number of years, applying the official ALSC Caldecott terms and criteria to books ineligible for the award, due to the nationality of the publisher and/or illustrator of the books in question. Books from other countries and cultures often operate very differently from books that originate in the United States. They can feel different — in tone and style and narrative structure (and bunches of other ways, too) — and so our responses to them are exponentially varied as well. And the resulting discussions are accordingly rich and informative. Plus, we get to see books that we might have missed, books that are never part of the end-of-the-year Caldecott discussions and are often off of our collective radar. It is a great deal of fun — and just as enlightening.

This year I traveled to Boston to conduct a CaldeNott discussion at Simmons University, where twenty-odd librarians, reviewers, publishers, and students (and one Caldecott Medalist!) gathered to consider the relative merits of fifteen international picture books. We discussed (at a particularly high level), voted, discussed, and voted some more and eventually arrived at a winner (though only almost, mathematically, since of course the real Caldecott voting is based on a committee of fifteen), coming to appreciate the entire slate of titles more deeply. Here I present the winner and our three Honor books. And, since we’re coloring outside the lines to begin with, I’ll share the other titles on our discussion list. I hope you’ll take a look at all of them — and think about the international picture books you may have missed in 2018.

Our 2019 CaldeNott winner:

The Patchwork Bike (Candlewick), illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd and written by Maxine Beneba Clarke

In an unnamed village a group of siblings find joy in a homemade bicycle built of scraps. Working in heavy paint on reused cardboard, Van Thanh Rudd captures both the difficulty of the kids’ daily life and the resilience with which they meet it. Dynamic, honest, and uplifting.

The group named three CaldeNott Honor books:

The Little Barbarian (Eerdmans), illustrated by Renato Moriconi

This wordless picture book features a gallant, lion-hearted little barbarian and his trusted steed who take on a succession of foes, until a too-early end to his adventures lets the reader in on a sweet secret. Moriconi’s loose watercolors capture the little barbarian’s zeal and lamentation and eventual comfort.

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein (Tundra), illustrated by Júlia Sardà and written by Linda Bailey

This picture-book biography of Mary Shelley focuses on her creation of that most famous of monsters. Sardà’s atmospheric paintings showcase her dreaded, consuming imagination and its fearsome product, offering a spooky, visceral character study.

Me and My Fear (Flying Eye), illustrated and written by Francesca Sanna

A girl in a new country explains her fear, personified as a rounded white being that grows as the girl's anxiety does. Sanna’s careful details and unlikely characterizations (fear is often portrayed as comfortable here, even jubilant) offer a surprisingly nuanced and insightful examination of the nature of apprehension and its role in our healthy lives.


Other international picture books considered by the 2019 CaldeNott committee:

  • The Barber's Dilemma: And Other Stories from Manmaru Street, illustrated and written by Koki Oguma / Tara Books

  • Birds and Their Feathers, illustrated and written by Britta Teckentrup / Prestel

  • Blue Rider, illustrated and written by Geraldo Valério / Groundwood

  • Holi Colors, written by Rina Singh / Orca

  • I Hate My Cats (A Love Story), illustrated by Anna Pirolli and written by Davide Cali / Chronicle

  • Look, illustrated and written by Fiona Woodcock / Greenwillow

  • Marwan’s Journey, illustrated by Laura Borràs and written by Patricia de Arias / Minedition

  • The Old Man, illustrated by Claude K. Dubois and written by Sarah V. / Gecko

  • Red Sky at Night, illustrated by Elly MacKay / Tundra

  • Seven Pablos, illustrated by Chiara Carrer and written by Jorge Luján / Enchanted Lion

  • We Sang You Home / Ka Kîweh Nikamôstamâtinân, illustrated by Julie Flett and written by Richard Van Camp / Orca

Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess is Youth Services Manager for the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington State.
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Thom Barthelmess

Thanks for sharing your own favorites. Keep them coming! I admire all of the books mentioned so far and look forward to learning about new ones. As I put the list together, I thought about more than the books' individual excellence, looking at the list as a whole to build in a deep variety of style, content, and form; intended age; geographical representation; and even publisher. That kind of variety maximizes contrast and in turn supports really interesting comparisons. Of course that's not the way the real committee does it; those books arrive at the discussion table based solely on their individual merits, put there by the individual committee members, with no consideration for the aggregate. Just one more reason it's so fun to play with this model!

Posted : Jan 03, 2019 11:57

Allison Grover Khoury

Lovely list and books. Thanks for this.

Posted : Jan 03, 2019 10:06


What a wonderfully curated list! But where oh where is THE HONEYBEE? ! (Hall/ Arsenault)

Posted : Jan 03, 2019 07:48

Sam Juliano

My own personal favorites are the final winner here, "The Patchwork Bike" and the unlisted "The Funeral" by Matt James. I do love the Frankenstein selection here, but I think I edge it to "She Made a Monster" (Fulton; Sala) of the two similarly-themed works, which I can see is poised to show strongly in my elementary school's Mock Caldecott on January 14th. (Our rules allow non-American books to compete and a few year's back Kate Beaton's Canadian "The Princess and the Pony" captured our gold). Unfortunately I have not seen all the books in the considered list but I have seen several. I also really love the Italian "The Forest" (Bozzi/Lopiz/Vidali) and the 3D collage work from Germany, "The Visitor" by Antje Damm. Alice Walker's "Florette" is rather lovely too. One of my favorite annual posts. So brilliant, comprehensive and informative. Thank you!

Posted : Jan 03, 2019 07:25


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