From the Chair: Small Moments of Joy (2020 Caldecott Committee, ALA)

Readers of The Horn Book Magazine will have heard this before: a book has the power to change a person, and a person has the power to change a book.

Depending on who you are at a given time and the experiences you have collected, the understanding of a book will be different for you than for anyone else. Live a little more, pick the book up again, and it will offer something new. In reality, the book stays the same but, as you change, details take on more significance creating new connections.

I know this, but it catches me by surprise every time.

As the chair of the 2020 Caldecott Award Selection Committee, I spent the year reading eligible picture books repeatedly, studying and considering the art, and then — the ultimate reward — discussing them at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting with my fourteen fellow committee members. One would think, after all that, that I would have unearthed every possible nuance from the books’ pages.

Here, now, quarantined in my home amidst a global pandemic, I am having another look at the pages of the 2020 Caldecott Medal winner and honor books. They again have new things to share with me.

Caldecott Honor

Bear Came Along
illustrated by LeUyen Pham; written by Richard T. Morris (Little, Brown)

This accidental adventure for Bear and his acquired motley crew of animal friends visually grabs those who stray into its pages and whips them through a splashy journey of twists and turns and ups and downs. Filled with surprise, trepidation, teamwork, accomplishment, and delight, Pham’s compositions and deftly placed lines and colors make the emotions recognizable and wonderfully tangible. Bright hues call to mind a water park ride, but the river’s shape looks arguably like the outline of the United States. To be able to weather obstacles and enjoy the trip, the creatures and the landscape itself must come together, building upon each other’s strengths and differences. This brave, collaborative approach takes on even more poignancy these days.

Caldecott Honor

Double Bass Blues
illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez; written by Andrea J. Loney (Knopf)

In rhythmic swirls of color and swooping lines, Gutierrez creates sound with a paintbrush, reflecting the musical talent and passion of the young protagonist, Nic. The “sound” is so powerful and all encompassing that it appears as a protective border holding Nic as he balances his dual worlds of school and home and makes the tricky journey between the two. Rendered in evocative acrylics that reverberate off objects and people, his music enables him to navigate with confidence. The art transmits his sensitive perceptions right off the page. I am reminded anew of the comfort, meaning, and sense of self one can find in music (or art, literature, or the natural world) in any situation.

Caldecott Honor

Going Down Home with Daddy
illustrated by Daniel Minter; written by Kelly Starling Lyons (Peachtree)

With acrylic washes and Adinkra symbols, Minter’s layered art portrays the rich history and culture of an African American family in the South coming together for a reunion. Lil Alan wants to share something for the celebration like the others, but what can he offer? The intricate patterns and flowing, overlapping color palette make the setting of this realistic story feel steeped in this family’s heritage. Imagery seeps into reality for the characters to touch and consider. This story honoring one boy’s family and culture creates space to recognize our own place within a broader, multigenerational context. As families seek creative ways to be, gather, and celebrate under restrictions, this book offers motivation and encouragement.

Caldecott Medal

The Undefeated
illustrated by Kadir Nelson; written by Kwame Alexander (Versify/Houghton)

When I recently asked committee member Jean Darnell for her current thoughts about our Caldecott winner, she said, “America’s beauty is in the richness of its cultures, intellect, and artistry. The Undefeated immortalized a present-day motto: acceptance, empathy, and unity despite the storm and because of the rainbow soon thereafter.” In this book, the daring portraits created with oil paint on sharp white backgrounds tell a powerful story, slowly, but with a forceful punch on every page-turn. Each face and figure rests on its own plane on the page, owning a piece of time and of the story that makes up this complex and empowering tribute to the African American spirit. The perspectives draw the eye up toward the faces within the pages, and the masterful use of line and color encourage lingering in their gaze. The determination there feels inspiring when current events seem bleak.

Read Kadir Nelson's Caldecott Medal speech here.

*    *    *

Four different books use four different art styles. Each provides insights into how to meet whatever it is one faces — with humor, with curiosity, with passion, with those you love, with some history behind you, and with your eyes open to what lies ahead. Add a strong sense of self, or any sense of self you can grab hold of, and keep building from there. “Choosing the 2020 Caldecott Award winner and honor books was a deeply humbling experience, especially when you realize the power they bring to their readers,” said committee member Christina Dorr when asked to reflect on her term of service.

While I am not at liberty to tell you what was discussed during the 2020 Caldecott committee deliberations, I can say this: we took our charge very seriously. Between bouts of seriousness, we found time to have many laughs. Our small room was overheated and we grumbled about it the whole time. We tried not to think about (or hear) the Newbery committee next door. We enjoyed an irresponsible number of snacks. We accidentally mistook someone’s plastic poncho for a trash bag with unfortunate results. We talked and talked and talked about what we saw in these books. We savored every minute.

What did my committee members see in our chosen winners? I know what they articulated. I know what they brought to my attention and how powerfully that affected and altered my view. Still, I can only see this art and these books through my own eyes, and I hope everyone will spend some time looking at them through theirs. What will a child see and take with them from the pages? And what will they see the next time they reread one of these books? And the next? The world shifts and changes every day, and so do we. We must hold on to art and story as we find new ways to carry on and discover those small moments of joy that make the challenges worthwhile. 

Members of the 2020 Caldecott Award Selection Committee
Front: Erica Marks, Ericka Brunson, Joel Bangilan. Middle: Dr. Christina Dorr, Sophie Kenney, Michelle Ng, Eboni Njoku, Julie Roach (chair), Linda Klein. Back: Gloria Repolesk, Alia Jones, Jean Darnell, David (Mitch) Self, Evan Michael Bush, and Pamela Greene.


From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2020.


Single copies of this special issue are available for $15.00 including postage and may be ordered from:

Kristy South
Administrative Coordinator, The Horn Book
Phone 888-282-5852 | Fax 614-733-7269
ksouth@juniorlibraryguild.com

Julie Roach
Julie Roach

Julie Roach, chair of the 2020 Caldecott Committee, manages youth services at the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts. She also teaches children’s literature at Simmons University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science and at Lesley University.

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