The 2019 Robin Smith Picture Book Prize

Perched on her rocking chair (brightly painted by her students with Alabama outsider artist Chris Clark), teacher Robin Smith would launch with glee and gusto into a beloved picture book, her second graders in a semicircle at her feet. Every day for 24 years she would read to her students — hundreds of picture books every year and plenty of chapter books, too.

Robin knew children’s literature well. She served on the Caldecott, Geisel, and Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committees as well as the Coretta Scott King jury. She co-founded the Calling Caldecott blog, and she reviewed for The Horn Book Magazine and Kirkus Reviews.

Robin was my wife, and she died of cancer on June 22, 2017, at age 57. Her legacy was reflected at her memorial service, held at the school where she taught (and where I still teach). The auditorium was full, and her students, some now adults, came wearing scarves and hats and sweaters knitted when they were in Ms. Smith’s class. (Every single student learned to knit from Ms. Smith.) Some took turns reading Alice McLerran's and Barbara Cooney's Roxaboxen aloud. Others told stories of her class and of how they became readers with her. Many had visited her at Alive Hospice — including a young girl standing by Robin’s hospice bed, reading aloud her original poem inspired by a poem read in Ms. Smith’s class a few years before. (I believe it was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Recuerdo.”)

I am grateful to the Horn Book for inaugurating the Robin Smith Picture Book Prize last year, when Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse won and established the criterion I will use for this year’s winner, which is: Which book can I most vividly imagine Robin reading from her rocking chair, the book that is so beautiful and so good for reading aloud that I can see that gleam in her eyes and that infectious smile I miss so much? This year the Robin Smith Picture Book Prize goes to Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse. It won the Caldecott Medal this week, and I am thrilled, but I already knew quite a while ago that this was the book for this year's Robin Smith Picture Book Prize.

There is so much Robin would have loved about this book (and would have found distinguished based on all of the Caldecott criteria): the portrait orientation; the glowing Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations; the gatefolds that make the ocean appear even more expansive, balanced by the human stories enclosed within circles; and, of course, the steadfast lighthouse. Robin would have loved involving students in the sound effects of the story — “HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!”

Last summer, my family and friends returned to Robin’s beloved Little Cranberry Island in Maine, where she wished to have her ashes scattered. We scattered ashes all over Robin’s favorite spots on the island and even in the wind from the back of the mailboat. Our return to the island where we had vacationed each summer with family and friends — including our friend Ashley Bryan, who first invited us to “his island” — was our way of saying to Robin, “Hello, hello, hello.”

 
Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Gregory Lum

Dean, What a wonderful tribute to your dear wife, Robin. Although I left Ensworth a year or two before the two of you arrived, I seemed to always run into you or Robin at annual or midwinter. I enjoyed our brief conversations together to get the Ensworth "gossip." May our professional paths continue to cross. God Bless, Gregory

Posted : Feb 08, 2019 08:01


Jessica Pasley

Well said Dean. Absolutely on the mark! Miss her in so many ways. But when I look over at Gigi - she shines right through :) Congrats on the second prized named in her honor. Hugs, Jessica

Posted : Feb 04, 2019 06:30


Allison Hammond

This is the perfect book to shine its beacon light to young readers in Robin’s name. Imagine a child beginning a lifelong journey here on this rock. To whom it may concern: Please know that Dean’s home team has been uplifted peripherally by the support that buoyed him up in Seattle.

Posted : Feb 01, 2019 02:15


Georgeanne Chapman

Can't you just see Robin sitting on her favorite island reading to the school children there and then settling in with her knitting. The continual motion of the light - a beacon of care. That was Robin.

Posted : Feb 01, 2019 03:30


sophie blackall

Oh, Dean, what an achingly beautiful description of Robin's legacy. The image of all her students coming in their knitted hats and scarves made me blurry-eyed. And now I want to visit Robin's island. This award means more to me than you can possibly imagine. Thank you, all, so much.

Posted : Jan 31, 2019 07:35


View More Comments

RELATED 

Stay Connected. Join our devoted community of librarians, educators, and parents in the world of children’s and young adult literature.