The 2023 Robin Smith Picture Book Prize

With this sixth annual winner of the Robin Smith Picture Book Prize, I realize we now have a nicely curated collection of beautiful picture books that makes a great gift at holidays, birthdays, baby showers, or any occasion calling for a random act of book-giving. I even have a narrow bookcase built by a friend to house the books — one per shelf, faced out — and with this addition, a twin bookcase is in the works. The bookcases show off these beautiful books and serve as one way I remember Robin and honor her legacy. Robin was my wife of almost thirty-six years and an extraordinary teacher. She taught second grade for twenty-four years at Ensworth School, where I still teach, and read aloud hundreds of picture books every year from her rocking chair, the children in a semicircle at her feet. Think of that: twenty-four years and hundreds of picture books read aloud — what a gift for those children; what a legacy for a teacher. Robin died of cancer in 2017, and though it is nice to announce this next winner of the prize created in her memory, it has the flip side of poignancy for me to realize that the prize also represents the passing of time without Robin. But Robin would have LOVED this choice.


The World Belonged to Us, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, is the quintessential Robin Smith picture book. It’s almost as if Woodson wrote it specifically for Robin to read from that rocking chair. I can just picture Robin launching into it, “In Brooklyn / in the summer / not so long ago ….” I know Woodson wrote the book remembering “the absolute joy of childhood summers” and out of a concern that “so many kids don’t play like that anymore,” a concern that Robin had, too. But this book is not just an ode to a time past, but an encouragement to us in our present time: “To young people everywhere. Keep playing!” Woodson’s epigraph proclaims. Robin would have loved the energy of this book, the whole-hearted exuberance of the diverse group of kids playing in the street, portrayed in a beautiful text complemented by Espinosa’s energetic illustrations of kids running and jumping, shooting bottle caps, playing steal the bacon and kick the can, and racing to the ice-cream truck (my three-year-old granddaughter’s [pictured above] favorite illustration). This is the kind of book Robin and I used in our young writers camps each summer, books like Roxaboxen, When I Was Young in the Mountains, and Owl Moon that we would read aloud and students would write and illustrate their own picture books about the times of their lives. Last year, my daughter, Julie, and her designer friend Cristina Gomez created a beautiful golden sticker for the Robin Smith Picture Book prize, embellished with lupines, Robin’s favorite flower. (People sometimes compared Robin to Miss Rumphius, the lupine lady, in how Robin made the world a better place.) That sticker is now in place on the cover of my copy of The World Belonged to Us, and I can already envision the book on the top shelf of my yet-to-be-built second bookcase.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Thank you so much for this lovely post, Dean. A terrific choice, as ever, and Calling Caldecott is so honored to host this prize in honor of the amazing and much-missed Robin.

Posted : Feb 03, 2023 01:49

Deb Taylor

Great choice! This wonderful article reminds me of looking at picture books with Robin. She always looked at them with the child reader or listener in mind!

Posted : Feb 02, 2023 05:43



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