The 2022 "Books We Wish We Had Time For" List

One of NPR's Pop Culture Critics, John Powers, will often present at the end of a calendar year what he calls his Ghost File. He describes this as the books, films, or television shows he saw that haunt him, precisely because he loved them and wanted to cover them — but only has so much time in one year and didn't quite get to them. His Ghost File is his annual addendum, his last chance to recommend something to his readers. 

We here at Calling Caldecott have our own Ghost File of a sort, those books we hoped to cover but didn't quite get to. As always, we like to, at the very least, include these books in our annual "Books We Wish We Had Time For" list. Will one of these books walk away with the Caldecott Medal or an Honor? We don’t know, but we do know that we don't want to wrap up our Calling Caldecott season without calling attention to them.   




Everybody in the Red Brick Building — Anne Wynter's carefully paced picture book debut, a story that builds cumulatively, features baby Izzie, who pops up from her crib in the middle of the night and wails. One by one, this awakens tenants in the apartment building, which sets off a chain reaction of noises — car alarms, a toy rocket, a parrot, a children's game, etc. Mora's art is the ideal match for this story. She incorporates into the illustrations the many sounds of this gentle sonic adventure, collaged in her distinctive style — the "Rraak!" from the parrot, the "WEEYOOOO" of a car alarm, and Izzie's "WaaaAAH!" These sounds sometimes sweep dramatically across the spreads. The book's climax is a wonder of composition; here, we see all the sounds at once, emanating from the apartment building, and in silhouette we can see that everyone is awake. (The book's second half, in case you haven't seen this one yet, includes much softer sounds as everyone winds down again, and it morphs into a pleasing bedtime tale.) Mora uses simple shapes to keep the bustle of all these once-sleeping people from being too visually overwhelming. Her highly patterned artwork invites lingering, as always. Will this dynamic story turn the commitee's head? [Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Everybody in the Red Brick Building.]




It Fell from the Sky — "Everyone agreed it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen" is a line at the beginning of this fable-like tale from the Fan Brothers, and it seems that some of our Calling Caldecott readers this year feel the same about this book! What appears to be a marble (or perhaps a bouncy ball) has landed in a field of grass. It is the only pop of color (shades of green and a sunny yellow) on these otherwise monochromatic pages. The insects who spot this object, utterly foreign to them, are mesmerized. Each creature assumes it's a different thing. When the money-grubbing spider in a top hat gets a hold of it, he spins a web for displaying the object and charges admission (one leaf apiece, please) to see it. Then "the Unexpected Disaster" occurs: A human hand reaches down to retrieve the object: "A five-legged creature stole the Wonder and took it back to the sky." What happens after this results in Spider's epiphany about selfishness. Color is used sparingly in this palette dominated by shades of gray. The Fan Brothers bring color to not just the mysterious objects from the sky (delightly, more appear at the story's close), but also — in order to emphasize Spider's greed — to the leaves that pose as currency. There is also full color on the final spread when the insects' world is, thanks to Spider's change of heart, more harmonious. The Fan Brothers convey nuanced textures in this story; there are wispy dandelions and sparkling webs, and you can almost count the fine hairs on the spider's body. All of these intricate details draw readers into this fully realized world. And the perspectives here are dramatic and even goosebump-inducing. Readers not only see the big hand reach down to the insects' world; we also see a giant foot walk over it, destroying WonderVille, Spider's grand exhibit for the Wonder from the Sky. The Fan Brothers live in Canada but are eligible for the Caldecott. Will this one garner some Caldecott recognition? [You can read the Horn Book Magazine review here.]




Keeping the City Going — The Horn Book's review for this tribute to essential workers who kept New York City going during the first part of the pandemic (one that won't seem to end!) also describes the book as a "love letter to New York City." Here, Floca brings us detailed paintings (in both vignettes and expansive spreads) that capture the city during a time it was "strangely still" — that is, when New York City fully shut down right after the pandemic began. Floca highlights the work of people who delivered food; stocked shelves; drove buses, trains, and taxis; picked up trash; delivered letters and packages; helped patients heal; and much more. It all adds up to a tender tribute to the people who didn't have the luxury of staying home during this dangerous, uncertain time. One of the seemingly insignificant details in the book that brings the city to vivid life is due to the fact that, as Floca describes in this 7-Imp chat, he succeeded in getting permission from the City of New York and the U.S. Postal Service to use some of their logos in the book. ("This involved," he said, "not a little jumping through hoops, and maybe most readers won’t think twice about it. But it felt important to me to set these events in the city where I saw them happening, especially in the early days of making this book, when New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic here in the States, if not the world.") Floca's drawings are meticulously researched, precise, and heartfelt. A taxi driver picks up a woman carrying groceries (both are masked to keep each other safe); a doctor turns to look with tired eyes directly at readers in the hospital spread; and neighbors see one another from windows and cheer and clap ("we are all still here, and we are here together"). Floca expertly captures the unity felt during this moment in history; it's an exquisite time capsule of a book. This year, we've seen another picture book about the pandemic; it is remarkable how these two differ, but both are honest, refusing to sugarcoat the gravity of what has happened, and reverent, acknowledging the invaluable contribution of essential workers. 




My Tree — To be honest, the sheer number of picture books about trees published in 2021 generated a bit of tree-book fatigue here — but hopefully the Caldecott committee is made of sterner stuff. The best 2021 tree books should rise to the top, and one that definitely does so is My Tree. The story of a child who misses their home in Korea and adopts the plum tree in their backyard because it reminds them of their old persimmon tree, this book is touching, true to childhood emotions, and visually gorgeous. The illustrations, though created digitally, have so much texture, all of them quite remarkably working harmoniously together. Color is used skillfully to create mood, with lively springtime colors as the child bonds with "Plumee"; somber colors for the rainstorm that topples Plumee. In the latter illustration a quick glance at the stormy night sky just telegraphs "darkness" — but look closer to see the myriad colors employed to create that dark sky. Perhaps the most stunning illustration of all is the one where the child stands in their yard and remembers Plumee, and a huge, stark negative-space image of the tree dominates the double-page spread. Illustrator Il Sung Na, by the way, was born in South Korea but now lives in Kansas City, and so is eligible for the Caldecott because of the residency rule. [Read the Horn Book Magazine review of My Tree.]




The Ramble Shamble Children — "Down the mountain, acrosss the creek, past the last curve in the road, five children lived together in a ramble shamble house." Caldecott Honoree Lauren Castillo brings Christina Soontornvat's group of nature-loving children (Merra, Locky, Roozle, Finn, and Jory) to the page with thick brush strokes, vivid colors, and (as the Horn Book review notes) "light-infused backgrounds of mountain, meadow, and mud." O! The light! These pages nearly shine. The children who live in this ramble shamble house work together to keep the house and garden going, nary an adult in sight. After spotting in a book what they suppose are a "proper" house and garden, they make adjustments to theirs, even raking over the mud puddles ("because mud definitely isn't proper"), but when Jory disappears and they set out on a hunt for him, they realize their ramble shamble house is perfect just the way it is. These illustrations have Castillo's usual warmth and softness, expressive characters, and signature thick outlines, but there are moments when Castillo gets more impressionistic than usual, such as in the hills and trees surrounding the home. And it's lovely. Will the commtitee agree? [Read the Horn Book Magazine review of The Ramble Shamble Children.]




¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge — This is the third bilingual ¡Vamos! adventure by Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay — although that shouldn't matter to the Caldecott committee, of course. This book has all the energy, humor, wealth of detail, color, verve, and personality of the previous two. Here Little Lobo, rooster Kooky, and dog Bernabé are headed across the bridge linking two countries in order to attend a big celebration; the traffic is such that they are stuck on the bridge. They are frustrated and disappointed. But then — they make their own celebration, with the food trucks firing up their ovens, performers making music and dancing, candy raining down from pinatas, and fabulous fireworks. I'll just call out two illustrations. On the spread that begins "On one side of the bridge most people speak Spanish and on the other most speak English...," although there are lots of signage in both languages, there are only two scraps of mirrored dialogue. A dog on one side barks, "Woof woof," while Bernabé says, "Guau, guau." So simple and effective. And the final page, with the text "That night, on a bridge between two countries, La Celebración came to everyone" — managing to be both warmly inclusive and hotly spectacular as it depicts the fireworks. The medium for that one illustration almost looks like scratch art (or crayon etching). Again, so effective. With its themes of connecting cultures, of living in the moment, and of cooperation and celebration, this entry feels like the strongest one yet.


Are there any other books you would add to this group? It's hard to believe that we are so close to the awards announcement. Soon, we will know what the Real Committee has chosen!

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.
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