The 2024 Robin Smith Picture Book Prize

It’s hard to believe that this is the seventh annual Robin Smith Picture Book Prize. It seems as if it’s been only a few months since my wife Robin died of cancer at age fifty-seven. I am so appreciative of The Horn Book Magazine and its Calling Caldecott blog, which Robin cofounded, for sponsoring this award in honor of Robin. She was a long-time writer for the magazine, a second-grade teacher for twenty-four years, a children’s book award committee regular (including the 2011 Caldecott Committee), and a conference speaker. Winners of this prize are books Robin would have loved — beautifully written and illustrated and perfect for her enthusiastic readings from her now-iconic classroom rocking chair. The beautiful gold sticker (below) adorned by lupines — Robin’s and Miss Rumphius’s favorite flower — was created by my daughter Julie and her designer friend Cristina Gomez.


And, now: Evergreen, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. I was on the 2018 Caldecott Committee that selected Cordell’s Wolf in the Snow as its medal winner, so I’m happy to return to the work of an illustrator I admire. Where Wolf in the Snow is nearly wordless, Evergreen is a big, beautifully written tale, in this time of spare picture-book texts. Some readers seem to see Evergreen as an early chapter book, but I see it as a picture book, just longer than usual with its six chapter-like parts. I tried this out with a class of first graders and easily read it in one session. It is a great read-aloud, and there is a lovely interplay of text and illustration, which all great picture books have. There are times, for example, when the illustrations carry on when the text simply says, “Evergreen continued through Buckthorn Forest, encountering strange noises, meeting new friends, dodging a few enemies, and nearly losing the soup at every turn.” Eight illustrations portray the dangers and marvels and new friendships. With just a 005 Micron pen and watercolors, Cordell creates Evergreen’s hero’s journey through Buckthorn Forest, Cordell’s scratchy-looking illustrations fully up to rendering little gestures — the slight turn of head, the hunch of shoulders, expressions of fear, worry, and trepidation shown with just the slightest changes in pen marks — and big scenes in double-page spreads.


Robin would have loved Evergreen. Beyond the art and text, she would have appreciated how thoughtfully made the book is, with its large trim size, captivating jacket illustration, the map of Buckthorn Forest on the cover, the forest-green endpapers, the heavy stock chosen for the pages, and so forth. It’s a large book with a large story to tell in words and illustrations, with great appeal to young children. I know — those first graders loved it.


I am thrilled to add Evergreen to the shelves of the two narrow bookcases a friend built for me just for the Robin Smith Picture Book Prize books, one book per shelf, face out. In order, the shelves contain The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen; Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall; River by Elisha Cooper; The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl; The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat and illustrated by Lauren Castillo; The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Leo Espinosa; and now Evergreen. My hope for this growing group of picture books is that it will be a well-curated set of books for teachers and parents to read aloud and to give away as gifts. I love having my collection of books that daily remind me of Robin’s legacy, but even better is giving them away for others to further that legacy.

Dean Schneider

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

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Allison Grover Khoury

I love this choice! Thank you for sharing Robin with us again this year as you choose another wonderful book to honor in her memory!

Posted : Feb 07, 2024 03:39

Allison Hammond

This delightful book is a brilliant choice to imagine Robin enjoying as much as those lucky children gathered around her rocking chair. Worthy addition to a sparkling collection, Dean!

Posted : Jan 30, 2024 06:03

Karen Kosko

Dean, Thank you for your important message. Here’s to furthering dear Robin’s legacy.

Posted : Jan 28, 2024 12:34



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