Last year, I speculated on the criteria that I think makes a picture book a Caldecott winner and I did pretty well predicting the winners with four of the five! This is what I wrote last year:
Caldecott Picture Books Should Appeal to a Wide Audience
The Caldecott is determined by adults, first and foremost, so the picture book has to appeal to adult sensibilities who then imagine this book for a young audience. I think this broad audience is also a fundamental characteristic for winning a Caldecott. In fact, the broader the better, both in age and in subject matter.
Caldecott Books Should Have a Timeless Appeal
I think the picture book to win a Caldecott should also be able to transcend the vagaries of time in terms of staying relevant far into the future. There’s nothing sadder than an old Caldecott picture book that no one reads anymore, like an anachronistic relic from the past, dug up in a dusty attic to be ridiculed that someone actually read this book and liked it a long, long time ago. That’s where the story comes into play.
Caldecott Books Seamlessly Combine Story with Illustrations
I think it’s easier said than done. The graphic design of the pages which is often in the hands of neither the author or illustrator can make or break a picture book.
Caldecott Books Should Be a Discovery?
This is the outlier point for me. I think a great Caldecott winner is a discovery for a well read audience. It’s easy to give the award over and over again to the likes of say … David Weisner, Jon Klassen, Marla Frazee and others, but isn’t even more exciting to put a lesser known illustrator front and center?
This year, I’m adding another criteria: Important Messages for Children. I’m thinking that now, more than ever, picture books that impart an important message to kids is higher on the list than ever.
With these points in mind, this is my list for predicting the 2017 Caldecott. In order to make this list, I researched many mock Caldecott lists and posts which gave me 25 books. After reading all these books, I’ve narrowed it down. I’m also favoring Important Messages for Children as part of my selection process.
My 2018 Caldecott Predictions
Most Likely to Win Caldecott
After The Fall by Dan Santat
My front runner is Dan Santat’s latest fractured fairy tale/growth-mindset picture book that is both clever and moving. It’s the ambiguous ending that seals the deal for me though. The genius of this story is taking something that is well known and finding a spin that is both inspiring, provocative, and cleverly original. The growth mindset message is right on target as well. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Rooting Hard For These
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
There has been a lot of buzz about this non-fiction picture book all year and the genius of this book is how Jason Chin packs a lot of information in beautifully designed page spreads, making it easy to read and understand. The Grand Canyon is a big place to explore, but Chin takes the reader through a logical progression following the waterways and then climbing out of the gorge to the top. This is really an exceptional non-fiction book with every detail of earth science meets biology with a side of ecology is edited to perfection. [nonfiction picture book, ages 7 and up]
Mighty Moby by Ed Young and Barbara Lacosta
This picture book is a clever riff off Moby Dick with twists and turns. What is exceptionally clever is that the reader is required to turn the book sideways from page spread to page spread, which gives a sense of movement as if on a rollicking ship. The mixed media artwork is both realistically rendered but also a puzzle to solve. I feel like Ed Young is due for Caldecott recognition and I am hoping it happens for his through this book. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Deserves to Win but Probably Won’t
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander,illustrated by Ekua Holmes
I don’t think a poetry anthology has won a Caldecott so this would be a first. What is exceptional about this book is that the authors write original poems in the style of famous poets (but really nail it!). The only thing that hurts this book is that Ekua Holmes won as the a Caldecott honoree illustrator last year. Her illustration style is beautiful and distinctive and I feel that it hurts her to win consecutively because of that. [poetry picture book, ages 8 and up]
Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith
This reminds me of another Caldecott book, One Morning in Maine. A boy describes a typical day in his life in a town by the sea. Throughout the small and quiet details that he presents is the understanding that his father is a coal miner, working underground in the mines under the sea. His town is so beautiful and life there seems good. His father returns from work and the family enjoys a home cooked meal his mother prepared. And then the kicker that makes this book so compelling for me — one day inevitably it will be his turn to work in the mines. Because that’s just what happens when you are a miner’s son and the grandson of a miner. In his town, that’s just the way it goes. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Strong Nonfiction Candidates
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk
This feel-good picture book biography of blues legend Muddy Waters pulses with rhythm and energy depicted with neon streaks of colors in the vibrant illustrations. His is a story of staying true to himself, despite racism, poverty, and lack of education. Muddy Waters is also a person of great optimism and strength, willing to take chances and play the music in his heart. He is considered one of the most important influences in American music and this picture book does justice to his remarkable story. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
The Secret Project by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter
In this age of nuclear proliferation, this book is more important than ever. I really like how the illustrations start off with happy bright colors and get progressively more muted as the book progresses, matching the text and tone of the story. Explaining the development of the U.S. nuclear program to children is complicated and this picture book does an exceptional job at getting to the hear of what happened in an engaging way that is not too scary (though this is a scary subject). [picture book, ages 5 and up]
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy
There are so many great elements to this nonfiction picture book. It weaves a narrative story between nonfiction page spreads which is a nice way to lure in a reader. The illustrations are bold and vibrant, in a style that feels very unique to picture books. Following a baby elephant through the phases of learning required for survival bonds the reader to the plight of the elephant and this is a Very Important Message about this endangered species. Originality counts for the Caldecott and that’s why this book is on my list! [nonfiction picture book, ages 7 and up]
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai
I veer away from war books in general so this one with an art deco flare gets huge points for combining unlikely subjects of art and design innovation, military strategy, and WWII. The story, too, is a dramatic one that is little known. I didn’t know that the Germans tried to starve out the British by sinking all their ships. One of the strategies employing optical illusion is one of those times where truth is stranger than fiction. While the author does note that depth charges and convoys are credited with the the U-boat becoming less successful, the idea of dazzle ships is a tribute to the power of creativity, art, and design. All artists, and those who don’t appreciate artists, should read this book that dazzles on many levels. [nonfiction picture book, ages 6 and up]
My Choice for Wordless Picture Book
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
This nearly wordless picture book has a Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz fantastical appeal. Graegin uses color palette to convey realistic in cool tones of gray and blue and a wonderland forest in full color. The girl’s friendships, both old and new, have a heartwarming sweetness. This is a gentle adventure for kids of all ages. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
My Caldecott Long Shots
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
This picture book doesn’t come up on many mock Caldecott lists but it gives quiet dignity to poverty experienced by new immigrants. In this story, the father is working multiple jobs and fishing so that the family can eat at dinner but without complaint. He turns this middle-of-the-night excursion into an outing to spend time with his oldest son. The mother too, goes off to work on the weekend, leaving the boy in charge of his younger siblings. There is a sense of gratitude for this new life in a strange land where the horrors of war are behind them. The illustrations impart a sense of tranquility with a minimalist color scheme. The expressions on the faces of the characters also tell the story of finding moments of happiness and joy in small moments despite hardship and poverty. In the final pages, the family quietly appreciates precious moments of time spent together, and this can summarize the Asian refugee experience: hard work, family, and gratitude. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
It would be easy to say that this picture book appeals to African American boys or, to expand it, African American families. But I think this book is important to white America as well because it’s a ode not just to a fresh cut and barber shop culture but to strong black men.
“Deep down inside, they wish that everyone could see what they see: a real life, breathing, compassionate, thoughtful, brilliant, limitless soul that matters — that desperately maters. We’ve always mattered.”
The illustrations remind me of portraits by Kehinde Wiley that bring dignity to African American men. This book matters, as do all lives. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
What Do You Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
I think it might hurt this lovely picture book that it’s part of a series of Growth Mindset books in terms of a Caldecott. I’m not sure why, but maybe because the judges feel like they have seen versions of this book from the past one and it’s not terribly different in terms of concept. Still, it’s has an Important Message with beautiful illustrations that take the story to magical realism place. This works especially well to bring solidity to an abstract idea. It’s an inspiring book but probably too straight forward to win. [picture book, ages 4 and up]