The Caldecott Medal and a handful of Caldecott Honors are bestowed each January at the American Library Association's Mid Winter Meeting. Sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), the Medal and Honor are highly prized awards honoring the most outstanding illustrations in picture books for the previous year.
Many school and public libraries sponsor a Mock Caldecott contest where students, staff, and librarians examine books and choose personal favorites. I developed a Mock Caldecott contest for children to look at several books with critically acclaimed illustrations. I would then ask them to select the most "distinguished." This contest would focus on qualitative evaluation while reaching first and second graders at their emerging reading level.
Coincidentally, the local public library was about to embark on its own Mock Caldecott contest under the leadership of librarian Connie Ilmer. At the time, Ms. Ilmer was serving on Michigan's Mitten Committee which is responsible for identifying outstanding books for Michigan children, therefore, she was familiar with the latest quality picture books. We agreed to collaborate on the project.
Prior to the contest, I spent time with students examining past Caldecott Medal and Honor Books. This provided multiple opportunities to discuss the concept of the Caldecott Awards, familiarize students with the official seals, and show them the wide range of award-winning styles.
To prepare for the Mock Caldecott contest, ten books were chosen for student evaluation, one for each of the ten tables in the library media center.
Ms. Ilmer's involvement on the Mitten Committee resulted in bags of books from which to choose, as did Mock Caldecott lists posted on the LM_NET and CHILD_LIT listservs, web searches for "mock Caldecott," and published book reviews.
I specifically considered the first and second grade audience selecting titles I thought would excite them and that would be grade-appropriate.
I chose the following books for the January 2006 Mock Caldecott contest:
- A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom (Boyds Mill Press, 2005).
- Beyond the Great Mountains by Ed Young (Chronicle, 2005).
- Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (Harcourt, 2005).
- Mudball by Matt Tavares (Candlewick, 2005).
- The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (Harcourt, 2005).
- Diary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Harry Bliss (Joanna Cotler, 2005).
- Zen Shorts written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic, 2005).
- Leonardo the Terrible Monster by twice-Honored Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2005).
Prior to the arrival of the students, I placed one book and a corresponding table tent on each table. I prepared ballots that listed each book and the table on which the book was sitting (see Mock Caldecott Ballot, page 21).
To begin the lesson, we sat in a circle and briefly reviewed what it meant for a picture book to win a Caldecott Medal or Honor Award. I also shared with them an abbreviation of the criteria Ms. Ilmer had outlined for her Mock Caldecott contest:
- Does the cover make you want to open the book?
- Are the end papers interesting?
- Do the pictures tell a story?
- Are the illustrations so "special" that they deserve to win?
Next, I counted off the class and assigned them to tables by number and in pairs. This method was used to pair students randomly and, hopefully, with students having different perspectives from their own. We then looked at the ballots and established the ground rules at each table. Students would have only two minutes to look at each book. Although there wouldn't be time to read each book, they would have time to look at the cover, the endpapers, and the illustrations. A timer would sound after two minutes, and they would need to mark their ballot if they thought the book merited Caldecott recognition. They were not required to reach consensus with their partner, but to make an independent choice. They would then move to the table with the next higher number or if at Table 10, move to Table 1. After the students had rotated to all tables, they looked back at the chart and individually chose a Caldecott Medal and up to three Honor Books. Ballots were tallied, giving two points to each book awarded a medal and one to each nominated as an Honor Book. The results were posted on the door to the library media center. One of the choices, Zen Shorts, was actually awarded a Caldecott Honor, and A Splendid Friend, Indeed was awarded a Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor, a new honor recognizing books for beginning readers. We patted ourselves on the back for our good taste, and then I read them Zen Shorts and excerpts from another Caldecott Honor Book, Song of the Water Boatman, discussing why we thought they merited the award.
A Mock Caldecott contest was a fun and efficient way to introduce students to many great books in a short amount of time. By pitting themselves against the expert Awards Committee, students felt a real-world connection to their activities. Circulation of the books in the contest remained high for the remainder of the year. Many early childhood learners enjoyed discovering the Caldecott seal on other books. They learned that the seal signals to them that "Many experts thought this was a good book, but you're entitled to disagree and choose your personal favorite!"
Special thanks to Connie Ilmer of the Baldwin Public Library of Birmingham, Michigan, for her collaboration on this project.
Association for Library Service to Children. Caldecott Medal Home Page. http://www.ala.org/ala/alsc/awardsscholarships/literaryawds/caldecott medal/caldecottmedal.htm (accessed June 9, 2006).
Online Sources for Mock Caldecott Lists
Allen County Public Library. http://www.acpl.lib.in.us/children/caldecott_current.html
CHILD_LIT Archives. https://email.rutgers.edu/pipermail/child_lit/
LM_NET Archives. http://www.eduref.org/lm_net/archive/