I have been hosting a Mock Caldecott club for several years with fourth and fifth-grade students at my school. Each year, I select several dozen titles that we closely examine during the six-week club. Some years, as many as two-thirds of the students participated. It felt successful.
Last year, things changed. I had the honor of serving on the 2019 Caldecott Committee. That experience encouraged me to look back at the Mock Caldecott club that I hosted and compare it to my experience on the real Caldecott Committee. While my students' experiences would certainly be different, I wondered: how could I bring more of the real-world aspects of my experience on the Caldecott Committee to my students?
There were several parts of the existing structure that we would keep: it would continue to be an optional club that took place during lunch, running for about six weeks, starting in December and going through late January. I would focus the restructuring of the Mock Caldecott club on a few elements that would work within this existing structure.
It would be impossible for me to share all of the knowledge I gained about picture book art with my students, but I wanted more of our focus to be on the art, the role it played in the storytelling, and the decisions that the illustrators made in these picture books. For this, I am relying on the same person who I consulted with when I had questions about artistic elements during my time on the Caldecott Committee: my school's art teacher.
She was immediately interested in the collaboration. We decided that the best way to bring her expertise into the experience was during students' visits to the art room. There, the students not only learn about the different styles being used in that year's batch of nominees but also get a chance to practice them in their own art.
In addition to talking about picture book illustrations in the art room, students have days of exploration in the art room examining common methods used in picture book illustrations. The art teacher asks them to choose one subject and illustrate it using different methods. A student may select a bird and illustrate it multiple times using watercolor, ink, silkscreen, charcoal, acrylics, or collage.
One benefit that students gain is the ability to more easily ask the question, "Is the artistic method used by the illustrator the best one to convey this story?" or, "Why do I think the illustrator chose this illustrative style?" It also helps them identify and appreciate the challenge in using these methods in picture book illustrations.
The picture book art on its own must be impressive (one consideration for the Caldecott Committee is "Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed"). However, I also want students to consider how the illustrations are used to tell the story, as well as understand elements of illustrations that are unique to picture book art.
I address these through micro-lessons that take place for two to three minutes at the end of a 20-minute lunch shift. The micro-lessons happen daily at first and then less frequently. There are some lessons that are guaranteed—such as learning about the gutter, endpapers, left-to-right and top-to-bottom eye tracking, and page-turns. Other micro-lessons will be unique to the nominees themselves as I explore them more closely. This year, I am using the 2019 Caldecott winners and honorees as examples, as well as any other books that can illustrate learning in these short lessons—see an example in my lesson plan, "Identifying and Evaluating Repeated Visual Patterns in Picture Books: A Micro-Lesson for a Mock Caldecott Club."
Taking a micro-lesson into account only gives students 15 minutes a day to look at a picture book. When I was looking at picture books for the Caldecott, I would spend a lot of time with each book on my own, sometimes hours. I would do that alone, but I don't want to isolate my students as they explore picture books. Instead, I invite them to view a picture book with a partner or on their own but with a friend nearby.
I want them to have an environment where they can have small conversations about what they see and have time to form their own opinion. As students are reading and talking about one of the many initial picture book options, I'm listening for a variety of student-driven conversations about different aspects of the picture books. For students who choose to view a picture book alone—and some do—I make myself available to talk about the title they're spending time with.
When I first ran a Mock Caldecott years ago, we filled out scoring guides based on the Caldecott criteria considerations. Our final choice was more about calculations, when it should have been more about conversations and consensus. Ultimately, I want students' constructed opinions about these books to drive rich conversations about which title deserves to be their Mock Caldecott winner.
The last two weeks of our time together now encompass that part of the process. Students are first encouraged to make one or two recommendations assuring that every student sees these titles and eliminates others from contention. After students spend more time with the recommended books, they then make a nomination accompanied by a very short written piece supporting her or his selection. This narrows the field of titles even more. Finally, students, as a whole group, talk through the nominated titles, what they like and do not like, and work to persuade the group of their opinions. Finally, voting begins and further narrows their selection.
Students are left with a Mock Caldecott selection. More importantly, students have had an experience where they have learned about picture book illustration, how to look at the books in a new way, and how to talk about them. They have also learned to work together in a way that they do not always have an opportunity to in class and to express their voice, a new experience for some and important for all.