Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books

Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books: A Guide to the Illustrations by Heidi K. Hammond & Gail D. Nordstrom
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Date: August 2014
Format: print
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Authors | Publisher

I am participating in Julie's Newbery/Caldecott Challenge this year and was looking to learn more about why certain books win these awards when I found Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books in my library system's catalog. I borrowed it at least three times and maxed out my renewals each time. Even though I have now read it in its entirety, I am seriously considering buying a copy to have as a reference. It seems to be an academic-type book though, so it is rather pricey for a paperback -- used or new -- so I'm holding out for now. I admit I am exceedingly enthusiastic about picture books these days, but regardless, I still feel like this is a real hidden gem of a book. Realistically, I imagine this book has mostly been used by librarians and teachers, but I think it could have wider appeal to parents if not for the price. Delving more deeply into picture books isn't for everyone, but I'm sure I'm not the only bookish parent who is more comfortable with understanding and appreciating text and wished to know more about the merits of award-winning illustration.

So what exactly will you find in this book? The introduction covers the Caldecott award criteria and the process of choosing the winners. The authors share their own experience serving on the 2011 Caldecott committee (without revealing anything confidential, of course). I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it sure sounded like fun for anyone who loves picture books! The authors also explain how and why they wrote the book and how to use it. It is important to know it is not meant to be read alone, but rather to be read alongside the picture books themselves so you can examine the illustrations more closely as you learn more about them.

After the introduction, we move right into entries for 56 different Caldecott award books. The entries are presented alphabetically by title and include all of the Medal and Honor books for 2011-2014 plus selected titles from earlier years. It doesn't cover nearly all of the Caldecott titles going back to 1938, but there is enough here to give you a solid foundation for better understanding how the award works and what qualifies a book to receive it. I would love if the authors wrote a follow-up featuring additional Caldecott books, but I don't know how realistic that wish is!

Each entry lists the title, author, medal or honor status, year, style, and medium. Then there four sections: "analysis," "for further consideration," "illustrator note," and "sources consulted." Each entry is not long, but they are packed full of insights and observations about the book and its artwork. You can read the entry for The Invention of Hugo Cabret excerpted on the authors' website here to see an example.

My usual method was to read the picture book once, then read its entry while flipping back through the picture book and examining it more closely. I cannot even begin to count how many times I missed things in the illustrations. And while most of the time, I felt like my biggest takeaway was to just pay better attention already! -- there were many other cases where additional background information was provided that I never would have known without additional research. And as easy as it sounds to just pay better attention, many years of focusing primarily on the written words is a hard habit to break. The other thing this book was really good at was pointing out "threads" in the illustrations -- for example, a minor character or image that appears on every page. I am terrible at picking up that sort of thing on my own unless it is glaringly obvious. I am definitely not well-practiced in noticing more subtle things in picture book artwork.

There is a glossary which proved extremely useful as I encountered unfamiliar terms. There are also three different indexes so you can easily identify picture books by media and style as well as by title/author/illustrator. The "sources consulted" listed for each entry (in addition to the sources listed in one of the back appendixes) are proving to be a treasure trove of additional reading. I've started looking for some of them in my library system and plan to continue delving into the world of picture books. I have a feeling I've started down a bit of a rabbit hole here, but I'm definitely OK with that. Apologies to anyone who isn't so interested in picture books, but this "genre" is even more vast and more fascinating than I first imagined and I won't be leaving it any time soon!

12 comments:

  1. I can see why you went to such lengths in order to finish this book - it sounds fascinating, and like quite an eye opener to picture books.

    Thanks for sharing :-)

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    1. It definitely was! So much great information. You're welcome :)

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  2. I can't wait for next year's Newbery/Caldecott challenge. I've found many interesting books that won these medals.

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    1. Glad to hear you will be joining as well in 2017!

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  3. I feel like I should read this book! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. :D

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    1. It would be a really interesting one for a library student I think! Even if you don't read it cover to cover, there is so much fascinating information to learn from.

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  4. This is very interesting. I will look at my library for it.

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  5. This sounds absolutely fascinating. The only thing my little guy is getting out of reading books right now is constantly trying to grab them out of my hands. I can't wait until he's old enough to look at and talk about the illustrations. This book sounds like an awesome resource for that!

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    1. Oh, the grabby stage...yea, mine still does that quite a lot, too! Even though my son is older, this was definitely more for my own information than for his at this point!

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  6. Wow, this sounds like a fascinating read, especially if you take the time to really appreciate it the way you did. Thanks for sharing the experience!

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    1. It really was fascinating! You're welcome :)

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I'd love to hear what you think :)