Book award committees have such a delightfully difficult task. The ALA Caldecott awards will be announced, among others, on Monday, January 11, and there is always much discussion in the book world leading up to the event. This year there seem to be a lot of books that are nice but don’t contain much of a storyline that really engages readers or listeners. This is not required criteria, but I often wish the Caldecott award would go to a book that children want to hear over and over.
Here are several titles that have received plenty of buzz for various reasons. We’ll see if the Caldecott committee honors any of them:
Waiting by Kevin Henkes
The stage is a windowsill, the five characters are toys who are waiting for a variety of things. (Godot?) This is a subtle, distinctive book that suggests events offstage, the kind of thing the Caldecott committee loves. Although it is not my personal favorite, and I’m not sure it is a winner with many children, Henkes has won numerous awards in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this unique title is included in the awards.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena
A young boy leaves church with his grandmother and takes the bus across town. Along the way he has questions about the people he sees around them, from the privileged to the disabled, and his grandmother always has an insightful answer. The art is reminiscent of another Caldecott winner, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Child-friendly, and I appreciate the journey from worshipping in church to serving in the community.
The classic fire rescue event with all kinds of noise gives this plenty of boy appeal. The noise is integral to the bright illustrations, infusing the action with energy. Although the minimal storyline is fairly standard to a fire rescue and not necessarily profound, this is a great book for its intended audience. Sometimes the Caldecott committee makes surprising choices.
Supertruck by Stephen Savage
Another book that has definite appeal for young boys. A mild-mannered, bespectacled garbage truck transforms into a snowplow when the need arises, rescuing all the other snowbound trucks in town. Definitely worth checking out, even if it doesn’t win an award.
Your sandwich was just sitting there, and a bear came along and ate it. Really. Here’s the whole story of what (might have) happened. A fun picture book with a twist at the end.
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
A young girl borrows a book from her teacher, and doesn’t notice that the words are escaping as she hurries home to read it. A fox catches them in his net and waits. Meanwhile, the girl opens the book and finds no words, only pictures. How can she enjoy the story? She decides to interpret the illustrations as best as she can and creates her own story for each page spread. Although the artwork is really rich and beautiful, I found the lack of continuity unsatisfying. In the end the fox returns the words to her in exchange for a favor, and she returns the book to her teacher, satisfied with her own experience. The girl in the red hood and the fox are reminiscent of classic folklore, but the story, or lack thereof, is too postmodern for many young readers to enjoy.
Float by Daniel Miyares
A boy floats a newspaper boat in city puddles and along the sidewalk streams in the rain until it disappears down the drain. He follows it until it emerges, soggy and useless, and brings it home to share his disappointment with his father. The solution? A hug, warm beverages, dry clothes, and another newspaper creation the boy’s father makes for him to take outside where the weather has cleared and is now sunny. The illustrations are mostly black and white, except for the boy’s yellow slicker and the brilliant ending. Instructions are provided for making your own creations out of newspaper. I really like this one!
Lenny and Lucy by Philip and Erin Stead
It took a few readings for me to get into this story, but I like it better each time. It definitely has a winning opening sentence: “Winding along a bumpy road, through the dark unfriendly woods, Peter said, ‘I think this is a terrible idea.’” His family is moving to a new house that is not as good as their old one, and it stands just across the bridge from the woods that seem so foreboding. So Peter uses pillows to makes a guardian named Lenny who will sit at the end of the bridge, keeping watch just in case. The next day he and his dog, Harold, make a companion for Lenny and call her Lucy. Things continue to improve as Peter and Harold realize they are not so alone as they thought, and the woods are not so foreboding after all. Excellent illustrations, text that is just right, and childlikeness make this story a strong contender for the award. I hope the committee agrees.
My personal top picks would be:
- Lenny & Lucy
- Last Stop on Market Street
- Fire Engine No. 9
Do you have any favorite possibilities? We’ll follow up next week after the announcement!
cover images from amazon