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Caldecott's 75th Anniversary: Celebrating Award-Winning Books, Part I

 | Jan 16, 2013

Caldecott MedalWhen the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, announces the recipient of the 2013 Caldecott Medal later this month, it will mark the award’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

Named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the prestigious medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Many libraries and classrooms make sure they have these award-winning books on their shelves. In honor of the anniversary and to celebrate some of the best picture books published in the past, members of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group have chosen to highlight some of their favorites. This week’s reviews cover the early decades of the award, beginning in 1938 and ending in 1970. Next week’s reviews will focus on the more recently honored titles. ReadWriteThink offers a wide variety of lesson plans to accompany a study of the Caldecott winners.

1938 Medal Winner:

Lathrop, Dorothy. (1937). Animals of the Bible: A picture book. Illus. by Dorothy P. Lathrop; text selected by Helen Dean Fish. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Animals of the BibleAnimals of the Bible, for which its illustrator won the first Caldecott Medal Winner, is actually a collection of Bible stories about animals from both the Old and New Testaments. The original book contains black and white illustrations depicting the earth’s flora and fauna through beautifully detailed drawings. The text that accompanies each picture is from the King James Version of the Bible. There are 27 illustrations including the Creation with Eve’s serpent, some of the animals from Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s ram, the lions from Daniel in the Lions’ Den, the great fish of Jonah, the beast and the Good Samaritan, the pigs of the Prodigal son, Balaam’s ass and many more. In the Foreword, Helen Dean Fish comments:  “… animals so frequently play a part in the most dramatic and beautiful happenings [in the Book] and are often referred to with appreciation and gentleness… creatures to command both awe and admiration.” In 1998, HarperCollins released a special deluxe 60th anniversary edition.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

1942 Medal Winner: 

McCloskey, Robert. (1941). Make way for ducklings. New York: Viking.

Make Way for DucklingsMr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for a safe place to make their nest to raise a family. Unlike Mr. Mallard who thinks the Boston Garden is the best place to do so, Mrs. Mallard fears the swan boats there, prompting them to compromise on a spot near the River Charles. Mrs. Mallard says she will meet Mr. Mallard at the Public Garden when the ducklings are trained and ready to travel. When that time comes, the dutiful ducklings line up behind their mother and begin the trek to the park. Mrs. Mallard tries to get her eight little ducklings safely across the busy streets of Boston for their reunion with their father. However, it requires the help of a friendly Boston policeman to get the job done, and the ducklings, spearheaded by their mother, eventually cross the busy streets of Boston to join Mr. Mallard. This lively tale makes for a timeless read aloud for young learners. Deservedly, it is a classic in every way and one that still holds high appeal for today’s young readers. “Follow the journey of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard as they find a safe home to raise their family” on Google Lit Trips using Google Earth to plot the journey by using Google Lit Trips. Born in Ohio, author Robert McCloskey is one of the authors featured in the Choose to Read Ohio where a complete Robert McCloskey toolkit is available. Enjoy the Weston Woods video production of this book, and use the teacher’s guide to accompany the video. Additionally, visitors to Boston can enjoy a stroll in the Boston Public Gardens and view the bronze sculpture dedicated to McCloskey and his memorable ducklings.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

1948 Medal Winner:

Tresselt, Alvin. (1947). White snow, bright snow. Illus. by Roger Duvoisin. New York, New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.

White Snow Bright SnowThis award-winning book opens with a popular poem, “Softly, Gently in the Secret Night.” Snow forms the central theme of this book and starts with the preparation for the first snow. Around the village, the farmer, the postman, the policeman, and his wife prepare for the first snowflakes. When it arrives, the children are delighted and the animals scurry into safer places. Through winter, people fall sick, landmarks become buried, ice ferns form on the window panes, children make snowman, snow house, a snow fort, and then have a snow ball fight. But each day, the sun grows stronger, and the water gurgles until there is no more snow on the ground. People look forward to a glimpse of snowdrops and crocuses to announce spring. The colorful illustrations earned the illustrator the Caldecott Medal in 1948. Teachers can learn more about the illustrator at

- Rani Iyer, Washington State University Pullman

1957 Medal Winner:

Udry, Janice May. (1956). A tree is nice. Illus. by Marc Simont. New York: Harper & Row.

A Tree is NiceTrees offer so many gifts to the world around them. Their leafy branches fill up the sky, creating wood-filled panoramas with whispering leaves fluttering in the breeze. Trees are nice because children can climb up and down in them, hang swings in them, and use their sticks to draw in sand. They provide shade and shelter for people and other animals. Trees are everywhere; there are trees in the park, in the yard, in the field, in the forest, on the hills, by the rivers, and near the farms. Although this title is perfect for anyone who loves trees, enjoys shade, and lives in big cities and misses trees, it is also a book for those who appreciate the beauty of nature and have happy memories playing with and around trees. The green-filled illustrations of trees, children, and animals in the book are vivid; tree-lovers are likely to identify the different kinds of trees that are portrayed in the book’s pages: pines, oaks, willows, apple trees, and even bare trees. Reading this book is like walking in the sunshine with light breeze. The book evokes a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere that readers and nature-lovers will savor. Clearly, trees are so much more than being simply nice.

- Ying-Hsuan Lee, Washington State University Pullman

1959 Medal Winner:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. (1958). Chanticleer and the fox. Retold and illus. by Barbara Cooney. New York: HarperCollins.

Chanticleer and the FoxReaders will delight in turning to this Caldecott Medal-winning book over and over because of its animal characters, its ornate artwork and the book's important messages about being wary of flatterers and taking care not to become too proud. The story revolves around the proud Chanticleer, who delights in his plentiful feathers and distinctive voice. When a fox spies him by himself, he knows he can’t catch Chanticleer without some trickery. He compliments him and then plays to Chanticleer’s desire to be known as for his crowing. As he throws back his head and crows, the fox seizes him while he’s on his tiptoes. All the other barnyard animals and humans try to rescue him, but it is Chanticleer who manages to turn the tables on the fox. When the fox opens his mouth in order to get rid of the others, Chanticleer falls from his grasp and flies to an overhead branch. By opening his mouth when he shouldn't, the fox loses his succulent meal. Both rooster and fox learn valuable lessons and aren’t likely to be fooled again. It’s impossible not to love the black and white colors and the touches of red, green, and gold that are found throughout the book’s pages. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

1961 Medal Winner:

Robbins, Ruth. (1960). Baboushka and the three kings. Illus. by Nicolas Sidjakov. Nashville: Parnassus.

BaboushkaIn search of the newborn Christ child, three kings in a sleigh ask the elderly Baboushka to help them. Since it is cold and she is tired, she is reluctant to accompany them and asks that they wait until the next morning. Unable to wait, they press on, and she figures she can follow their tracks the next morning if she decides to do so. Her conscience bothers Baboushka during the night, prompting her to collect a few small presents and look for the baby the next day. But the travelers' tracks have been covered by the snow, and no one has seen the baby for whom she is searching. From then on, she continues her search for the Christ child. The artwork is quite interesting, filled with stylized figures and bright colors with dark tones that contrast with some of the white and black shapes. The images are reminiscent of stained glass windows in some respects and become more attractive with repeated readings.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

1962 Medal Winner:

Brown, Marcia. (1961). Once a mouse...: A fable cut in wood. New York: Scribner.

Once a MouseCan a mouse become a tiger? Impossible! Well, read Once A Mouse before jumping to conclusions about the possibilities of shape-shifting. Protected by an old hermit with mighty magic, a mouse is changed into a stout cat, a big dog, and finally a handsome, royal tiger in order to stay safe from other, larger creatures. Proud of being a strong tiger, he walks around the forest with a cocky air. The old hermit cannot bear seeing the tiger showing off and scolds the beast, reminding him of what he once was. Feeling disgraced, the ungrateful tiger threatens him. The hermit understands the tiger’s intention and turns the grand, arrogant tiger back into a timid little mouse. Retold from an India fable in Hitopadesa, Once a Mouse has a simple plot but contains multiple-layered meanings, making it a story that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. The multicolored woodcut illustrations provide an engaging artistic reading experience for readers as each page is turned. 

- Ying-Hsuan Lee, Washington State University Pullman

1963 Medal Winner:

Keats, Ezra Jack. (1962). The snowy day. New York: Viking.

The Snowy DayEzra Jack Keats broke new ground with The Snowy Day when he created the first American picture book with a positive depiction of an African American child as the main character. In addition to winning the Caldecott Medal for this book, he is credited by some for beginning the real impetus for multicultural children’s literature. This book marks a turning point in the world of children’s literature. The story of a young child going out to play in his bright red snowsuit and how he enjoys the new snow is heart warming. He finds it great fun to make tracks in the snow and whack a stick against the snow-laden branches of a tree great snow. Making a snowman and sliding down piles of snow add to his merriment. Trying to hold onto some of the day’s pleasures, he stuffs a snowball into his pocket for tomorrow. After going inside to get warm and head off to bed, he gets up the next morning to find that yesterday’s snowball has melted, but outside, another glorious snow day awaits. The 50th anniversary deluxe edition of the book published in 2012 includes many extra pages of information about the author. Teachers can listen to the entire story read by LaVar Burton and a recent interview at NPR dealing with breaking the color barrier at the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation offers a plethora of resources to educators including the beautifully animated rendition of The Snowy Day. ReadWriteThink offers a “Creative Problem-Solving with Ezra Jack Keats." Read more about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation in this article.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

1964 Medal Winner:

Sendak, Maurice. (1963). Where the wild things are. New York: Harper.

Where the Wild Things AreAs do all of us at one time or another, Max gets carried away with his antics, and his annoyed mother sends him to his room as punishment. But he continues with his wild play, and his room becomes the place where the wild things are, and his imagination runs wild. Naturally, Max becomes the leader of the wild things. The author/illustrator captures perfectly what it’s like to be boisterous, imaginative, and with plenty of excess energy. While the wild things look somewhat frightening with their over-sized heads and facial features, they are also funny in some respects. Most appealing of all for young readers is the fact that these scary creatures can all be tamed by Max. Even the mighty, out-of-control Max runs out of energy too and is ready for a peaceful end to the day. This title is another one of those perfect read aloud titles that children clamor to hear again and again.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

1966 Medal Winner:

Leodhas, Sorche Nic. (1965). Always room for one more. Illus. by Nonny Hogrogian. New York: Holt.

Always Room for One MoreSorche Nic Leodhas (pseudonym for LeClaire Gowans Alger) borrowed from an old Scottish nursery tale and penned a humorous tale where the kindness shown to strangers backfires a wee bit. Written in authentic Scottish brogue, the story begins when a storm erupts on a cold and windy night in the hills of Scotland, and kind- hearted Lachie MacLachlan calls out to all who pass by on the story night, “… There’s room for one more, always room for one more” (p. 3) although he and his wife and ten “bairns” have the house quite full as it is. As the night ensues there are many who accept the invitation, including a tailor, a sailor, a tinker, a lass, an “auld” wife, a bagpiper, four peat cutters and a few others. But now the house is exploding with people as it fills up to the dancing and merriment of the guests until … it collapses around them! Not to worry, the guests all band together and build Lachie a new house, a bigger house, where there is indeed room for one and all. Teachers can read more about two-time Caldecott winner, Nonny Hogrogian, in this School Library Journal article or at her website

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

1967 Medal Winner:

Ness, Evaline. (1966). Sam, Bangs, and moonshine. New York: Holt.

Sam, Bangs, and MoonshineThe daughter of a fisherman, Sam is prone to telling tales that don’t just stretch the truth a little bit. She tells whoppers of tales that are bigger than any fish a fisherman ever claimed got away. She insists that she has a baby kangaroo and that her mother is a mermaid. But her lying is a way of avoiding the truth about her mother who died when she was younger. Her father insists that she learn to distinguish between fact and fantasy—or what he calls moonshine. But Sam keeps telling her made-up stories. Still, the yarns Sam spins almost result in a tragedy when she thoughtlessly sends a neighbor boy in search of her kangaroo and mermaid as the tide is coming in and a storm is on its way. Her cat, Bangs, heads out to find the boy while Sam remains at home. Only luck and her father’s quick response save the day. As a result, Sam realizes she must stop blurring the lines between what is real and what is not. The illustrations are memorable, filled with gold colors peeking out amid soft swirling greens and grays on the book’s pages. Although the title has more text than some readers might like, it also describes a coping skill to which many children resort when they don't want to face reality—lying or weaving their own version of the life they wish they had.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

1968 Medal Winner:

Emberley, Barbara. (1967). Drummer Hoff. Illus. by Ed Emberley. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Drummer HoffFilled with ample white space and richly-colored woodcut illustrations, this cumulative tale describes several members of a military unit responsible for bringing all the various parts to make a cannon fire. The men are dressed in ornate uniforms and some, such as Sergeant Chowder, struggle with the things they carry. As something is added to the store of military materials, stoic Drummer Hoff quietly stands by and bides his time. The explosive red, orange, and yellow double-page spread near the book's conclusion makes it clear what the result of all that toting of materials and preparation is. The final page filled with birds building a nest and a spider building a web concludes the book with a thoughtful visual reflection about how Nature always reclaims her own despite the ills done to her by humans. This title is great fun to read aloud because of the soldiers’ names and the rhymes and the repetitive nature of the text. Plus, it’s simply delightful to consider the illustrations.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

1970 Medal Winner:

Steig, William. (1969). Sylvester and the magic pebble. New York: Windmill Books.

Sylvester and the Magic PebbleWilliam Steig, author of Shrek and many other wonderful stories, won the Caldecott Medal for his story of a young donkey and a magic pebble. Sylvester is out walking one drizzly day when he picks up a pebble. While examining it, he wishes it would stop raining and magically, it does stop! Thinking he has discovered a magic pebble, Sylvester hurries home to tell his parents when a lion emerges from the bushes. Frightened, Sylvester wishes he was a rock and could hide from the lion, and he instantly becomes a rock. As time goes by, his parents, friends and police search and search for Sylvester but with no luck. Time passes, and a year later his family goes on a picnic, selecting as their picnic spot the very rock where Sylvester is trapped. His father notices an interesting pebble on the ground, the same magic pebble Sylvester had found. Just as Sylvester wishes he were himself again, his father places the pebble on the rock. In that instant, Sylvester is reunited with his family and the picnic is an occasion of great joy. Some of the original watercolor artwork of William Steig was rediscovered as an exhibit of Steig’s art was being prepared. In 2005 Simon and Schuster released a deluxe edition of this 1970 Caldecott winner with the color reproductions exactly as Steig intended them to be. That volume also includes his Caldecott acceptance speech. Readers may enjoy the Weston Woods video production of Sylvester read by John Lithgow. A teacher’s guide accompanies the video.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Reading Today Online. The International Reading Association partners with the National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon Thinkfinity to produce, a website devoted to providing literacy instruction and interactive resources for grades K–12.

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