Want to know one of my big pet peeves?
When well-meaning adults imply that picture books are too babyish for elementary school kids; that they outgrow picture books at the same time they gain reading skills, and are then pointed toward the leveled beginning readers full of words and shooed away from the low shelves full of stories.
I think leveled readers are important. We had a ton of them in this house as the girls were learning to read, and they served their purpose well. At the end of the day, though, only a few of them hold staying power enough to keep them in our library (Elephant & Piggie FOREVER). But I think the value of the picture book—the rich story arc, the humor, the vocabulary, the illustrations—it's something that builds better readers and learners, I am convinced. Plus, they're just FUN. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books read in the last (nearly) thirteen years makes it impossible for me to believe otherwise.
I still read to Gracie and Bridget almost every night before they go off to read their own books way past their bedtimes. I've never been much of a read-chapter-books-aloud kind of mama (though we've done a handful) because mostly I just want to read picture books. Luckily, they still want to read with me. When I suggested that we tackle the entire Caldecott Medal list last year, they were all in; looking back, we couldn't have done it at a more perfect time. Their ages (now 10, 7.5) are just right to enjoy (most) of the stories, but they're also the perfect ages to play Beginner Literary Critic with the list.
They were able to identify how much children's literature has changed (we didn't read in chronological order, but the trends are still stunningly obvious), how certain types of books were highly prized in certain eras (i.e. my own childhood is filled with memories of traditional folklore from other countries, which can be verified by the Caldecott Medal winners in that era), and they paid attention to the differences in illustration styles from one year to the next, and from one generation to the next, too. When my girls can identify an illustrator's work (not just a Caldecott winner!) it ranks high on the list of my proudest mama moments. Ha!
We definitely had a lot of opinions about the Caldecott list, though I wish we had kept a little journal to record our thoughts in the moment a little more. But I think we all would agree on the following:
+ Animals of the Bible, man. Oh my gosh. This nearly did us in. I'm sorry, but it's true.
+ Many Moons was one of our favorite finds. My handy chart from 1980 proves that I read this one a long time ago, but I didn't remember it at all. It was delightful.
+ We have long loved The Hello, Goodbye Window and its wonderful illustrator Chris Raschka; we reread it specifically for this project but it's one that has been read scores of times in the last few years. But we'd all like to hear from someone on the committee about A Ball For Daisy. Why, committee, why?
+ The Little Island might have been in the running for the weirdest book on the list... except it was saved by Arthur Yorinks' Hey Al which definitely takes the cake. As Arthur Yorinks always does for me. He also (not coincidentally) wrote my least favorite picture book OF ALL TIME.
+ The saddest book by far: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. I had to stop reading it to Maddie the first time I checked it out of the library in 2006, and I had a hard time finishing it this time, too. But oh, it's a glorious story, until it becomes the hardest story. The transition doesn't give the reader any time to prepare for that.
+ One of the greatest masterpieces on the list: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was the last one we read, and at over 500 pages, the very longest, too. Bridget was scared to death to read this one because she saw the movie at the wrong age and it has haunted her ever since, but in the end—she could hardly bear to split this one over a couple of nights. It is so good. I felt the same way about it in 2008 as I did reading it aloud in 2015: it is just so good.
What a job it must be to serve on this committee each year.
Speaking of which, I have updated the list with the 2015 winner (announced yesterday!) in case you want to try it yourself. Just click the image below to download!