Friday, July 26, 2013

Thoughts on reviewing Caldecott books

When picture books are evaluated for the prestigious Caldecott award, the standards used are different from normal, everyday review criteria.  This is understandable, as the award is given to the illustrator of the book.

The criteria for the Caldecott award committee is as follows:

1. In identifying a “distinguished American picture book for children,” defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:

a. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;

b. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;

c. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;

d. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;

e. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

2. The only limitation to graphic form is that the form must be one which may be used in a picture book. The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound, film or computer program) for its enjoyment.

3. Each book is to be considered as a picture book. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children’s picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc.

Note: The committee should keep in mind that the award is for distinguished illustrations in a picture book and for excellence of pictorial presentation for children. The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity.

But how does this affect the reviewer?  Recently, my coworker Brindi and I challenged ourselves to read all 316 Caldecott winners and honors.  I’m still waiting for the final two books to arrive at my library.  While reading the books, I kept the official criteria in mind; however, I was also looking at them from a librarian’s perspective.  Due to this, the popularity of the book with my young patrons is important.  I felt it was also important to consider when the book was published.  During the seventy-five years that the Caldecott award has existed, publishing and illustration techniques have evolved.  Additionally, what words and ideas which were once considered acceptable have since become objectionable, such as referring to a Native American as a redskin. 

When I read a Caldecott book, I considered the following conditions:

  • Artistry
  • Audience
  • Original publication date
  • Overall appeal
  • Readability of text (both the font and the story itself)

I also keep in mind the official Caldecott criteria. Ultimately, I rate a book on today’s standards.  While I might find a book fantastic considering when it was published, if it doesn’t hold up to the test of time, it will be rated lower.

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