A list based entirely on what a book is not? And what precisely is a Calde-not? Well, we’re getting into semantics and rules today, so buckle up. First and foremost, I direct your attention to the illustrious Caldecott Award. The most famous award given to the most distinguished examples of American illustration for children. Note that I said “American”. A Caldecott Award has terms and criteria. Here are two of them:
- The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.
- The award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States. Books published in a U.S. territory or U.S. commonwealth are eligible.
The reason for these rules dates back to the Caldecott’s inception. Created to accompany the already popular Newbery Medal, the award was meant to focus attention on American artists of children’s books. And in a nation besotted with Beatrix Potter (alongside other European creators), it was a good idea. These days, however, we have no difficulty finding delightful American creators. In the end, a lot of magnificent books fall by the wayside, unable to earn worthy awards.
Well, no longer! Today we celebrate books that would be definite Caldecott contenders, if they just weren’t so doggone un-American. In the literal sense, naturally.
Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by David Jacobson, ill. Toshikado Hajiri, translations by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
You’ve heard me wax eloquent (or at least long) about the work of Toshikado Hajiri before, but I’ll just mention one more time that the nature scenes in this book, whether it’s a rising sun or sea alongside mountains and sky, are spectacular. The whole book is a wonder. Hopefully it’ll find its audience.
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann
German to its core, though I’ve been surprisingly gratified by the increase in Kuhlmann-love over the past year. Though he never gets attention from folks like the New York Times Best Illustrated list, at least his star is rising. This book is just as lovely as its predecessor (Lindbergh) if less of a surprise.
The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie, ill. Wolf Erlbruch
It’s such a strange but lovely little import than I can’t help but think that if it was American we’d be discussing it all over the place.
The Blue Bird’s Palace by Orianne Lallemand, ill. Carole Henaff, translated by Tessa Strickland
An original folktale with a French illustrator. This story was surprisingly lovely to read. I suppose looking at the cover I shouldn’t have been too shocked, but I really didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
Circle by Jeanne Baker
If I had my way Ms. Baker would have all the awards in the world. Her art is unparalleled. That cover image you’re looking at here? Yeah. That’s clay. Now look me in the eye and tell me she isn’t one of the cleverest, smartest artists working in the picture book field today.
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
To mention Arsenault in any kind of a context is a bit of a cheat. She’s more accessible than similar artists, and by all appearances she has impeccable taste. I’ve yet to see her take on a dud of a project. This peculiar but lovely little bio certainly fits the bill as well.
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Christian Robinson
But wait, you say! Christian Robinson’s American. Why wouldn’t this work? To answer I direct you to the “original work” stipulation of the Caldecott terms and conditions. This re-illustrated version of Brown’s classic is lovely, but the book is technically by no means new.
Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna
Okay. So it’s weeeeeeeird. But if you’ve read the Pinocchio story at all it makes a strange bit of sense. I already used the word “dreamlike” in a previous book list, so I can’t play that card again. Let’s just say it’s gently surreal instead. Beautiful, sad, odd, and ultimately uplifting.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, ill. Nizar Badr
The Syrian refugee crisis explained with rock sand stones? The art in this book is only slightly more fascinating than the story of how the author tracked down the Syrian illustrator in the first place.
What Can I Be? by Ann Rand, ill. Ingrid Fiksdahl King
Another reprint, and couldn’t you tell? Gorgeous through and through, that’s for certain.
What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts
Not only is the art interesting to look at in this book but it feels different on every page. Could have had a tactile leg up.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, ill. Julie Morstad
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Ms. Morstad is Canadian. Doggone neighbor to the north. If she ever moves south we’ll be waiting, awards in hand.
You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
Again with the Arsenault but that’s okay. To my mind you can never have enough Isabelle Arsenault on a list. Never, truly.
And now, because I can, the official Randolph Caldecott music video as recorded by the Effin’ G’s.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books