The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an annual award that honors the best illustrations in a book or novel (usually books, novels are rarely honored). I have decided to start a project where I attempt to review the honorees in a given year and give my opinion as to whether the right book won or not.
This year I am going to review the FIVE books that were recognized in 2006.
Rosa (by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier)
This book is essentially about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It’s a surprisingly short book – taking place from a little before the bus incident to a year later when the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. There is so much more to the story (unfortunately the real full story isn’t as uplifting. Just do a quick Wikipedia search), but this is an effective way to introduce 4th and 5th graders to the subject. The Emmett Till paragraph should have either been left out completely or developed more. But Collier’s illustrations are wonderful – particular the marching scenes that requires a two page extension using flaps. The pictures are gentle, yet bold and striking. There are probably hundreds of picture books on Rosa Parks…and I haven’t read them all. But I was perfectly pleased with this one.
Zen Shorts (by Jon J. Muth)
A very gentle and calm book about a panda who teaches kids life lessons through zen philosophies. The watercolors are beautiful and soothing. I like how Muth transitions into a more inky and jagged illustration for the individual stories. Clearly Muth has a strong appreciation for “zen culture” and he might have converted a few kids with this book. I liked this a lot!
Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems (by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange)
This book is part poetry anthology/part encyclopedia. This book highlights different pond dweller insects and animals with a poem and a short paragraph about each of them. I actually found the non-fiction elements more engaging than the actual poems (but I’m a 23 year old English graduate student so maybe I have a higher standard for poetry). Anyway, kids who are into science and animals would like this book, especially since this book talks about different species I personally had never heard of. However, I found most of it boring. It’s just not my style. And even the watercolor woodblock artwork didn’t excite me much. These are subjective reviews and ratings. I could see others loving this, but not me.
Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride (by Marjorie Priceman)
What an adorable book! This book tells the story of the first hot-air balloon launch in 18th century France. However, the first passengers in that balloon was a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. While the story has a textual prologue and an epilogue, the bulk of this picture book is without text. Instead we get to see the crazy hijinks between the animals as opposed to having it said to us with text. The artwork is detailed, elaborate and “fun.” The beginning text is engaging and funny. And I like how the author responsibly tells a more accurate and non-fiction version of the story in the last couple of pages. This book is perfect. I only reserve “10’s” for the elite few, but I give this book a very strong…
The Hello, Goodbye Window (by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka) – CALDECOTT WINNER
Interesting. First…I have to point out that this book (told from the point of view of a little girl) showcases both interracial grandparents and parents, which, as far as I know, is unique in children’s literature. I think that choice by the author and illustrator is so cool. And it’s never mentioned. There’s no section where the little girl awkwardly says, “Some bad people don’t approve of our family.” The book handles race the same way Ezra Jack Keats does in The Snowy Day – by not making it the main focus. The artwork is probably polarizing. I’m not confident all children would dig it…but I certainly appreciated the childlike and enthusiastic pictures. Raschka took some major risks with his drawings and I commend him for that.
I think Hot Air was the best book overall, but either Priceman or Raschka would have been worthy of this honor. I don’t begrudge Raschka’s win at all. However, I do commend Zen Shorts for having great text and some engaging stories overall.
Thanks for reading. I will reviewing another year soon (don’t know which one yet!)