2015 Mock Caldecott

 Happy Picture Book Month! As part of our Picture Book Month celebration, my students and I will participate in a 2015 Mock Caldecott unit with Mr. Colby Sharp's third graders. We will read, evaluate  and discuss twenty picture books. 

  1. In identifying a “distinguished American picture book for children,” defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:
    1. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
    2. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
    3. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
    4. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
    5. 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. (Please click here to view the full manual.) 
*Note: Not all the nominees are pictured. 

Nominee 1: Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. By Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. 

I interviewed G. Brian Karas on October 7. 

Please tell us about the day you received Katherine Applegate’s brilliant manuscript for Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

G. Brian Karas: It wasn’t like a holiday or a birthday when a gift might be anticipated. It began like most days. I didn’t know that something really good was headed my way until I got a call from my agent, Brenda Bowen.  As soon as I heard her say “Anne Hoppe and Katherine Applegate” I knew it would be really really good.

I know authors and illustrators are usually kept apart, but did you and Katherine communicate at all while you were working on the illustrations? 

G. Brian Karas: We did, by email. I understood the big responsibility I was given and that I couldn’t afford to get it wrong. I wasn’t shy and asked Katherine to please share what she knew and learned of Ivan and his story. I typically consider that research part of my job but feel this book was made richer by those combined efforts.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 2: Nana in the City. Written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. 

I interviewed Lauren on June 6. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about NANA! She's a hip, city-livin' lady who is the star of my upcoming book, NANA IN THE CITY (Clarion/HMH). 

The story is a love letter to the city, inspired by three very special city-dwelling nanas in my life— my former editor, Frances Foster, my 100-year-old Great-Aunt Virginia, and my Nannie. NANA IN THE CITY is about bravery, and the importance of venturing out of your comfort zone. Look for it on September 2nd! 

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 3: Flashlight. Written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd. 

Nominee 4: Maple. Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols. 

I interviewed Lori on February 20. 

Congratulations on the publication of your debut picture book, Maple! How would you describe Maple to a stranger? :) 

Lori Nicholas: Thank you Mr. Schu!  When Maple is tiny, her parents plant a maple tree in her honor. She and her tree grow up together, and even though a tree doesn’t always make an ideal playmate, it doesn’t mind when Maple is in the mood to be loud–which is often. Then Maple becomes a big sister, and finds that babies have their loud days too. Fortunately, Maple and her beloved tree know just what the baby needs.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Picture books are visual journeys of excitement, humor, sadness, fear, anger, hope and love all experienced on the safety and warmth of the lap of a caregiver.

Reading is food for the brain. Junk food, hearty food, nourishing food, comfort food, yucky food, mmmm-mmmm good food. Sometimes it’s a ripe fig picked fresh from a tree, sometimes it’s frozen steak-uums. Whatever the food, reading keeps us alive and invites us to sit down with strangers and nourish our souls. And reading is travel. I love the Mark Twain quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” Reading helps us to travel to other lives and hopefully understand one another a little better.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 5: Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle 

Nominee 6: Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads. By Bob Shea. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 

I interviewed Lane Smith on October 5. 

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads marks your second picture book collaboration with author-illustrator Bob Shea. Does Bob call you and say, “Hey, Lane! I have this manuscript or idea I would love to share with you.” How closely do you and Bob work together? 

Lane Smith: Usually Bob does call me with an idea but in this case I asked him if he’d be interested in writing a western. I’m a big fan of westerns. I had no idea he’d add dinosaurs. Silly Bob.

I often imagine what it would look like to watch an illustrator working on a picture book. Please take us through the process of illustrating one of the two-page spreads for Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads.

Lane Smith: On any of the illustrations it starts with ruffs. Sketchy pencil drawings. You work out the composition, shapes, etc.

Then you get a snack.

After the snack you go to finished art. For this book I did the characters in pen-and ink and the backgrounds in oil and watercolor paint. I did them separately then scanned them into the computer to combine them in Photoshop. I don’t create any textures, shapes, etc. in the computer. It’s all hand done first then assembled digitally. It looks better 
that way.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 7: My Teacher Is a Monster! No, I Am Not! Written and illustrated by Peter Brown. 

Peter Brown presented at the 2014 National Book Festival. 

Nominee 8: Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Island. Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy. 

Katherine Roy finished my sentences on October 2. 

I think Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands has been one of my favorite, most challenging life adventures yet. The book started three years ago in a conversation with my editor, and brought me within petting distance of several great white sharks! I’ve learned so much since its conception—about research, writing, field research, making final art, and of course, about white sharks themselves. They’re ancient and gorgeous and incredibly cool, and I’m honored to get to share the science of the way they live with kids and parents for my debut. A book about a day in the life of the largest living predatory fish in the ocean? What a cool way to kick off a career in children’s book publishing! We’re gonna need a bigger bookshelf!

The paintings and diagrams in Neighborhood Sharks are just the surface, the tip of the iceberg, for the research, thinking, and doodling that went into each one. It’s easy to look at a finished page and think, “Of course! That’s just how it should be!” but there’s a lot of failure behind every solution, lots of dead ends and bad ideas. An example that comes to mind is the “BUT NOT SO FAST!” spread, which discusses how a Farallon white shark will sometimes steal a seal carcass from the shark that made the kill. The first few attempts at this image were rather comics-like, with a big bully shark swimming by to snatch away supper, but over and over again the spread didn’t feel right, and I got more and more frustrated. It wasn’t until much later, when I was sketching on a bus, that I hit on what would become the final composition for the page spread. My doodle felt right, and had a left-to-right visual flow, that was both striking and kept the story moving forward. My writing starts with drawings, too; I think in composition, color, emotion, and mood, and I use my sketches to organize the initial outline for my books.

Read the full interview here. 

Nominee 9: A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream. By Kristy Dempsey. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Nominee 10: The Troublemaker. Written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo 

Lauren Castillo finished my sentences on June 6. 

The Troublemaker was released on June 3. It tells the story of not one but TWO troublemakers. Troublemaker #1, a bored and mischievous little boy, decides to entertain himself at the expense of his sister and her poor stuffed bunny. He later learns his lesson when an even bigger troublemaker enters the scene. 

The illustrations for The Troublemaker were so much fun to create, but were also quite the challenge. I chose to tell a great deal of the story through my art, which meant keeping the illustrations clear and focused. I carefully selected the elements in each scene, highlighting those that were key in bold colors. I also used silhouettes at certain moments in the story to heighten the suspense. I worked on the art for close to a year—much longer than it normally takes for me to illustrate a picture book—but the troublemakers’ antics kept me smiling the whole way through.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 11: Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? By Rita Gray. Illustrated by Kenard Pak. 

HMH conducted this interview with Rita Gray. 

Nominee 12: Sparky! By Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Chris Appelhans. 

I interviewed Chris Appelhans on May 11, 2014. 

First of all, congratulations on the publication of your first picture book. I’ve been sharing Sparky! and Sparky’s book trailer with all of my students. What does it feel like to walk into a bookshop and spot a book with your name printed on the dust jacket?  

Chris Appelhans: Aw thanks for sharing!  Yeah, seeing your name on a bookstore shelf is a surreal experience, both scary and amazing.  Doing the art is a solitary act, so you almost forget than anyone else will ever see what you're doing.  It's like you're singing in the shower and suddenly there's a recording of that on the radio - you think, "oh geez, i hope it's not too annoying".

Did you have a pet as a child? What about now? 

Chris Appelhans: I did, I grew up with sheep, cows, an occasional horse + cats and dogs of course.  So I related to the idea of having an unconventional pet - a lot of our 'farm' animals weren't as affectionate as a cat or dog - but somehow you ended up really attached to them and tuned into their individual personalities.  Pets are fun, but they also teach you so much about being responsible for the life of another creature.  It's duty and joy at the same time.  I think the girl in Jenny's story realizes that.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 13: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. By Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. 

Mac and Jon visited my school library on October 15.

Nominee 14: Emily's Blue Period. By Cathleen Daly. Illustrated by Lisa Brown. 

Lisa Brown finished my sentences on June 17. 

Emily and her family were fun to draw. Especially Jack’s temper tantrum in the furniture store. I named the store “STÜF” and it was NOT modeled after any actual store, I swear…

The illustrations for Emily’s Blue Period were done in graphite and watercolor on paper. I used a lot of blue paint, for obvious reasons. Then I scanned the art into the computer and added texture and collage elements in Photoshop. For Emily’s collage, I used scraps of colored and patterned paper that I found at an art supply store, plus items that I picked up around my studio and my house: buttons, wrapping paper, ribbons, keys, washers, old scrabble letters, and more.

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 15: Quest by Aaron Becker. 

Nominee 16: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. By Jen Bryant. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 

Jen Bryant finished my sentences on September 16. 

Peter Mark Roget thought that words were powerful and that they belonged to everyone. He’d danced at formal gatherings and rubbed elbows with famous writers, artists and inventors. He knew countesses and powerful men in Parliament. However, he also treated adults and children from the poorest sections of the city, who lived and worked in unsafe, crowded conditions. He believed strongly in the democratizing effect of language and literacy, and this, as much as his own personal reasons for list-making, drove him to refine, and finally to publish, his Thesaurus.

Melissa Sweet’s illustrations perfectly capture (ensnare, collect, represent, embody) Roget’s true PASSION for Language and Knowledge, and his compulsion to bring as much order as possible to them. She also brilliantly reveals Roget’s eclectic interests, his dabbling in everything from magnetism to natural history to optics to chess. In our era, when children are asked very early in their lives “what will you BE?” this kind of multi-faceted, follow-your-bliss-life seems impossible. But in Roget’s time, as Melissa so deftly illustrates, it was encouraged and supported by “amateur” literary, philosophical and scientific groups like the Royal Society, The National Geographic Society, and others. 

Please click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 17: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee. 

Nominee 18: Bad Bye, Good Bye. By Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Jonathan Bean finished my sentences on August 15. 

The cover illustration for Bad Bye, Good Bye tells the story of the book in a nutshell because the title is also an abridged version of the story.

Deborah Underwood and I live on opposite coasts. Careful observers of our book will discover who I think should move where so that we can finally meet face to face. 

Click here to read the full interview. 

Nominee 19: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Written and illustrated by Dan Santat. 

Nominee 20: Josephine. By Patricia Hruby Powell. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. 

I interviewed Christian Robinson on February 26. 

I’m a HUGE fan of your illustrations in Rain! and Harlem’s Little Blackbird, and I am over the moon about your latest book, JosephineThe Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. When did you know you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

Christian Robinson: Thank you for asking me questions! It’s still kind of new and amazing to have folks interested in what I’m doing/illustrating.

Honestly, it didn’t really sink in until after college. I studied animation, and somehow had taken on a belief that animation was the ultimate form of creative expression for someone who likes making pictures. I mean, what could be more amazing then making your drawings come to life?

Funny thing is even in animation school I found myself going to the children’s book section of the library, and drawing inspiration off various picture book artist. 

After college I interned with Pixar Animation Studios, where I was paired with a mentor, Ben Butcher, who was obsessed with picture books, and encouraged me to trust in my own voice as an illustrator. Long story short it’s almost as if I’ve always wanted to illustrate children’s books, but it was only recently that I opened up to the possibility, or the possibility opened up to me!

If it were possible to meet Josephine Baker at your favorite coffee shop, what would you ask her? Oh, and what would you order?  

Christian Robinson: Well, I’d ask what she thought of the book? But probably what I’d most like to know is where she drew her strength from, what was her source of inspiration and encouragement? How does one cultivate such an indomitable spirit?

I’d order a creamy chai tea, with just the right amount  of spice and sweetened with honey!

Click here to read the full interview. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your list here and all the bonus info. I can't wait to dig in to Picture Book Month and the Caldecott award with my third graders in Malaysia!

  2. This is such a GREAT lineup of books here! Can't help but pull for JOSEPHINE, since the author is an Illinois writing pal! But all of these books look delicious! Thanks for a helpful post!

  3. Great collection of books and gorgeous trailers!

  4. Wonderful job here. I will certainly use these trailers.

  5. This is a fabulous Mock Caldecott blog post! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thanks for a wonderful post that not only names some hopefuls, but gives insider info! We appreciate all the research that went into this!

    Terri Murphy
    SCBWI-IL Illustrator Network Coordinator


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