2018 Mock Caldecott List

Happy Picture Book Month! I am participating in a 2018 Mock Caldecott unit with Mr. Colby Sharp's fifth graders. We will read, evaluate, and discuss twenty-one 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.)

Nominee 1: Windows by Julia Denos; illustrated by E.B. Goodale 

I premiered the book trailer on September 26, 2017. 
Hello, Julia! 

Julia Denos: What's up Mr. Schu!

Hello, E.B.! 

E.B. Goodale: Hi John! Thanks for helping us celebrate the book trailer for Windows

Thank you both for visiting Watch. Connect. Read. to finish my sentences and celebrate the book trailer.  Shall we get started? 

Julia and E.B.: YES

The book trailer for Windows was so much fun to make! Julia and I spent a day together in my studio crafting it and making our little world come to life. Windows has been a true collaboration between the two of us since the beginning and animating it felt like the culmination of our work together. 

My husband, Jeff Allen, is a sound designer and composer for video games and so naturally I asked him to write the music for the trailer. We have never had an opportunity to collaborate until now and it was a blast! He has been a part of the Windows journey since the beginning as well (the interior apartment in the book is based on our real life home and neighborhood) and so having his soundtrack is the cherry on top of it all.

When I received the manuscript for Windows, I actually cried! It is a sweet, simple story that highlights the beauty in the everyday and sparks joy in my heart.

Julia Denos and I first met working in a children's bookstore together many years ago and have been best buds ever since. This collaboration has been many years in the making and so we are VERY excited to share it with the world!

Windows tells the story of evening in a local neighborhood. It's all about that crepuscular time between night and day when the lights turn on in the windows down your street. Taking a walk through your neighborhood becomes a new experience.

E.B. Goodale's cover illustration captures the heart of that feeling: being outside, being inside. In just one moment you can pass by many worlds different from your own, but all of them "home".

Windows is my debut picture book text (as author only) for Candlewick Press. I wrote it with Emily in mind. I've always been moved by her atmospheric art and we have a similar taste in the stories we love, so it felt right to begin making books together. It's an honor to work with her.

Nominee 2: After the Fall by Dan Santat 

I featured Dan's After the Fall tour on September 1. 

From the New York Times–bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend comes the inspiring epilogue to the beloved classic nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat is a masterful picture book that will remind readers of all ages that life begins when you get back up.

For the launch of AFTER THE FALL, Dan Santat is going on a tour that literally REACHES NEW HEIGHTS at each and every stop! Starting in New Orleans, LA and ending in Denver, CO, the tour goes from sea level to "mile high" and many places in between, as you can see in the graphic below!

Nominee 3: This House, Once by Deborah Freedman 

Emily Arrow released her This House, Once music video on June 7, 2017. 

Nominee 4: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Colby Sharp (see the video above) read The Book of Mistakes to his students on April 17, 2017. 

Nominee 5: A Boy, a Mouse, & a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert; illustrated by Lauren Castillo 

Barbara Herkert finished my sentences on March 29, 2017.

The first time I saw Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo’s cover illustration for A Boy, A Mouse, and A Spider: The Story of E. B. White I was thrilled! For me, Lauren’s artwork brings the same warmth and tenderness to E.B. White’s story as Garth Williams brought to Charlotte’s Web.

Did you know E.B. White was afraid of everything when he was a small boy? Writing helped him ease his fears.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 
I think Charlotte’s Web was the finest children’s book ever written! I love E.B. White’s lists, his use of all the senses, and his delicious language. It is a celebration of the world, of nature in all its glory. Thank you, E.B. White.

School libraries are are safe havens where children can discover their passions, forget their fears. We need them now more than ever.

Illustration Credit: Lauren Castillo 

Picture books are art forms! They are opportunities for cuddle time, to share dreams and passions.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me how it felt to walk in E.B. White’s world for a while. More wonderful than I ever could have imagined. What an amazing man.

Nominee 6: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater; illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan 

Nominee 7: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell finished my sentences on November 30, 2017. 
The book trailer for Wolf in the Snow gets to, I think, much of what the heart of the book is about for me. What do we do when confronted with a difficult choice? When there is fear and suffering, do we think of ourselves, acting in our own best interests? Or do we go beyond that and think of those around us? And who are the ones around us? Are they good? Bad? Are we good? Bad? As we are confronted with so many stereotypes and prejudices—about ourselves and others—we should all always be challenging ourselves with these questions and answers. Now more than ever. Adults and children alike.

Wolf in the Snow’s cover shows the book’s two heroes. A girl and a wolf pup. The girl in this story is a very brave soul. The pup is brave to trust her. What happens when the girl reunites the pup with its pack takes incredible courage. And what happens after that takes incredible trust on behalf of everyone. To me, a wolf is a powerfully brave and loving creature. Loyal to family. And fiercely protective. I kept asking myself… is the “wolf” in this book just the wolf? Or is it the girl too?

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell
I created the illustrations in my favorite blend of pen and ink drawing with watercolor painting. But the art in this book is slightly different from some of my others. The girl and surrounding nature are drawn very loosely and minimally—as I tend to do. But the wolves are drawn more realistically and more detailed than I typically draw. For one, to suggest the distinct difference between wolf and human. How we might think and react and how they might. I hope the art will also put the reader in a very real place as they see the wolves drawn in this way. It takes a lot of courage for the girl to do what she does in the book—to bring a lost wolf pup back to its pack. Before she, also lost, finds her own way home. It was essential to depict the wolves more realistically to draw out these feelings of fear and, ultimately, reassurance that play out in the book.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
I hope Wolf in the Snow leads children and adults to want to learn more about wolves. I knew next to nothing about wolves when I first embarked upon the journey of making this book. As I tried (and failed many times) to find the story in this book, I found another entirely true story about wolves. They have been demonized throughout literature. (Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) Which has led to the unfair treatment and relentless killing of these noble creatures. In fact, they are highly complex, intelligent animals. They want much of the same things that we want. Safety. Family. Companionship. Joy. Life. They are wild animals, but they are not bloodthirsty and vicious. They hunt animals—not humans—purely for survival. And wolves have come to fear humans, just as we have come to fear them.

Illustration Credit: Matthew Cordell 
Wordless picture books are deceptively difficult. They are difficult to make and they are difficult to read. Because there are no words, the visual language needs to be clearer than ever. Because there are no words, they can be read in a multitude of ways. This can be a wonderful thing. Or—if confusing—this could be the worst thing. When a wordless picture book works, it is brilliant. I won’t try and shoot for brilliance, but I’ll just hope that my book works.

Nominee 8: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Mike Curato 

Margarita Engle was the Nerdy Book Club's guest blogger on October 18, 2017. Click here to read her wonderful post. 

Nominee 9: Egg by Kevin Henkes 

Nominee 10: Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins; illustrated by Bryan Collier 

Nominee 11: Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares 

I interviewed Matt on June 6, 2017.

Hi, Matt! Thank you for dropping by to celebrate Red & Lulu’s book trailer. What should everyone do before pressing play?

Matt Tavares: Thanks for having me, Mr. Schu! The story of Red & Lulu has been a part of my life for so long (it began back in 2011!), so it’s very exciting to be finally start sharing it with readers.

Red & Lulu is about a pair of cardinals who live happily in a big, beautiful evergreen tree, until one day when something unthinkable happens and they become separated. It’s a Christmas story, and a love story, and a story about what happens when your world is turned upside down unexpectedly, and you’re forced to focus on what’s really important.

Before pressing play, imagine for a moment that it’s early December, there’s a chill in the air, and the sky looks like it might snow. 

How did the cardinals who regularly visit your backyard inspire you to write and illustrate Red & Lulu?

Matt: Yes, this story began with a pair of cardinals who visited my yard countless times. When my kids were very young, it became a sort of game. If we spotted one of the cardinals out at the bird feeder, we’d go to the window to see if we could find the other one. They were almost always together. I was struck by their devotion to each other and wondered how far one of them might fly to be with the other, if they ever became separated.

What medium did you use to create the STUNNING illustrations?

Matt: Thank you! The illustrations for Red & Lulu were done in watercolor and gouache. I used a somewhat limited palate, so the red cardinal would really stand out. Originally I planned on making the illustrations black and white except for the cardinals, because I loved the idea of the bright red bird really popping against a monochromatic background.

But then I realized that this happens naturally, especially since much of the story takes place during the winter months, when the trees are bare and there aren’t a lot of bright colors. Full-color illustrations also allowed me to show the passage of time through the changing seasons.

Illustration Credit: Matt Tavares 
Red & Lulu seem to like Rockefeller Center and Central Park. Where is your favorite place in NYC?

Matt: Not surprisingly, Red and Lulu’s favorite places are also some of my favorite places! I love New York City at Christmastime, especially Rockefeller Center. There is something magical about the combination of the city lights and the holiday decorations- especially when snow is falling.

I don’t know if I have one favorite place in New York City, but my favorite thing to do in New York City is to take really long walks and just see where we end up, soaking in the energy of the city. I love Central Park, and the Museum of Natural History, and Books of Wonder, and the New York Public Library. But I also love just wandering around and finding places I’ve never been before, and will probably never find again.

Please finish these sentence starters:

School libraries are every kid's portal to everywhere. I spend a lot of time visiting schools, and I am constantly reminded of the vital role that school libraries, and school librarians, play in children's lives. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why this book took me so long! Some story ideas are pretty straightforward. But this one came at me from a few different directions, over the course of five or six years.

It began with an idea for a story about a pair of cardinals. I knew there was something there, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. Meanwhile, inspired by the magic of New York City at Christmastime, I was working on a different idea for a nonfiction book about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. But neither idea was really coming together- until it occurred to me that maybe the cardinals and the tree might actually be part of the same story. That led to my first draft of Red & Lulu.

That version had about a thousand words. My editor and art director at Candlewick liked it, but asked if I would consider turning it into a wordless book. I was intrigued, and spent months working on that. But when I shared the wordless version with friends, there was something missing- sort of an emotional disconnect. So I went to my editor with both versions, and we worked on creating a hybrid version, adding back words where they seemed necessary, but leaving some spreads wordless.

The final version has about 450 words. Even though it didn’t end up being wordless, I think that exercise helped the book quite a bit, and I learned a lot about visual storytelling.

By the time I started final art, I felt like this book could really be something special. It felt different from my other books, which was exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking. I really didn’t want to mess it up! So it took me a while to loosen up and get in a groove with the illustrations. I missed my deadline by a few months. But by the time I was done, I was really happy with how it came out. I poured my heart into this book. I hope it means as much to readers as it does to me.

Nominee 12: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen 

Nominee 13: Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt; illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls 

Paige Britt finished my sentences on October 5, 2017. 

Why Am I Me? follows two children—one dark-skinned, one light—as they travel home on a busy subway. The boy notices the girl and wonders: Why am I me . . . and not you? The girl notices the boy and wonders: Why are you, you . . . and not me? The questions get bigger and bigger as they look at all the different passengers, then at the people out the window, and finally up at the stars. It’s not until they get off the train and look into each other’s eyes that the questions stop and something else emerges. I’m not going to tell you what that something is, but I will say this: Maybe “you” and “me” are just part of a vast, extraordinary “we.”

Selina Alko and Sean Qualls’ illustrations are captivating. They’re so expansive, yet intimate. They illustrate these big universal themes, yet they make them deeply personal. The images are multi-layered and textured—just like the layers of meaning in the story—and they invite you back over and over to discover new things. Which is what the book is really all about!

I hope Why Am I Me? inspires both children and adults to stay curious. Most children are naturally full of questions, but as they grow up, those questions are sometimes replaced with answers. And those answers can turn into labels—good, bad, us, them. But we’re so much more than those labels! We’re made of star stuff, after all. Doesn’t that blow your mind? Maybe with our minds just a tiny bit blown, a deeper wisdom can emerge. A wisdom grounded in curiosity and compassion. Certainty creates labels, but curiosity creates space—space for empathy and connection, for delight and (hopefully) dialogue.

School libraries are magic! They connect kids to far-flung places. Whether those places are in the distant corners of your imagination or the distant corners of the galaxy—libraries will take you there! And it ABSOLUTELY does not matter where you come from, how much money you have, or what your gender or religion is—you are welcome in a school library. End of story. Which is really the beginning of the story. See? Magic.

Picture books are for all ages. I have a bookshelf in my house that takes up an entire wall. It’s full of all kinds of books—philosophy books, classic literature, books about art and architecture, and, of course, picture books. They belong right there with everything else. The special genius of a picture book is that you don’t just read it, you experience it. And you’re never too old to experience the wonder and wisdom contained within their pages.

Explore Paige Britt's website.
Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Aunt Lil. She’s eighty-six-years-old and has Alzheimer’s disease. She loved Why Am I Me? and was delighted by the images and all the big questions that went with them. She kept asking me what the “right” answers were. I asked her to tell me. When she got to the end of the book, she pointed to the image of the boy and girl with their faces overlapping and said, “Each has one eye of their own, and one eye shared.” She got it! Why Am I Me? is about unity and diversity. It’s about seeing your self in others. Everyone and everything is connected. And if my aunt with dementia knows this, then it gives me hope that, on some level, we all do.

Nominee 14: Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin 

Nominee 15: Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus; illustrated by Kadir Nelson 

Entertainment Weekly revealed the cover for Blue Sky, White Stars on December 16, 2016. 

Nominee 16: That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares 

I talked about That Neighbor Kid in a HAPPY SATURDAY video on January 14, 2017. 

Nominee 17: Claymates by Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge 

Lauren finished my sentences on May 26, 2017. 

The book trailer for Claymates is great example of how Dev can capture the essence a story and express it in an unexpected, but somehow totally perfect way. I’m in the middle of final art for a different project so Dev said, “just send me the behind-the-scenes pictures and I’ll handle it!”

I really love how she and Chris (Dev’s husband and man-behind-the-music) tailored everything to suit the feeling and pace of the visuals, as well as the personalities of our main characters. They did an amazing job and I’m so grateful!
Credit: Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge 
The Claymates are two mischievous, lovable blobs of clay who realize they can sculpt themselves into anything. They have a lot of fun, make a lot of mistakes, and become great friends in the process.

Credit: Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge 
Dev Petty and I will meet in person for the first time on June 25th - the same day as our book launch/party in San Francisco! It’s a very cool thing to know that after four years of collaboration and friendship, we’ll finally be able to tell who’s taller! HOORAY!

Credit: Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge
Photography is brutally honest and unforgiving in the best way! It’s the single most important tool I use in storytelling for many reasons but mostly because it allows me to establish a special kind of trust with our readers. People tend to trust their eyes and they know that real things, in real life, typically have imperfections.

In the case of Claymates, I used the fact that “the lens captures everything” to my advantage. I specifically chose not to correct any imperfection in post because those minor details (fingerprints, accidental nudges, not-perfect sculpting, etc.) are the very things that make clay so innately expressive… and wonderful!

By showing our readers raw, flawed shots, they begin to believe that what they’re seeing is real. Every frame in Claymates ACTUALLY HAPPENED on my desk – it had to in order for this book to exist… so my most difficult job was to make the reader believe that the characters and their story actually happened, too!

Visit Lauren's website to view process shots. 
School libraries are vital. They have EVERYTHING! No matter who you are or whether you identify as a “reader” – there are countless resources available in school libraries that make us better versions of ourselves. They allow us to follow our interests and introduce us to people, places, and things we might never know about otherwise.

Nominee 18: Life by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Brendan Wenzel 

Nominee 19: When's My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano; illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Download a storytime kit here.

Nominee 20: How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy 

Go behind the scenes with Katherine Roy. 

Nominee 21: Tony by Ed Galing; illustrated by Erin Stead 

Principal Brian Sammons created a 2018 Mock Caldecott guide for his students based on this list. Thank you, Brian! 


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