Considering the Caldecott

This past semester (Fall 2020), I took CHL 403 – Picturebook at Simmons and we finished our semester with a Mock Caldecott, which was won by We are the Water Protectors. Because of this, I feel qualified to make commentary on the actual winners and honor books of the 2020 Caldecott.

I had hoped to get this post out sooner, but in a turn of events I did not expect, 3 of the 4 honor books weren’t on our Mock Caldecott list for class, so I hadn’t actually read them. Thus, I had to wait until I could get them from the library to actually finish and share this post.


We are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Mochaela Goade

We are Water Protectors emerged early in our class Mock Caldecott as a favorite. Goade’s watercolor illustrations are vibrant, evocative of movement, and rich in detail. Considering one of the Caldecott criteria is “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story” the way the watercolors fit so seamlessly with a picture book about water is perfect. The watercolors are immersive and draw the reader in.

This picturebook is incredible, and Goade is the first Indigenous illustrator to win the coveted Caldecott Medal (She is An enrolled member of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska). Given that water connects us all, this is an incredible book to read as an adult or a child, and I love that it includes a pledge at the end inviting readers to protect Mother Earth.

Honor Books

It’s the honor books that held this post up from being published sooner, because three out of the four honor books weren’t on our class mock Caldecott list, which goes to show the depth of the field for this award considering our class list started with roughly 30 books on it. I had to wait for library holds to come in, but these books were well worth the wait!

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart written by Zetta Elliott and illustrated by Noa Denmon

I was immediately struck by Denmon’s monochromatic, pastel backgrounds which were intensely detailed. These background allowed the color black to provide a stark contrast as a hoodie, a skateboard, a t-shirt, a blackboard or many other items. Denmon imbues Elliot’s poem with vibrancy, timeliness, community, and history. The characters are illustrated with a variety of skin tones and ability levels in recognition of diversity in the child audience and it’s the composition of character that allows for both action and contemplation within this picture book.

The Cat Man of Aleppo written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Shimizu’s art style in The Cat Man of Aleppo feels unlike anything I’ve seen in a picturebook. It’s got a grittiness to it that works so well with the non-fiction subject matter that these illustrations are tackling. The use of negative space in the sky, the darkness, and the street were wonderful and provided balance for both the illustrations and the text. The illustrator’s note shows how much work Shimizu put into replicating reality. There are just so many details to appreciate in this book.

Me & Mama written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

We didn’t read Me & Mama in class, but we did read Exquisite: The Life and Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and in some of those illustrations the teeth/smiles of the characters were disconcerting to me, so I was on the lookout for that in this book. However, despite the title of Me & Mama, most of the illustrations feature objects rather than the characters. I appreciate the brushstrokes in the illustrations and the simplicity in Cabrera’s choice to show everyday items in close detail. While some of the spreads didn’t work across the gutter or page turns for me as smoothly as they could, I still liked this picturebook. I also loved the detail of the mother and daughter playing peekaboo on the jacket. It’s such a fun added touch!

Outside In written by Deborah Underwood and Illustrated by Cynthia Derby

Outside In was one of my early favorite for the Caldecott, and I’m so glad to see it honored here. Underwood’s book is about the division of and interaction between the outside world and the inside world. I particularly loved the use of color (with inside being largely gray, and the outside represented in bright hues), and the way that light and shadow are represented. The outside world is messy, at times bordering on abstract, but this art style is incredible appropriate to the text and does so much work in delineating setting. It may come across as a bit didactic (but is didacticism so bad?) but I think the beauty and importance of nature really shine through here.

Books I Wish were Honored by the Caldecott Committee

The Old Truck written and illustrated by Jerome and Jarett Pumphrey

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The distinction of The Old Truck for me emerges in the art style that the Pumphrey brothers use. The illustrations for this book were composed of 250 handmade stamps. Each appearance of a particular stamp is a unique print of the stamp, and no stamp is used twice on one page (for example, there are pages with multiple trees that at first appear identical but are actually all created by unique stamps). The prints were digitally colored in a color palette that is evocative of the past through its use of pastels but that also works to make this story feel timeless. The inclusion of a black farm family works to present a diversified view of agriculture, and while the text is about the truck, the illustrations do the heavy lifting to tell a story of hard work and resilience.

Prairie Days written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Micha Archer.

This was my personal favorite book out of every single book on our class Mock Caldecott list because Micha Archer’s collages are stunning and so incredibly detailed that they look almost realistic at times. This book is about MacLachlan’s memories of summers on the prairie, and I was vocal in class about the fact that I have never seen a book with illustrations that actually represented what the prairie actually looks like in a way that is lovingly done. So many spreads in this book just look like Western Kansas to me (even though this prairie is actually further west as evidenced by the mountains visible in the distance of some spreads). This book was one of my top 10 books of 2020 for a reason and that’s because not only does it feel familiar to me, but because I think it hits the Caldecott criteria in every way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Caldecott winners for 2021! Do you think there’s any books that missed out? Share your favorites in the comments!

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