The Caldecott measuring stick

measuring stickThe Caldecott terms and criteria constitute a particular, prescriptive lens through which to look at picture book illustration. The Caldecott Medal is arguably the most prestigious prize a picture book can win, and as such the specific elements and attributes it recognizes have a particular role to play as we examine and evaluate books in the canon. To be sure, the Caldecott terms and criteria are not the only measure we can apply. Indeed, in our day to day work with children, other things–iconic characterization, accessibility, suitability for a group read aloud–can be much more significant. Still, measuring picture books with the Caldecott measuring stick allows us to delve deeply into the quality of the illustration, and gives us meaningful information about the application and legacy of the Medal itself.

And so, for our final project in my intensive picture book course this semester, we are putting the books we’ve looked at through the Caldecott paces. From the 80 titles we’ve looked at the students have nominated 12 for our Mock Caldecott (stipulating that all are eligible, regardless of date or place of publication, or nationality of creator). It is fascinating too see which titles stand out in a Caldecotty sort of way, and which have announced to us their qualities in that respect. Here they are:

  • Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, written by Michael Rosen
  • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown
  • Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Daniel Beaty
  • Locomotive, by Brian Floca
  • The Great Bear, illustrated by Armin Greder, written by Libby Gleeson
  • Wild, by Emily Hughes
  • Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle
  • This Moose Belongs to Me, by Oliver Jeffers
  • Waiting for the Biblioburro, illustrated by John Parra, written by Monica Brown
  • Here Comes the Garbage Barge, by Red Nose Studio
  • John, Paul, George and Ben, by Lane Smith
  • And Then it’s Spring, illustrated by Erin Stead, written by Julie Fogliano

michael rosen's sad bookmr tiger goes wildknock knocklocomotivegreat bearwildflora and the flamingothis moose belongs to mewaiting for the biblioburrohere comes the garbage bargejohn paul george and benand then it's spring

USBBY’s 2014 Outstanding International Books List

Here at the Butler Center we’re proud to host the USBBY Outstanding International Books Committee for their year-end deliberations. And, given our recent trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, we’re especially interested in their choices.

Here’s the 2014 list. I see some favorites. How about you? What international books for children and teens are on your radar for next year’s list?




by Jessica Shepherd

Child’s Play, 2014

“I’m Oscar and I have the best Grandma in the whole wide world.” So begins this sweet, fragile story about the finite, particular experience of moving an older person into assisted living, and its impact on a young child. Oscar’s direct story offers a linear account of the situation. Grandma is forgetting things and needs more help than the family can provide, so she’s going to live somewhere where there are lots of people to care for her. We will miss her, it will be different, and you can ask questions. Oscar visits Grandma, learns about her new routine, meets her friend Albert, and decides it’s going to be OK.

This kind of purposeful book rarely gets attention beyond its purpose. It may not attract a large audience beyond families sharing the experience it depicts, and probably won’t find its way into regular storytime rotation (though I would be all over it). But there is real art here, and detail that warrants our notice.

Let’s begin with the style of the artwork, fresh and tender and childlike. The images vibrate with the love of family, and reinforce the child’s perspective. Just looking at the book, one feels the sort of security a child might craft for himself. The handwritteny font further establishes this as something experienced directly by a child, not filtered through the wisdom of adulthood.

And within the art are many wonderful details. Right on the cover we see Oscar and Grandma cuddling in a soft, oversized chair upholstered in a particularly cheery floral fabric. We see that fabric, with its bright red, yellow, blue and pink blossoms, over and over, on the opening and closing pages, on the coverlet on Grandma’s bed, as a handkerchief in Grandma’s memory box. And the original chair comes with Grandma and is present in her room after the move. No mention is made of the fabric’s constancy, but the through-line reminds readers that while some things will be different, some things will stay the same. The imagery is not all about particulars, though. Open backgrounds and copious white space leave plenty of room for children to fit themselves into the story, and fully absorb its comforts.

Also worth noting is the candor of the first person address. Oscar, experiencing things genuinely, tells the truth. “Grandma still tells me lots of stories about her life. I know them all by heart, so that I can remind her if she forgets one day” he says, for example. The sweetness here is pure, and does not come from sugar coating. It would be disingenuous to suggest to children that things will be better than they are. Instead, Oscar gives us his own account, focused on the positive, to be sure, but fully acknowledging the reality.

As practitioners we are aware of the need for books like this to help families through situations of stress and change. How wonderful that we have at our disposal books that support and explain, and do so with consummate artfulness.

what i came to tell you

what i came to tell youwhat i came to tell you

by Tommy Hays

Egmont, 2013

Grover and Sudie have recently lost their mother, killed when she was hit by a car, crossing the street. Their father, director of the local Thomas Wolfe House, buries himself in his work. Sudie disintegrates into tears. And Grover retreats to the cane break in the vacant lot beside their home, weaving intricate tapestries of branches and leaves between the wild bamboo shoots growing there. As time passes these tapestries take on meaning for Grover, and for the community, and when a developer threatens to raze them, Grover fears the loss of much more than the pieces of art themselves. Hays is careful and artful as he draws back the curtain, slowly revealing circumstances surrounding the accident and the burdens associated with them. A cast of original, winning characters helps and bumbles and threatens and loves. There is so much sweet spirit here, and it shines just right.

This is a book cut of a standard middle grade cloth. We have seen many books about the death of a parent, wherein a child struggles to make peace and move forward, and this, surely, won’t be the last. But this book is special, if not because of its theme, then because of its approach to it. For in Grover we meet a particular, individual child, the likes of which we don’t see in literature every day. Grover is a sensitive boy.

For decades arms of the children’s literature establishment have fought against female gender expectations, filling shelves with plucky, resolute heroines who defy stereotypes and take no prisoners. By no means do I mean to suggest that we’re done–girls are still bombarded with images and messages that define their lives in unfortunate and dangerous ways–but we can find more and more positive role models on the pages of books, girls who take responsibility for their own lives, ignoring princes and taking on dragons themselves.

But where are the boys who sidestep societal expectations? Have we become so consumed with getting boys to read, chasing their attention with action and adventure and testosterone-fueled explosions, that we are inadvertently doing some stereotyping of our own? I admire what i came to tell you for its warm prose, metaphorical landscape, and astute characterizations. It is, all by itself, a lovely and resonant story. But I am thankful for its contribution to the canon. It offers us a model of a boy who looks to art as a doorway, who processes his pain with nimble fingers and a beating heart, a boy who feels. It shows us that there are lots of different ways to meet the challenges life has in store for us, and that tenderness is not a liability but an asset. It delivers the power of art, in its theme and its execution.


Your Story Matters.

With all of the rich conversation going on right now on the CCBC listserv, I wanted to voice my own vision– both connected to the conversation and entirely separate (… I have come to love blurred lines and paradoxes).

We know that, like Megan Schliesman so beautifully stated, THE ONE answer to problems of representation of race and ethnicity doesn’t exist. If there are plural answers, we are all going to have varying opinions about which are correct, which are valid and valuable.

Here’s one thought, among the many:

Let’s do everything we can to let every human being know that THEIR STORY MATTERS. I think if we shift the conversation a bit– from who is publishing or not publishing certain material, who or who is not represented, and blame (the stem and the leaves of the tree)– to a sense of self-ownership and each of us belonging and being valued (the root of the tree), we might get somewhere.

All people have hard issues, deep sensitivities, and a plethora of identities. Each of us wants to be treated as the multi-dimensional person that we are; I definitely want to be seen as more than my physical appearance, more than my cultural identity, more than my age or religion or gender or sexual orientation or my hobbies. But those things ARE me; I can’t separate them out from my story.

So I should tell my story. You should tell your story. You should convince everyone– your friends, your family, your library patrons, the kids in storytime, the people you meet on the train or at the grocery store– to tell their stories. This doesn’t mean that every story will be published as a book for kids (it’s not easy to publish a kid’s book!). But it DOES mean that more people will BELIEVE that they can do it. They can tell their story orally to their grandchildren, they can journal, they can blog about their experiences, they can share anecdotes with friends and family and strangers and their stories will go into the air and might change something. It could change anything! Maybe your story will convince someone else to write something, maybe your story will give someone confidence to get the education they deserve or ignite them to research the publishing industry and how to develop a manuscript and submit. It may sound spiritual, or “self-esteemy” or “woo woo new age let’s go light some incense,” but so much of the stories we hear now are built on shame (think reality TV, magazines, social media, negative self-talk) that it’s no wonder people think their stories are unimportant!

My point is: If more people believed that their story is important, our literature would be a more accurate representation of our diverse world. Sharing story is HARD. It opens you up to vulnerability, possible rejection (think of how many times authors get rejected before getting published!), and critique.


Paying it forward

locke kidsThe buzz leading up to the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements Monday morning, full of predictions and premonitions, rightly focuses on the books themselves. The criteria for the big awards are all different, but they share a stalwart dismissal of the definition of popularity as inherently valuable. We look for literary and/or illustrative excellence, knowing that the best way to build a population of curious and voracious readers is to purposefully challenge them with excellent excellence. But it’s too easy to let that focus distract us from the very real work of matching kids and books, which sits at the heart of youth librarianship (at least as far as I’m concerned).

And today I have the great pleasure of having my attention diverted to such happy togetherness of kids and books with these pictures, sent to us from the Josephine Locke School, the most recent recipient of a grant of new books from the Butler Center. The Locke Librarian, Sabrena Wetzel, is a longtime friend of the Butler Center, and we enjoyed working with her to distribute books to the library there.

Each year the Butler Center receives new books from our friends in publishing, and each year we pull the previous year’s books, to make room for the next. We work with local libraries, schools, and other agencies to place those books where they’ll do the most good, and boy, howdy, they appear to be doing some good at Josephine Locke!

If you’d like to be considered for a book grant, drop us a line. We’d love to meet you!

shared reading

kids reading

Mock CaldeNott Results!

This time of year we enjoy handicapping the big children’s and young adult book awards as much as the next literature center. But rather than trying to anticipate the 2014 committees, we decided to go a different way in our own engagement with the process. We used the Caldecott lens to examine some outstanding examples of picture book making from around the world. Yesterday evening a hale and inquisitive group of 22 gathered in the Butler Center to consider extraordinary picture books ineligible for the actual Caldecott Medal due to their international provenance. We pulled out the official Caldecott terms and criteria (leaving behind the bits about the illustrator being American and the book being first published in America) and focused them on a butler’s dozen (that’s 13) of terrific ineligible picture books. It was stimulating and edifying, and, as is always the case with Butler Center book discussions, a real blast. In the end we chose one winner and one honor book. Look at us!

jane the fox and meFor our winner we selected Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books). A young girl, bullied and friendless, finds strength and comfort in the pages of a favorite novel, buoyed by its familiar message and strengthened enough, eventually, to trust someone and take a chance. We were especially taken with Arsenault’s sophisticated use of color to paint an emotional landscape; the distinct styles she used to differentiate the adolescent world of the protagonist and the imaginary world of Jane Eyre into which she retreats; and the illustrations’ almost childlike essence that really enhanced the raw vulnerability of the first-person voice.

my father's arms are a boatOur honor book is My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter (Enchanted Lion Books). A boy who recently lost his mother steps into the night with his father to process grief, look for comfort, and reconnect with the world that still holds possibility. Here we appreciated the untethered compositions, expressing the amorphous, rudderless nature of grief; the gradual relief that comes with the return of regular boundaries; and the expression of life’s fragility in the delicate three-dimensional paper-work dioramas.

But this was no easy choice. The debate was spirited, intense, and full of insight. And just look at the other distinguished titles we had on the table!:

The Line by Paula Bossio (Kids Can Press)

The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (Chronicle Books)

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon (Roaring Brook Press)

Opposites by Xavier Deneux (Chronicle Books)

Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonya Sanchez (Capstone)

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers (Toon Books)

The Tiny King by Taro Miura (Candlewick Press)

Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski (Big Picture Press)

The Voyage by Veronica Salinas, illustrated by Camilla Engman (Groundwood Books)

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rbecca Dautremer (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

It was a lot of fun. You should try it.