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!
For 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.
Our 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.