Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tales From the Library: Our Library’s “Mock-Mock” Caldecott

As the time grows near for the January 27th announcement  of the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner, libraries all over the country are choosing their own “mock” Caldecott winners. There are even blogs like Calling Caldecott and A Fuse # 8 Production  that are tracking the mock winners as a way of trying to predict just what might actually win.
My library certainly isn’t immune to this “mock fever” and we recently chose our own “mock-mock” 2014 Caldecott Medal winner for 2014. (Read on for why it’s a “mock-mock”). Our choice was “Mr. Wuffles,” written and illustrated by David Wiesner. (His brief video on the making of the book is well worth watching). Meanwhile, we had three “mock-mock” 2014 Caldecott Honor books: “Little Santa,” written and illustrated by Jon Agee; “Big Snow,” written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean; and “The Day the Crayons Quit,” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

So, why do I call our program a “mock-mock” Caldecott? Unlike most libraries where it’s mostly adults who spend hours seriously discussing potential winners in a mock Caldecott program, the voters at my library are as young as three years old. Crazy? Yes, but it’s also hugely entertaining, and the program has been such a big draw among library patrons of all ages that we’ve started subtitling it “a family book club.”  Young participants, and their parents, tell me they learned how to really look – and analyze – the illustrations in a picture book, a key skill in our highly visual world. And the program also has been a great way to focus on books in an entertaining way for various ages. As one parent told me, “It’s so wonderful to do something literary with my kids.”
This is the third year our library has done its own version of a mock Caldecott program. When I decided to start the program, I had fond visions of arguing amicably for hours with other adults or older kids over details in an illustration and discussing whether a particular book met a key Caldecott criterion. It just sounded like a heck of a lot of fun for anyone who loves children’s books (yes, we can be a weirdly-focused bunch).
But the participants at our first meeting of what I termed the “Caldecott Club” turned my carefully-laid plans upside down. Instead of lots of adults eager to nitpick over Caldecott criteria, our Caldecott Club participants were parents and their children, including many preschoolers. These patrons all were fascinated by the idea of reading and discussing together some of the best new picture books being published.
Who was I to argue with success? So I decided to call our group a “mock-mock” Caldecott, and just go with the flow. To help our youngest participants understand what we were trying to do, I asked my talented library colleague Dave Burbank to develop a list of “kid-friendly” Caldecott criteria. Dave broke down the key points into language that even preschoolers could potentially grasp, and which certainly could be understood by elementary students on up. We have used that criteria as the framework for our monthly discussions since then although, truth be told, it still can be quite challenging to keep a preschooler on track to discuss illustrations in a book when they really want to talk about the story! But that’s all part of the fun.
For the first year, we offered our Caldecott Club once a month from October through February. Each month, from October through January, we read several books (using our “ELMO” overhead projector and a big screen so everyone could really see the illustrations). At each of those meetings, we chose a winner and then in January, we took those four monthly winners (including the January pick) and voted on our choice for the mock Caldecott Medal. The other three books were our mock Caldecott Honors. Then, in February, we gathered once more to read the actual Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honor books.
Last year, we added another dimension to celebrate the 75th birthday of the Caldecott Medal. Instead of just meeting for five months, we went almost year-round and, in addition to potential new Caldecott Medal winners, we read some classic Caldecott winners from each decade.
This year, we went back to the initial format and will conclude our current Caldecott Club in February, when we read the actual 2014 winners. From October through our early January meeting, we read and discussed 16 picture books, all chosen from the booklist developed by the Calling Caldecott blog. Of course, we couldn’t read everything on the list and, in choosing what we did read, I tried to think of our audience, which obviously skews pretty young. That means we didn’t read some terrific, but longer, potential 2014 Caldecott Medal winners like “Locomotive” by Brian Floca. But every family at our meetings got a copy of the “Calling Caldecott” list, and many parents used it as a guide for reading the books we didn’t get to discuss in our get-togethers.
Now it’s the time that we all get to wait until the actual 2014 Caldecott Committee members make their choices behind closed and locked doors. (Although one committee member recently gave Calling Caldecott a peek into what it’s like in the weeks leading up to the panel’s final discussions; it’s definitely worth a read.) Meanwhile, all of our library’s “mock-mock” Caldecott participants are full of questions. Will “Mr. Wuffles” really win and make David Wiesner the first person to win four Caldecott Medals? Or will the winner be “Journey,” written and illustrated by Aaron Becker or “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild,” written and illustrated by Peter Brown – two of the top choices of many library “mock” groups.? Or will the winning book be something completely out of the blue? Check in on January 27th for the answer!

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