Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tales from the Library: Happy New Year, Caldecott Club!

Way back in January, I posted about my library's Caldecott Club, calling it a "mock mock Caldecott" because we have patrons ranging from ages three to adult voting for the book they consider the best-illustrated of the selection we choose each month. (More background on our "mock-mock" Caldecott can be found here).

Because it's been so popular with our patrons, we decided earlier this year to expand the Caldecott Club from just a few months of the year to year-round. The Caldecott Club "year" would start in March, and culminate with a final vote in January -- just before the actual Caldecott Medal winner is announced at the American Library Association's Midwinter conference. We'd then discuss the actual winners in February and start the cycle over again in March.

2014 Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca
What with one thing or the other, including the end of the school year and the start of our summer reading program, we actually kicked off the "year" with our July Caldecott Club. No matter -- everyone was happy to be there, the "regulars" as well as some new folks. I started off by sharing a bit about the Newbery-Caldecott Awards banquet, which I had just attended at the ALA's Annual Conference (in Las Vegas, of all places). Mostly, I wanted to share the wonderful banquet program designed, as always by the Caldecott Medalist: in this case, Brian Floca, author/illustrator of Locomotive. The program, fitting the motif in Locomotive, looked like an Old West handbill and featuring just the best pop-up of -- you guessed it -- a locomotive. You can read Brian's speech here. 
(Another fun part of the evening were the short videos of this year's winners of Caldecott and Newbery Medal and Honor Books. My favorite video featured Mr. Wuffles, star of the 2014 Caldecott Honor book, Mr. Wuffles, written and illustrated by David Wiesner.)

Then our real fun of our Caldecott Club began, as we read, discussed and voted on the four books I had selected for the evening. We also looked, briefly, at a few illustrations of another book, Firefly July (Candlewick Press, $16.99), featuring very short poems chosen by Paul Janeczyko and illustrations by Melissa Sweet. While everyone agreed that Sweet's illustrations, done in collage and watercolor, were Caldecott quality, the poems -- while short -- were a bit too sophisticated for our group that night. In choosing books for our Caldecott Club, I generally keep in mind that our group skews towards preschoolers and early elementary kids (and their parents). So even though Caldecott criteria calls for the consideration of books for ages birth through 14, the ones we read tend to be aimed at kids 3-8 or so.

At each Caldecott Club, I'm joined by my library colleague Dave Burbank, who uses the skills he learned as a theater major in college to bring alive the books he reads. Besides, Dave is a real whiz with the ELMO, a special "document camera" that connects with our projector to show the book's pages on a big screen. It works great for a large group because everyone can really see the book as Dave reads it.

On this latest evening, we began with Three Bears in a Boat (Dial, $17.99), written and illustrated by David Soman, who is best known for the best-selling Ladybug Girl books he creates with his wife, Jacky Davis. Three Bears in s Boat was the longest book we would read that night, and I wanted to start off with it first, while energy was fresh. Dave read the book, then we asked everyone to give rate the illustrations, from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Three Bears in a Boat was a crowd-pleaser, gathering an overall rating of 4; kids liked the way Soman drew the bears, while some of the adults loved his watercolor scenes of the bears in the ocean.

Next up was My Bus (Greenwillow, $16.99), written and illustrated by Byron Barton, a master of picture books for the very youngest readers. My Bus is a follow-up to My Car, which Barton published 13 years ago, and which remains popular with new generations of babies and toddlers at my library. My Bus was our youngest book of the evening, and so predictably drew raves from the toddlers and three-year-olds. While older kids and adults could appreciate Barton's use of color and shape, they were less enthralled with the book, which ended with an overall rating of 3.

 Bad Bye, Good Bye (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99) was third on our list. I have to admit that it was definitely my favorite of the night; in fact, it's one of my choices for the 2015 Caldecott.  The simple yet emotion-laden rhyming text by Deborah Underwood is matched perfectly by Jonathan Bean's illustrations. Done in ink and Prismacolor tone, Bean's illustrations are multi-layered. In one layer -- the first layer that readers will focus on because it is done in full color -- shows a family's upheaval at moving to a new home.

 In the background of those illustrations, however, Bean presents other scenes, done in more monochromatic colors, which both move the story along and deepen its heart. For example, there's an entire background set of scenes behind the book's opening sequences. As readers see the family's two hugely upset children trying to prevent the movers from doing their work, the background illustrations depict the movers' relentless pace. Like me, it turned out that our crowd that night also loved the book, which garnered a number of 5s from folks of all ages.

Our final book was Number One Sam (Disney, $16.99, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. I loved Greg's book, The Watermelon Seed, which won the 2013 Geisel Award for Best Beginning Reader, and I figured this new book, highlighting Greg's zany humor and cartoon-like illustrations, would be a crowd-pleaser and great way to end the night. (Check out this book trailer to get a sense of the book). The kids really liked Number One Sam and especially the twist at the end. A round of 4s for this one.

Then it was time to vote on our top book of the evening. People can vote for only one book and I was thrilled to see Bad Bye, Good Bye come out as our clear winner. It will now become one of our finalists when we vote on our Caldecott "winner" in January. You can learn more about the book, as well as the author and illustrator here. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more Caldecott Club fun next month!

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