Somehow from following one tweet to another, much like discovering something new online, I came across Caldecott Challenge: 1938 to present on a blog hosted by LibLaura 5; this challenge is being co-hosted by her friend and fellow librarian Anna at A to Z Library. The goal of this stress-free challenge is to read all the Caldecott Medal and Honor books before the close of 2012. Considering the extent of our collection at Charlevoix Elementary School Library Media Center, I am off to a fine start.
My plan is to read them in chronological order as we have them, filling in the gaps with inter-library loans, haunting used book shops and garage sales until I have them read; hopefully with fingers crossed Given the extent of the titles, numbering more than 300, I am limiting myself to just a few observations about each book.
1938 Medal Winner--Animals of The Bible: A Picture Book by Dorothy P. Lathrop; with text selected by Helen Dean Fish from the King James Bible
Dorothy P. Lathrop's careful, meticulous portrayal of animals mentioned in The Bible is a classic, beautiful rendition. The following lines from her Caldecott Acceptance Paper, the first ever given, are why her drawings stay true to the flora and fauna of the area.
For a person who does not love what he is drawing, whatever it may be, children or animals, or anything else, will not draw them convincingly, and that, simply because he will not bother to look at them long enough really to see them. What we love, we gloat over and feast our eyes upon. And when we look again and again at any living creature, we cannot help but perceive its subtlety of line, its exquisite patterning and all its unbelievable intricacy and beauty. The artist who draws what he does not love, draws from a superficial concept. But the one who loves what he draws is very humbly trying to translate into an alien medium life itself, and it is his joy and his pain that he knows that life to be matchless.
Also according to this speech Lathrop had many a live model in her studio; so much so that she felt at times better able to communicate with them than their human counter parts. Clearly she was a woman with a great deal of love for animals; connecting with them on the purest level. This is definitely reflected in her visuals.
1939 Medal Winner--Mei Li by Thomas Handforth
Black and white drawings illuminate a tale of Mei Li following her brother to the New Year Fair; of being lost in her adventures and found in time to greet the Kitchen God. What bits and pieces I could gather suggest that Handforth had personal experiences based on travel in China upon which to base his illustrations. They, as is the text, are a reflection of the culture of the late 1930s but nonetheless inviting and enhancing.
After a visit to the public library, Andy reads and dreams lions. A most opportune encounter on his way to school establishes a friendship with a wayward circus lion. This is a delightful retelling of Androcles and the Lion with pictures thought to be rendered in rubbed charcoal; illustrations of the lion are fully animated. Every emotion between boy and beast is pictured perfectly. The dedication reads:
To Lady Astor and Lord Lenox, the library lions who have so long sat in front of the New York Public Library and with such complacent good nature and forbearance looked down on Manhattan parade.
1939 Honor Winner--Wee Gilllis by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Robert Lawson
Robert Lawson captures the dilemma faced by Alastair Roderic Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donnybristle MacMac, Wee Gillis for short. When the time comes, will he choose to live in the lowlands of his Mother's relations or the highlands from which his Father comes? It is a set of bagpipes, a "pooped" player and his visits to both areas of the Scottish land that determines his answer. You've got to love the facial expressions. And I do like a book with endpapers that mirror the tale.
Newberry's artwork is so textured that readers will be hard pressed to not reach out and touch the puppy and kitten. James finally receives a pet he can call his own for his ninth birthday; Barkis, a cocker spaniel. Nell Jean has had her own feline friend, Edward, but now she wants to be able to share Barkis with James. Animals befriend each other before brother and sister can come to terms about who belongs to who. A near tragedy with a happy ending resolves all. Illustrations done in charcoal and watercolor wash, endearing and timeless, sweeten a story whose message is just as relevant today as it was then.
1940 Caldecott Award--Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac provides further information.
1940 Caldecott Honor--Madeline story and pictures by Ludwig Bemelmans
This story has endured the test of time; rhyming text paired with simple but expressive watercolor, brush and pen illustrations has true heart. The colorful endpapers, those girls in two straight lines come what may, are what the magic of storytelling is all about.