Raising Standards & Expectations with the Caldecott Awa

The Caldecott Award Pushes Picture Books Further

Picture books are very enjoyable for readers of all ages. While they may be the first favorite books of young toddlers, they still can be found on the coffee table of even the most educated and refined individual. The stunning creativity and expressive strokes that tell such an elaborate story with such little use of words is most impressive. The Caldecott Award has been a huge part of children’s literature since 1938. It originated in honor of “Randolph Caldecott, a nineteenth century English illustrator who was known for his picture book illustrations,” (Kennedy, 2011). Today it is awarded annually to children’s book illustrators for the original, and very distinguished work in children’s literature. One key element of the award is the aspect of “advancing the story visually” (Miller, 2011).  This award has established an expectation and standard to ensure the quality, detail and expressive creativity in the development of children’s literature.  
source: http://mwhittrandr.blogspot.com/2011/05/jumanji.html
Looking back to the 1982 Caldecott winner, Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg rich detail is revealed in elaborately detailed scenes.  The many unique perspectives and incredible use of value make this book truly a magnificently illustrated piece. Also consider how the artist was able to create such realistic and dramatic images with a limited color palette. The details of the setting and the characters are so subtle but tell the story of wonder, surprise, and curiosity that the story holds.   
Source: http://www.childlit.com/battledore/shop/index.php?productID=160
Van Allsburg again produces another magnificent piece that was awarded in 1986, The Polar Express. Like Jumanji, The Polar Express also shows realistic detail creating a very dramatic visual story. A difference in the two pieces is that in The Polar Express we see rich color, but both pieces hold a realistic detail that is very similar. “Van Allsburg's beautiful illustrations become as important to the story as the words themselves” (Caldecott Medal Picture  Books, 2011).
 Source: http://coxsoft.blogspot.com/2007_12_01_archive.html
Beyond just visually appealing artwork, Van Allsburg has visually told the story. “These life-like pictures encourage children of ALL ages to explore their own imaginations and to become active participants in the young boy's journey” (Caldecott Medal Picture Books, 2011).
Source: http://picturebookjunkie.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/hello-world/
            The Caldecott is not only for detailed realistic illustrations, but also is awarded for other visual aesthetics that enhance the story. Smoky Night by Eve Bunting is a sharp contrast to the awarded pieces of Van Allsburg. The acrylic painted illustrations on top of the photographed collage of story related items creates a dynamic rich texture that drives the story forward. The texture in turn relates directly to the story like, “when in the story the boy views people stealing cereal from the market, the background is a photograph of actual cereal” (Caldecott Medal Picture Books, 2011). Bunting shows us that creativity and innovative thinking are also key elements admired by the Caldecott Metal. Her book was awarded in 1995.

 Source: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/golem-id-0395726182.aspx
            Even techniques like hand cut paper have been recognized as they have proved to be a great medium for illustration. Golem, by David Wisniewski, was a medal recipient in 1997. “It's beautiful, with cut-paper illustrations that seem to spring off the page” (Caldecott Medal Picture Books, 2011).  At the same time, the choice of color equally added to the dynamic, which adds to the grim tone and development of the story. With this in mind, this book would be considered for a more mature audience as it addresses the Jewish persecution in 1580. The tone and content would not be appropriate for young children. 
 Source: http://alotlikebreathing.blogspot.com/2010/09/house-in-night.html
            Another masterpiece that won the Caldecott Award in 2009 is The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, and illustrations by Beth Krommes. This book is truly a visual experience. The artwork is done in a limited palette just using the page color and black ink with splashes of yellow color. Still another illustration technique is used in this piece as well. The etching style of illustration is a completely different style than the previous 4 awarded books. The artist uses hatching techniques to create rather involved landscapes with a rather long visual field considering the technique. A very small sentence or phrase on the page guides the reader as they gaze at the elaborate monochromatic texture before them. Consider the complex illustration below where the text simply reads, “the house in the night” (Swanson, 2008).
Source: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2206
With imagery as such a key element in picture book literature, we can appreciate the standards that the Caldecott Medal recognizes and ensures in children's literature. The award proves that the expectation and standard remain paramount in quality pieces for children’s literature. At the same time we also see that the Caldecott is not in any way committing to one style of illustration over another, but rather celebrating creative and progressive works that directly correlate with the story line and push the message of the text forward. The Caldecott Award proves that the creativity and expression created should not go unnoticed as it recognizes the efforts of dedicated authors and illustrators in this industry.

Works Cited:
Bunting, Eve, and David Diaz. Smoky Night. San Diego: Harcourt Brace,
      1994. Print.
Caldecott Medal Picture Books. Web. 03 Dec. 2011.       
Kennedy, Elizabeth. Caldecott Medal for Illustration of Children's Books - 
     Randolph Caldecott Award Winners. About. Web. 21 Nov. 2011. 
Miller, Linda. Personal interview. 21 Nov. 2011.
Swanson, Susan M., and Beth Krommes. The House in the Night. Houghton
      Mifflin Company, 2008.
Wisniewski, David, and Lee Salsbery. Golem. New York: Clarion, 1996.
Van Allsburg, Chris. Jumanji. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Print.
Van Allsburg, Chris. The Polar Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.