10 Caldecott Award Winning Books You Should Read (by Decade)

Last week, I listed 10 notable past Newbery Medalists and honor books. I realized that I should probably devote some time on Newbery’s younger cousin, the Caldecotts. While the Newbery Awards honor the best text in a children’s book (usually novels), the Caldecotts honor the best illustrations in a children’s book (usually picture books). The award was first given in 1938, and a medalist and at least one honor book has been recognized every year since then. In anticipation of the announcement for this year’s honorees in January of 2015, here are 10 classic Caldecott books you should check out!

mei li

1. Mei Li by Thomas Handforth (1939 Medal Winner)

Although somewhat old fashioned, Mei Li is still filled with beautiful illustrations and a relatively authentic portrayal of Chinese life (Handforth lived in China for a while). The story revolves around a young girl who, despite being prohibited by her family, leaves her house to experience New Year’s Eve outdoors in the carnival. In the end, she realizes that home is where she belongs. This is the second book to win the medal; and it is ten times better than the very first winner (Animals of the Bible).

2. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1942 Medal Winner)

This cute story is about a family of ducks who cross the busy streets of Boston in order to find a home. As the official children’s book of Boston, Make Way for Ducklings is very much still in print and beloved, proving that young kids don’t need technicolor in order to enjoy good art.

lion william pene

3. Lion by William Pene du Bois (1957 Honor Book)

I adore this book! It takes place in the skies where angels are in charge of creating animals. One angel decides to create a lion. The book, for the most part, details the process. It’s a surprisingly funny book that kids could still enjoy in the 21st century.

4. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1963 Medal Winner)

Who can forget those papercut illustrations? Or that star-shaped snow suit? The Snowy Day is a simple “day in the life” story that celebrates childhood and multiculturalism. Ezra Jack Keats (who is actually white, not African American) wrote many sequels afterwards.

frog and toad are friends

5. Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel (1971 Honor Book)

I remember finding these Frog and Toad stories so hilarious when I was seven and eight. It’s strange because I never thought the illustrations were particularly memorable, but I think the picture book as a whole (story, text, pictures, characters) is overall amazing. This is a short collection of short stories about a frog and a toad – and their trials and tribulations as best friends. Check out the musical adaptation!

6. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Don Wood (1986 Honor Book)

This is one of the books where the text is minimal, but the pictures are extraordinary. The story revolves around a king who refuses to leave his bathtub, and conducts all his business in there. The pictures are quirky, yet delicately detailed. I could see myself flipping through this for hours as a kid.

7. Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann (1996 Medal Winner)

If I could make a list of my ten personal favorite picture books (a list that would include many books that were not recognized by the Caldecotts), Officer Buckle would definitely be up there. It’s a story about an officer who gives safety talks to elementary school students (anyone remember those?) It’s a fun story with accessible illustrations about friendship and compromise.

8. The Hello, Goodbye Window by Chris Raschka (2006 Medal Winner)

This is a fairly simple book about a young girl’s experience visiting her grandparents. As unique as the illustrations are, what I truly love about this book is the fact that the grandpa is white and the grandma is black. Interracial couples aren’t terrible common in children’s picture books. It’s nice to see a picture book that actually represents America.

9. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Erin E. Stead (2011 Medal Winner)

There’s something so refreshingly retro about this book. It’s as if it were a “lost book” from the seventies. It only adds to the charm of the book. The story is about a man named Amos McGee who always visits the animals of the zoo. When he has to stay home because of a sickness, the animals visit him. It’s a sweet story about compassion.

10. Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle (2014 Honor Book)

During the 21st century, there has been a growing trend of wordless pictures. Flora the Flamingo represents the potential beauty anf simplicity of that genre. Molly continues the tradition with the recently released Flora and the Penguin.

For more information on the award and past winners, click here. Thanks for reading!

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