A Mission to Read all Caldecott Prize Winners | Part I.
One of my favorite books of all time, even as an adult, is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. The stylizing artwork, the unique and gripping story, the overall sense of magic, all of that bundled together really hits me in all the right places. It makes me feel calm, triumph, joy, all of it. I think that is what embodies a phenomenal work.
With this in mind, I decided to engage with the world of children's picture books, a genre which, unless you have a kid or teach, is often ignored by adults and adult writers. These stories have not only art worth sharing, but stories alongside them most times which are merely enhanced in greatness by the amazing artwork. This is the first installment of many in my mission to read them all.
Here are the first five books I tackled!
Baboushka and the Three Kings | Caldecott Winner 1961
It's not that this story was poorly written or illustrated, I just didn't love it.
Essentially, this story relays the Russian folklore tale of an old woman searching for the Christ child. It was interesting, from a historical perspective, having never heard this story. I think the best thing about this is how it can educate children about the different stories from different cultures, albeit they have similar themes and characters, they have major differences and priorities when it comes to narrative.
The artwork alongside this tale is definitely telling of the era it was drawn. All of the colors present in the story are on the cover, and it provides a nice simplicity, allowing the reader to focus more on the culture told through the plot.
If you want a little bit of a Russian treat in your day, pick this up! It also includes a lovely song in the back for even more cultural goodness.
Owl Moon | Caldecott Winner 1988
I kept thinking one thing when reading this: how lovely.
The artwork in this was ever so deserved of the Caldecott Prize. It is crisp yet whimsical, with the movement and gradients of watercolor. It lended itself so well, especially given the story took place outside at night in the winter. Using whatever artistic technique the artist used, it added much needed shadows, dimension, and depth to the pages, which was both pleasing and calming.
The story itself wasn't anything but charming. It was a simple father/daughter owl sighting story. You know, the usual. The story telling was very lyric, like poetry. This is probably why I enjoyed it so much, but personal biases aside...
I think this enhanced when the duo saw their owl in the end; the writing made it feel awful triumphant alongside the wonderful drawing of the owl.
It's a lovely read, one I would definitely grace upon the eyes and ears of anyone.
Smoky Night | Caldecott Winner 1995
This is a story about a riot in California after fires occur in a neighborhood. Different families are forced in close quarters together as they share in the tragedy, whilst attempting to find each of their respective, dearly beloved cats.
This is a heart-breaking but also uplifting story. I have never seen a children's book deal with racist themes in such a poignant fashion, one which made me emotional as an adult, and also made me consider racial interactions through the lens of stress, trauma, and disaster. In this story, Daniel relays the relationships between his family and the Asian family across the street. They do not partake in each others family's businesses for example because they need to "support their own". However, they come to find they share similar priorities and cares about love and family.
This story is dark at times, as Daniel discusses the wreckage and frantic behavior he sees on the streets. But, the end of the story shows that lovely light readers crave as the two families find happiness and hope in their bleak situation. The artwork was very uniquely done—I believe it was all acrylics and then screened for the book. It is delightfully representative of Daniel's heritage, and provides a nice cultural nod to the narrative.
I would say this is a more mature read when it comes to children's picture books, but it is undeniably very important.
Snowflake Bentley | Caldecott Winner 1999
I loved this book. It is based on a true story about the life of the man Wilson Bentley, the first photographer of snowflakes.
I'm going to go straight in to what I loved most about it: it has a wonderful bridge of perspectives. This book is an amazing way to introduce the melding of different "brained" people; creatives and logicians alike will love this story because it displays so perfectly the passionate artist alongside the mind of a tactful scientist. Wilson Bentley has qualities of both. The fact this story demonstrates these fields, ways of thinking, however you want to describe them, as harmonious as opposed to disparate, is what I think is most essential to share with the youth today.
The artwork is wonderful, the narrative is interesting and educational, the emotions are genuine and engaging. This story made me consider concepts like persistence, determination, passion, craft, precision, and so many other wonderful qualities that can be applied when one cares about something enough. This is definitely one of my favorites, for sure.
My Friend Rabbit | Caldecott Winner 2003
I understand the relevance of the Caldecott Prize; as it is awarded to the illustrator and not the writer, I will discuss the art first. The way this story is drawn is lovely; it has thick line art and heavy colors with personality unique to each animal character in the story. That much is indiscernible.
However, upon reading these Caldecott books, even though they are children's books, (I think of Where the Wild Things Are and The Invention of Hugo Cabret), I do have an unrealistic expectation for a ground-breaking narrative to be told, obviously, with the expected audience and accessibility of children. This one was very simplistic, and though the art was nice, neither the art or the story inspired me.
I am not the target audience. It still has merit for young children in its morals and applicable storyline, but as an adult who is reading through these books, analyzing the miracles of children's picture books and literature, this one isn't terribly unique.
Be prepared for more sets of reviews in the future! All of these reviews can also be found on Goodreads.
Thanks for reading (and keep on reading)! Cheers.