Book covers of Dreamers by Morales, Hello Lighthouse by Blackall, and Ocean Meets Sky by Fan

Award Winning Books and the Eye of the Beholder

Books Entertainment
Book covers of Dreamers by Morales, Hello Lighthouse by Blackall, and Ocean Meets Sky by Fan
My pick for Caldecott (Holiday House); the actual 2019 Caldecott (Little, Brown); my library patrons’ pick for Caldecott (Simon and Schuster)

I don’t know about you, but I just watched the most important awards show of the year: the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards!

It is possible I, being a children’s librarian, get a little more excited about it than the average person, but that just means the average person doesn’t know what they’re missing.

Last year I just wrote up a quick GeekLinks post to point you to the press release listing all the winners. This year I’m still going to link you to the press release because there’s a lot of great books on here receiving a lot of different awards and you should definitely check it out.

But this year I want to add a little more because it’s something I’ve been marveling about all weekend.

On Saturday I held a Mock Caldecott vote at my library. The Caldecott award is given to the best pictures in an American picture book, which makes it ideal for holding Mock sessions, because people can look at a large quantity of picture books in a relatively short amount of time, and even non-readers are able to pick their favorite pictures.

I’m not sure anyone at the library appreciates these Mock Caldecotts as much as I do, but I appreciate them a lot. It’s so exciting to see what my actual patrons think makes a great picture book, rather than, necessarily, what all my librarian friends on Twitter think. I am often surprised, and, to be honest, that’s what I love best about them.

In 2014, my Mock Caldecott participants picked Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore and Nancy Carpenter. I hadn’t looked that closely at the book before, but I did now, and it ended up becoming one of my favorite storytime selections…even though it didn’t win anything at the real awards.

Last year the only book anyone could agree on was Claymates by Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge. and though I knew with my librarian mind it lacked that certain “distinguished-ness” to win the actual award, the fact that we all felt so strongly about it was satisfying.

This year, I—and, so I noticed, quite a lot of other librarians—had a clear favorite: Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers. I have been a fan of Morales ever since I saw one of her stop-motion puppet scenes on the cover of an SCBWI bulletin when she was just starting out, and I literally squealed out loud.

Dreamers has the signature intricate adorableness that made me first love her work, it has a stand-out mixed-media technique, it has a timely yet timeless story, and it’s about how awesome libraries are, including tiny perfect reproductions of book covers of a variety of real books! If ever a book was made to be a winner, this one was it.

painting of a library display of picture books, each one a replica of a real book
Looooooooook at the tiny little book covers! (Interior detail of Dreamers, Holiday House).

But for second place, I would totally take the abstract marbleized paintings of Ekua Holmes in Marion Dane Bauer’s The Stuff of Stars. All of creation swirls by in these breathtaking spreads! The Caldecott had to go to one or the other, I thought. Nothing else came close.

Swirly oil painting, colorful silhouettes of animals dancing around a planet
Interior spread of The Stuff of Stars, Candlewick Press.

A couple of my patrons agreed with me, but most barely noticed.

The clear winner in our Mock Caldecott was Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers. The very first participant, a girl of about six or seven, zeroed in on it among all the other books on the display tables and audibly gasped. I laughed and said, “If a book makes you react like that, it’s a pretty good sign you’re going to vote for it.” She did, and so did at least five other people, independent of her, throughout the day, including even my non-artistic, completely-uninterested-in-children’s-books husband, whom I forced to vote when he came to pick me up at the end of the day.

“This one, and I guess this one is my second place, are the only books that are any good here,” he declared stubbornly. “Hah, well, you’re not alone!” I said. “Ocean Meets Sky has almost twice as many points as any other book!”

Fantastical beasts swarming around islands of books
Not like I couldn’t see why, I just hadn’t thought about it until now. Ocean Meets Sky interior, Simon & Schuster.

The book my non-artistic husband had reluctantly picked as second place was pretty popular, too, and we named it one of our Honor books.

Lo and behold, it was that book, Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, that ended up winning the real Caldecott!

Cutaway view of lighthouse on left, inset pictures of the lighthouse keeper with text on the right
Lots to look at inside Hello Lighthouse. Little, Brown Books.

I like Hello Lighthouse. It does have the kind of illustrations I would have loved to pour over as a kid. It just hadn’t stood out to me as special, at least not as special as Dreamers or The Stuff of Stars.

But while both of my favorites won their respective what-I-would-call “minority experience” awards (the Pura Belpré Award honoring a Latinx illustrator and the Coretta Scott King Book Award for an African-American illustrator, respectively), neither of them got even an Honor on the Caldecott list!

And Ocean Meets Sky didn’t win any award that morning at all!

The thing is, it’s not like I’m yelling at my computer about how my favorites got robbed or the committee doesn’t know what they’re talking about, though. Instead, when other people notice that Something Special in a book I didn’t consider, I say, “Really? Wow.”

There are so many wonderful books being published, and who can really say what will capture someone’s interest? That’s what makes it so fun: getting to discover what other people are excited by.

If that embedded Tweet doesn’t show for you, the pertinent part is “somewhere some kid has picked up your book, fallen into it, and been changed.” Each book is out there waiting for just the right someone to see it and gasp.

And if the right someones don’t happen to be sitting on an awards committee, maybe you might never know about it. And maybe you don’t agree with someone else what books are gasp-worthy. But when that gasp happens, whoever is doing the gasping, it’s special, and I love to hear it.

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