Last week, I had the chance to use the 2011 Caldecott Winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, with my storytime group for ages 4-Kindergarten and with my story group for grades K-3. It proved to me once again that the process for selecting the award for the”most distinguished picture book” of a given year works. It just works. Not only does the Committee look at hundreds of books, examine them closely, sort and resort the stacks, nominate and look at nominees, but the Committee has the chance to really put them through their paces.
Other awards have equally hard-working committees–some of them work extremely hard indeed. Members of the Newbery Committee have said they have to read a novel a day to keep up. But by the time a Caldecott Committee votes, they have read books aloud multiple times to find which rhythms work, which page-turns create a great moment. Groups of children and individual children have pored over the pictures and pointed out the surprising details and hidden joys. In fact, the one potential problem is for the book that comes out early in the year and is read almost too often, so it loses its potential to amaze the Committee member.
But usually what happens is that the Committee picks something that may not be the one that drops an adult reader’s jaw on a first reading. They don’t always pick the one that is magnificent or stunning in its artwork. And this year’s Committee picked the kind of book that, like its main character Amos McGee, is unpretentious, loving, and deeply connected to themes that matter. It’s not until you use it with a child that you realize how deep the connection to a child’s perspective really is. Amos’s kindness to the animals of the zoo is reciprocated when he gets sick, and that interplay of what is realistic (like the way the animals are drawn) and what is fanciful (those same animals riding the bus to see Amos) sets up a feeling in the reader/listener that is suffused with tenderness and delight.
I’m happy to say that the choice of the 1987 Caldecott Committee, Hey, Al, is one that still also connects deeply with children. They still get pulled into the artwork to point out the significant details like the way important things push outside of the frame, or the newspapers piling up outside the door. And they notice that once Al and his dog Eddie have been through their adventure, they have learned to enjoy their life together. “Yellow is such a happy color,” one of the kids in my group said, looking at the picture where Al and Eddy begin painting their ugly walls a bright lemon yellow.
Yes, it still is. Congratulations to the 2011 Caldecott Committee for coming up with a choice that took so many by surprise. Your hard work turned up a treasure that might have gone relatively unnoticed. I’ll be using A Sick Day for Amos McGee for years to come.