Category Archives: Award – Caldecott

Caldecott award or honor books

Day 157 – Paddle to the Sea

“The Canadian wilderness was white with snow. From Lake Superior northward the evergreen trees wore hoods and coats of white…There was no sound. Nothing moved.” A young, native American boy sits in a cabin near Lake Nipigon, carving a man in a canoe out of a piece of wood. After painting the canoe and adding some lead for ballast, he inscribes on the bottom: “PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER. I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA”. So begins the epic tale of “Paddle-to-the-Sea” by Holling C. Holling, a captivating Caldecott Honor storybook originally published in 1941. This fascinating tale provides a lesson in geography and history through the journey of a little man in a wooden canoe (“Paddle”) who manages to make his way, with a little bit of help, from the side of a snow-covered hill in Ontario, through each of the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River, and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to France.paddle

In the course of his travels, Paddle spends some time dammed up in a pond with beavers, he narrowly escapes being run through a sawmill, and he sees the great iron freighters being loaded with ore in Duluth, Minnesota. He passes by fishing villages, witnesses a shipwreck in the midst of one of Lake Superior’s legendary storms, and travels the length of Lake Michigan on a freighter, all the way to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Making his way back up the coast of Michigan, he watches a forest fire in the Upper Peninsula, and wends his way through Lake Huron, where he is picked up in a motor boat and carried to the entrance of Lake Erie. He passes over Niagara Falls, through Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and out to the Grand Banks – where he is picked up by a French fishing boat for his journey across the ocean.

Along the way, through twenty-seven one-page chapters and several years, Paddle encounters people who pick him up and help him along his way – staying true to the request carved into the bottom of his hull. In nearly every chapter, there are maps in the margins showing Paddle’s progress, as well as beautiful, intricate, full-page illustrations facing each page of text. Mr. Holling also weaves all kinds of nuggets of information into the text – historical and geographical.

This is an amazing book. It may be a little bit long for a single evening’s read-aloud – it’s certainly a bigger bite to swallow that our typical picture book selection so far this year. It’s worth it, though. You may be able to split it over a couple evenings, although I predict that the story will be too compelling to put down. The idea that you can put a little canoe on a snow drift above a little creek and that he will eventually make it all the way to the ocean is sure to capture the wonderment of young and old alike.

As a bonus, I suggest watching this adaptation from 1966 by the National Film Board of Canada. I remember watching this film when I was in elementary school (not all the way back in 1966, by the way – how old do you think I am?). The story stuck with me in the back of my mind for years because the concept is so fascinating, but I had forgotten that it came from a picture book. When we discovered “Paddle-to-the-Sea” at the library, it clicked and I was thrilled to have rediscovered it! Needless to say, I had to get my own copy, which I am looking at right now.

Day 152 – The Little House

To close out the month of May, we read a 1943 Caldecott medal book by Virginia Lee Burton called “The Little House.” Ms. Burton’s “Mike Mulligan” was one of our very favorite books to read and listen to with our oldest when she was little (if it is possible to wear out an audio book, I think we found a way). As a result of that experience, and the Caldecott medal on the cover, we had high hopes for “The Little House”, and it was just as good as we expected. It is a story full of heart and beautiful illustrations that made it clear to us why this book is considered an all-time classic.

little houseThe Little House was built long ago, way out in the country. She is a pretty house, strong and solid. She is so solid, in fact, that the man who built her predicts she will live to see his great-great-grandchildren’s great-great-grandchildren living in her. Over the years, The Little House sits on the top of the hill in bucolic bliss – watching seasons pass, crops being sown and harvested, and horses and buggies passing by. At night, she watches the stars and wonders curiously about the lights of the city glowing in the distance. Slowly, those lights come closer and closer, and horseless carriages traverse the widening roads. Soon the buildings around her grow higher and higher, elevated trains block her view, and subway cars rumble underneath her. Surrounded by skyscrapers, she is unable to see the moon at night and only sees the sun at noon every day. She is sad and lonely, and with her chipped paint and boarded windows, no one can tell that underneath she is still the same strong house.

Then, one fine spring day, the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built The Little House walks by and comments “That house looks just like the little house my grandmother lived in when she was a little girl.” When she realizes that it is indeed the same house, she and her husband have it moved far out into the country. A cellar is dug on a hill and The Little House is refurbished, lived-in, and cared for once again. “Never again would she be curious about the city…It was Spring…and all was quiet and peaceful in the country.”

What a lovely book. The colorful, detailed illustrations draw readers in and the story of The Little House eventually making her way back to the peace and quiet of the country is sweet and comforting. I have read reviews that label this book as a commentary on urban sprawl, and I suppose that’s true. I prefer, however, to think of the corollary: the joyful idea of building a little house on a hill somewhere you can breathe and just be.

Day 145 – A Chair for My Mother

Today we finally got to a book we had originally selected to read a little bit closer to Mothers’ Day – a classic, Caldecott honor storybook originally published in 1982 called “A Chair for My Mother” by Vera B. Williams. Full of vibrant, exuberant illustrations, “A Chair for My Mother” is a simple but inspiring story that warmed our hearts.chair

Little Rosa’s mother works as a waitress at the Blue Tile Diner, where Rosa also makes a little bit of money after school by cleaning and refilling salt, pepper, and ketchup containers. They live in a small apartment with Rosa’s grandmother, where the three were forced to move after their house burned to the ground. Although friends and family worked together to help them furnish their apartment, they are still without a big chair or a sofa. The only place in their apartment to rest tired feet after a long day of work is one of the hard kitchen chairs.

In order to remedy this situation, Rosa’s mother brings home a big glass jar – the biggest she can find – to help them save up for the biggest and best chair ever (at least, that is Rosa’s expectation). Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother gather any spare change they have at the end of the day and put it into the jar. Eventually, when they have succeeded in filling the entire jar, they count out all the change and find that they have enough to buy a new chair!

Rosa counts out the coins with her mother, wraps them and takes them to the bank, where the coin rolls are exchanged for $10 bills (!). While shopping for their new chair, Grandma says she feels like Goldilocks trying all the chairs…until they find the perfect one. It’s big enough that they can all sit together, and – best of all – when Rosa and her mother sit down together to read at night, her mother can reach up and turn off the light without getting up.

This is a lovely story. The narrative and the riot of color on every page help to convey a sense of hope and resiliency; that by working together, Rosa has every confidence that her family will achieve their goal. I also liked the way in which Rosa’s neighbors and family are so supportive throughout the story. The very best part, however, is the thought of sitting down in that wonderful, massive, comfortable chair at last, snuggling up with the most important people in the world, and not even having to get up to turn off the light. That’s priceless.

Day 142 – Kitten’s First Full Moon

In celebration of this year’s latest full moon (a Blue Moon, no less), this evening we read what has become one of the most request read-aloud selections in our home: “Kitten’s First Full Moon” by Kevin Henkes.  A Caldecott Medal winner (2005), “Kitten’s First Full Moon” is a dazzling and wonderfully engaging book that is short on words but long on humor.

kittenKitten has never experienced a full moon before, and when she sees one for the first time she is convinced that it is a bowl of milk…meant for her, of course! Hungry and determined, she makes one unsuccessful and entertaining attempt after another to get a taste of the elusive celestial saucer, until at last she returns home, exhausted and discouraged, to find…a bowl of milk waiting for her on the porch! What a night!

This charming story of a hard-luck kitten who lucks out in the end is sure to grab the attention of little listeners…it certainly grabbed the attention of our youngest! The story is simple and easy to follow, and the bold black-and-white drawings are captivating. If the idea of a little kitten thinking the moon is a bowl of milk isn’t enough to get a smile (what a silly kitten!), then the picture of a startled kitten with a bug on her tongue…or any number of other amusing illustrations…ought to do the trick.

I can’t recommend this book enough, although I probably don’t have to; if you have seen the cover, you have probably already decided that you need to read it. It’s one more counter-example that we have found this year to the old adage: “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Au contraire, mon frere!


Day 120 – A Tree is Nice

In honor of Arbor Day on April 29, we read “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont. A lovely cover illustration, and an atypically tall and narrow layout drew us to this book immediately. Inside, the simple but delightful prose from Ms. Udry shares multiple ways in which a tree can be special. The Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations from Mr. Simont picture in enchantingly abstract detail all the wonderfully fun activities described in the text. It’s a combination that makes for a great read-aloud, and it’s an attractive book for inspiring beginning readers.tree is nice

As Ms. Udry reminds us, trees are wonderful for so many reasons: leaves whispering in the breeze or providing soft piles for play in the fall; limbs for climbing and playing pirate ship or for hanging a swing; trunks against which to sit in the shade and rest…even (in some cases) apples for snacking! Perhaps best of all for Arbor Day, if you plant a tree and you tell people about it, they will wish they had one and will plant a tree too!

Mr. Simont’s drawings, alternating vibrant color (especially in fall) with black and white, look sort of like rough sketches – which adds to the charm. In fact, as a veteran doodler, the drawings looked to me like exactly the sort of simple but compelling work that might inspire a budding artist to pull out their own sketch book and go to work. We loved all the life and activity taking place around the trees, and I was particularly fond of the tree growing from the rocks by the sea; it made me wish I were inside the book myself.

All in all, this is a beautiful little book about subjects we love – trees and playing outside. I believe now I will step out and have a go on the swing hanging from the live oak in our own front yard!

Day 96 – The Gardener

Keeping with our spring theme this April, we read a book on Tuesday called “The Gardener” by Sarah Stewart and David Small, and it is an absolute gem. It is an inspiring story about a remarkable little girl, Lydia Grace Finch, who brings her cheerful optimism and perseverance to the depression-era big city.  Mr. Small’s Caldecott Honor illustrations beautifully capture the look and feel of the period, and his little details add an endearing warmth and a charm that really touched us.

gardenerLydia Grace is a spunky little country girl who is sent to the big city during the Great Depression to live with her Uncle Jim and work in his bakery. Her father is out of work and must find a new job. Lydia Grace is sad that she must leave, but she is ready to work hard, and to learn. She sets off on the train, determined to make the most of her experience, and to find a place to plant the seed packets with which she has stuffed her suitcase. In between fulfilling her duties in the bakery, Lydia Grace manages to fill every spare window box, chipped teacup, bucket and basket with flowers and vegetables, and in the process she brightens and charms the entire neighborhood – earning herself the nickname “The Gardener.” Her greatest masterpiece, however, is the magnificent garden she creates in her “secret place” – the rooftop of the building that houses her uncle’s bakery. By the time she receives word that her father has found work and she is to head home, her secret place is a riot of color, and while she never manages to put a smile on the face of her hard-working uncle, she clearly plants a smile in his heart.

This endearing story is told through letters written by Lydia Grace, which are inset in the upper corner of most of the book’s two-page spreads. It is a clever device that allows Ms. Stewart to narrate through Lydia Grace’s guileless and cheerful eyes – while Mr. Small’s illustrations finish painting the rest of the story. I love Mr. Small’s style of illustration, which is a little bit messy but at the same time precise. His drawings almost look like a series of unfinished sketches that have been colored in with watercolors, but an extra line here or there on the expressions of the people (for example) conveys a connection between the characters that is palpable.

There is so much to like about this book, and there are so many little moments that got to me, that I won’t try to list them all here. Instead, I will close with my favorite – which was actually on a page with no text at all. Although throughout the book Lydia Grace is convinced that she is ever closer to eliciting a smile from her Uncle Jim, Mr. Small never draws a smile on Jim’s dour face. However, when you turn the final page, Uncle Jim is on his knees hugging little Lydia Grace on the train platform as she is leaving to return home. When you see the picture you know Lydia has succeeded. It caught me off guard and made me tear up when I read it the first time, and it just happened again. This is a wonderful book.

Day 90 – A Sick Day for Angus McGee

“A Sick Day for Angus McGee” by the husband-and-wife team of Phillip C. Stead (author) and Erin E. Stead (illustrator) is a true treasure. The story is sweet, funny and comforting, and the charming pencil and woodblock illustrations, which won the Caldecott Medal for 2011, make me grin every time I look at them.

AmosAmos McGee is a sweet old man living in a tiny wood-panel house nestled in between taller downtown apartment buildings. Every morning he wakes early, packs a lunch, and rides the bus to work at the zoo, where he spends the day with his animal friends. He plays chess with the elephant (who thinks carefully about each move), races the tortoise (who always wins), sits quietly with the penguin (who is very shy), lends a handkerchief to the rhino (who always has a runny nose), and at sunset he reads to the owl (who is afraid of the dark). One day, however, Amos wakes up with a bad cold and can’t go to work. His animal friends miss him and make the trip to his house by bus to spend the day catering to Amos’ needs as he always caters to theirs.

I just adore this book. The idea of spending your days in such a simple but fulfilling way is so compelling – it’s a little escape just to read the story. I also love the way in which Amos is so considerate of each friend’s unique needs, and how his thoughtfulness and selflessness are repaid in kind. Then there are the illustrations, which augment the humor and heart of the story with their little details. Amos himself has such a friendly face, and his clothes and accommodations lend to the comforting old-fashioned feel of the book. The expressions and posture of the animals give insight to their personalities: the look of satisfaction on the face of the tortoise as he wins his race with Amos for the nth time, the crossed feet and sideways glance of the shy penguin, or the elephant’s contemplative pose as he carefully arranges chess pieces in a row while waiting on his friend. In fact, my favorite part of the book was actually wordless, as we saw the animals walking to the bus, waiting on the bus, and riding the bus to Amos’ apartment…I could almost hear the “intermission” muzak playing in my head as I flipped from one page to the next, waiting along with the animals for their story to “start up” again when they reach Amos.

I think we will need to track down some more of Ms. Stead’s books. We thoroughly enjoyed her work on “and then it’s spring” as well. Our oldest actually liked the illustrations in that book even better than those in Amos McGee, but I think that’s splitting hairs. Oh, and one more thing: we couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that Amos’ friends come in a group of five (a key foundational math concept for little ones), and that the grouping is underscored by the number “5” on the side of the bus as the friends all ride to see Amos. We have confessed to our dorkiness previously – as you will see here.

Day 84 – Marshmallow

Oliver the gray tabby cat lives an idyllic life alone in an apartment with Miss Tilly. He is a pampered “only child” who is unaware that the world is full of other animals; the nearest thing to a rabbit that he has ever seen is a “stuffed plush Easter bunny.” All he craves in life – and all he has known – is peace and quiet, and being served his meals on time. Then one day, Miss Tilly brings home something small, white, and furry with tall ears, pink eyes and a wiggly nose…and it is alive! “What do you think of this, Oliver?” Miss Tilly asks, “Its name is Marshmallow.” Well, let me tell you what Oliver thinks – he is appalled, and he is afraid of this alien presence. Concerned about Oliver’s ability to peacefully cohabitate with Marshmallow, Miss Tilly keeps the two pets separate – until one afternoon when Oliver slips into Marshmallow’s room. Just as Oliver is about to pounce, Marshmallow scampers up and kisses him on the nose! From that moment, the two are inseparable, “romping like two kittens” with Marshmallow following “lippity-lippity” at Oliver’s heels wherever he goes.

“Marshmallow” by Clare Turlay Newberry is a darling, endearing little book, like the little rabbit himself. According to the author, “every word of (the book) is true…the bunny was so little and was so convinced that Oliver was his mother, what could Oliver do but be his mother the best way he could?” Ms. Newberry’s amusing descriptions and her delightful charcoal drawings of Oliver’s and Marshmallow’s behavior (which won the book a Caldecott Honor in 1943) are remarkably effective at capturing the interaction between the two animals. Her drawings of Oliver in particular looked familiar to us. Having had both cats and bunnies as pets ourselves, we could picture Oliver watching the twitchy-whiskered invader, “…opening and closing his eyes as if it actually hurt them to look at a rabbit”…or lashing his tail and preparing to spring every time the little rabbit hopped by him. Our favorite part of all, however, was the way that Oliver grew to nurture and love Marshmallow as his own.

If you weren’t convinced before reading “Marshmallow”, by the time you are finished perhaps you will agree with Oliver – as we do – that “a bunny’s a delightful habit, no home’s complete without a rabbit.”

Day 75 – Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present

If you have ever been confounded by the challenge of finding the perfect present for someone important in your life, then perhaps you will identify with the heroine of this evening’s story book. Originally published in 1962, “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Presents” tells the story of a little girl’s quest to find the right gift for her mother’s birthday, with the assistance of a well-intentioned Mr. Rabbit. The book is written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, whose Impressionistic watercolor artwork won the book a Caldecott Honor.rabbit

The little girl may be short on specific ideas at first, but she knows what colors her mother likes – red, yellow, green and blue. Working together, Mr. Rabbit and the girl brainstorm potential gifts for each color in turn and eventually end up with a fruit basket full of apples, bananas, pears and grapes – a lovely present indeed!

We originally added “Mr. Rabbit” to our list because Mr. Rabbit made the book seasonally appropriate, and because we loved the idea of making a colorful fruit basket for a gift. We also appreciated the fact that we were able to find both an English and a Spanish version at the local library; we like to take advantage of bilingual read aloud opportunities whenever we we can.

ConejoWe weren’t sure about all of Mr. Rabbit’s suggestions to the little girl (red underpants?), and I can’t recall ever seeing blue grapes – but the characters’ brainstorming provides a nice introduction to colors for younger listeners. There is a repetition to the text that is beneficial for beginning readers, and the story promotes kindness to animals and healthy eating – two things we always value in a story book. Your children may actually enjoy an activity of putting together their own fruit basket after reading the book – especially if you have a birthday coming up at home!




Day 70 – Waiting

Feel like standing around with a big, goofy grin on your face? Then I suggest you get your hands on Kevin Henkes’ Caldecott and Geisel Honor book, “Waiting”waiting. We read it together tonight, and my goofy grin is still plastered on my face as I write.

The story centers on five little toys and their life on the windowsill of what I assume is a small child’s room. Like many small children, these toys spend most of their lives waiting. However, these toys don’t show the same restlessness of a small child waiting…for a parent to read to them or take them to the park…for the weather to clear up…for Christmas morning to arrive…. The toys on the windowsill are waiting with a peaceful expectation – waiting to see what will happen next and knowing from experience that something always does. Other toys come and go from the sill, someone leaves them gifts (an acorn from the yard, a shell from the beach), they wait and watch, and sometimes they sleep. All the while, just outside the window are “…many wonderful, interesting things…”: changing seasons, colorful rainbows, dramatic thunder storms, sparkling fireworks, dazzling ice crystals, familiar shapes in the clouds, and the moon “…to keep them happy”.

“Waiting” is a sweet, simple book, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we absolutely adore it. The text and drawings are precise but poetic and remarkably expressive – hallmarks of Mr. Henkes’ style. There are several illustrations with no text, but enough of a story taking place on each that we may have spent more time discussing the pictures and expressions on the pages where there was no reading to be done. The way in which the toys are moved around, laid down, and presented with gifts reminded us of watching our youngest arrange and rearrange her own toy animals along shelves and windowsills at our house.

Perhaps the most grin-inspiring page comes close to the end of the book just after a matryoshka cat with patches joins our contented quintet. They look her over and ask themselves, what could she be waiting for? She doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything in particular…until you turn the page to find out “Oh, but she was!” – four nesting kittens have been hiding inside her. There is something about that “Oh, but she was!” that made us laugh out loud. We are dorks.

If you don’t believe me regarding the dork comment…let me tell you this: one of the reasons we decided to include this book on our list originally was the fact that…wait for it…the animals on the windowsill come in groupings of five! Grouping is a basic math concept and a key component of early math learning for young children. Not only are there five animals on the sill originally, but their new nesting friend adds another grouping of five – and the grouping concept is reinforced by the way in which the animals are positioned on the sill. The book ends with “Now, there were ten of them. And they were happy together, waiting to see what would happen next.”

(I told you. Dorks.)