by Sam Juliano
Note: This is the fifth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date. The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be. The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.
It happens all the time. When book, film, theater and music awards are handed out there is head-scratching, disappointment and second-guessing among those who take these matters seriously. Most award historians agree it is largely a matter of the right timing, the depth of the competition and factors connected with the potential recipient’s standing in their respective industry and their years of service. For children’s books the gold standard are the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott Awards, which are given out early in the calendar year to the most distinguished works published during the previous twelve months. A small committee of sixteen or so librarians, who were elected by the association’s membership spend a year painstakingly evaluating the full crop, and at the end of an arduous process settle up on the gold medal and honor book winners. Though mainly reliable, like all other groups there is sometimes an inability to speculate whether their choices will hold up well into the future. Though there are ample examples that raise eyebrows, none is as startling as the 1953 Newbery Medal awarded to Anne Nolan Clark for her book Secret of the Andes. Some libraries don’t even possess a copy of it anymore, while the “second place” honor book Charlotte’s Web is now seen by many as the greatest children’s work ever written by an American. Still, at least we can conclude that Charlotte’s Web did win an Honor that year. A number of exceptional artists and illustrators over the years have not been so lucky. Some are veterans who have enjoyed prolific careers, yet for one reason or another have failed to gain the attention of the award givers. One of these is Brooklyn poet/illustrator Douglas Florian, whose resume includes at least a half dozen books that fall under the category of would have, should have, could have. His work has repeatedly been lauded by critics and his peers, and has been given numerous citations from other year-end groups. But so far the prestigious Caldecott Medal has eluded this distinguished craftsman and classroom favorite. (more…)