Our Caldecott Medal Opinions 2019

The Academy Awards of children’s literature, the American Library Association’s youth media awards, were announced Monday morning… A few followers had asked me to hold off on sharing my thoughts, because they were still reading through hopeful award winners for their own mock votes with their children, but given how absolutely excited I was for the day to come and to see what won each award, I’ve held off as long as I can!

Though awards were given in more than 20 categories on Monday morning, the award I followed most closely and was most excited about was the Caldecott Medal, given to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture books for children published in 2018 (that’s the short version… visit the ALA website for the full description and criteria). As you may know, I spent 10 years as an elementary classroom teacher. For the last 7 years I was in the classroom, we did a Caldecott study, and it quickly became my very favorite unit of study that I ever did in my classes. Critical reading, persuasive writing, public speaking, creative writing, art… This study covered it all. We wrapped the unit up with our own mock Caldecott vote and then excitedly watched or read the reveal of the actual Committee’s choices, eager to see if the grownups made the right choice.

When I left the classroom to stay home with our children, I couldn’t wait for the day when my girls were old enough to do our own mini Caldecott unit at home… And this was the year we started! It was much smaller, much quicker, and much more arbitrary (my 3-year-old thought everything was “good” and my 5.5-year-old always insisted on hearing my opinion first…) than with a roomful of 3rd graders, but we had a blast nonetheless!


Though I checked out a massive pile of “buzzed about” contenders, we only managed to read 10 of them. Of the books we read, my girls’ favorite Caldecott possibilities for the 2019 Caldecott Medal were Blue, A Big Mooncake for Little Star, Hello Lighthouse, and Drawn Together (even my husband loved this one!). We never got off of the library waitlist for Thank You, Omu, so didn’t read it during our Mock Caldecott, but we had read it during November. Thank You, Omu was my personal front-runner for the Medal, though I never had a chance to talk to my girls about its artistic excellence.

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Without further ado, here are the Caldecott Medal winners and our thoughts on them!

Caldecott Medal:


Hello Lighthouse, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall: Initially, my girls were lukewarm on this one, but after that first reading, they asked for it again and again… We probably read it 15 times over the course of 6 days. While the story is extremely interesting, especially if you read the “About Lighthouses” page at the end, keep in mind that the Caldecott Medal is given for the illustrations, for the artistic excellence. From the tall, thin shape of the book itself that reminds us of lighthouses to the endpapers to the details in the oceans to the circular illustrations that show both the shape of the lighthouse and the cyclical lifestyle of the lighthouse keeper… She’s got it all! And the illustrations are beautiful to boot. (Be sure to spend some time perusing the illustrations on the cover of the book itself, underneath the dust jacket…)

Caldecott Honor Medals:

screenshot2019-01-31at1.22.39pmThe Rough Patch, written and illustrated by Brian Lies: Ok, while I know I’m supposed to focus on illustrations here, this story is also one to make note of, especially if you need a conversation starter about death, loss, and grief. But, the illustrations— done in acrylics, oils, and colored pencils, Lies mixes small vignettes, single images on a white background, and full-color spreads, and each serve it’s chosen purpose wonderfully to allow readers to deeply feel and see what the main character, Evan, is experiencing.

screenshot2019-01-31at1.22.25pmAlma and How She Got Her Name, written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal: Once again, make sure to take a peek under the dust jacket of this one, too. These mostly-pencil illustrations were done on hand-made paper, giving a texture and depth to what might otherwise be a lot of white space behind the drawings. Martinez-Neal adds great detail when we need it, though, such as the double-spread of a map of the world, with cities strung together with red string, or the worldly souvenirs and trinkets depicted behind Alma’s great-grandmother who hoped to travel the world.

screenshot2019-01-31at1.22.56pmA Big Mooncake for Little Star, written and illustrated by Grace Lin: I loved the illustrations in this book upon the first read, and appreciated the information contained in them about the phases of the moon. I loved that Little Star and her mother were both dressed in black pajamas with stars, so they blend in with the dark background of the night sky on almost every page. And the way Lin creates a galaxy from crumbs from the cake? So clever! And, once again, notice what’s underneath the dust jacket!

screenshot2019-01-31at1.22.12pmThank You, Omu, written and illustrated by Oge Mora: Yet another one with a surprise under the dust jacket and stunning endpapers! Details such as these always stuck out to me when reading hopefuls during Mock Caldecott units, and it seems they were important to the committee this year, too. Now, illustrations aside, this book is worth owning! We checked this out from the library in November to include on our “thanksgiving and gratitude” shelf, and I fell in love… With the story, with the illustrations, with the message, with the characters— it’s a wonderful complete package! As for the illustrations, they are warm, brightly-colored collages… and I’m a sucker for a good collage! Mora chose not only brightly colored paper, but also scraps and cuttings from maps, newspapers, and what appear to be even textbooks… And the placement of each is genius!

I hadn’t noticed until now that all 5 of the Caldecott winners this year were done by author/illustrators, rather than two separate people. What great talent we get to recognize!

When I told my girls which books had won awards, they actually yelled, “Hooray!” They were beyond excited that Hello Lighthouse won the Caldecott Medal… It obviously grew on them during the repeated readings!

Other award winners I was excited to see:

  • Coretta Scott King (Illustrator– Honor) Book AwardHidden Figures, illustrated by Laura Freeman
  • Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award: Thank You, Omu written and illustrated by Oge Mora
  • Schneider Family Book Award Honor Book For Young Children: The Remember Balloons, written by Jessie Oliveros, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults: M. T. Anderson
  • Pura Belpré Illustrator Award: Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Award: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac
  • Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award: Julián Is a Mermaid, written and illustrated by Jessica Love
  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature: Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Sydney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers: All-of-a-Kind-Family Hanukkah, by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky

Do you follow the ALA awards each year? Do you do a mock Caldecott with your classroom or your children? What were your thoughts on this year’s winners?

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