Sunday, January 8, 2012

Early Caldecott winning books: exploring the late 1930s, early 1940s

I have launched into exploring the best American picture books by reading as many Caldecott winning books, decade by decade. The Caldecott Award was established in 1938 by the American Library Association to honor the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book published in the United Stated during the previous year. This journey is helping me develop an appreciation of picture books, think about a wide range of illustration styles, and consider the different aspects of these classic books that might appeal to children today.

I have enjoyed sharing three books from these early years. Their stories and illustrations have kept their appeal, some eighty years later.
by Ludwig Bemelmans
originally published 1939
1940 Caldecott honor
NY: Simon and Schuster
ages 3 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." Does that bring back memories? I loved reading the Madeline stories to my children when they were young - the rhyming text reads aloud so well, and Madeline perfectly balances an independent spirit with an old-fashioned sense of being a proper little girl. I especially enjoyed rereading this to 1st graders, and looking at the illustrations. Bemelmans alternates line drawings with full color paintings. I especially like the motion and movement he captures in the line drawings of Miss Clavel. Read more at Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.
April's Kittens
by Clare Turlay Newberry
originally published in 1940
1941 Caldecott honor
NY: Harper
ages 4 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
Children today will still adore this child-centered story about a young girl who is torn when her beloved cat has kittens that her family says they cannot keep. Clare Newberry  cats and captured this love in her wonderful stories and illustrations for children. April lives in a small apartment in New York City, in what her father calls a "one-cat apartment." When her cat Sheba has kittens, her mother explains that they will find homes for each of the three little cats. Children today will connect with April's growing love for one of the little kittens, and the pangs she feels when her parents start to give them away. Newberry uses a combination of ink, charcoal and watercolor to capture the details in her cats. I was particularly struck by the way Newberry captured the essence of these cats with just the barest of fuzzy details. This is a book that I will share with cat-lovers of all ages.
Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey
originally published 1941
1942 Caldecott Medal award
NY: Viking
ages 3 - 8
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or on Amazon
I have loved rereading this - it brought back so many memories from childhood, not specific memories, but that wash of familiarity, of having been drawn into this book hundreds of times. This time, I was struck by how the text gave the ducks so many human qualities, but the illustrations of the ducks seemed so realistic. I was also struck by the dynamic poses of the policeman, and the interesting perspectives/angles. McCloskey builds the climax and tension with the policeman perfectly for young children. Originally published in 1941, this book keeps its appeal to children today. I especially like the way that Anita Silvey notes, "Because the book was published during World War II, the first children who read it often had fathers away from home. It sent a subtle, but powerful message: that the family would be reunited in a safe place." See her wonderful story of how McCloskey learned to draw the ducks over at her wonderful Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

I have read 14 of the Caldecott Medal and Honor books from 1938 to 1942. I have loved joining Laura, Anna, John, Aly and all the librarians and teachers having fun with the Caldecott Challenge. If you are interested, please join us!

The review copies all came from our school or public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. What an enjoyable challenge! These winners of the 30's and 40's Caldecotts are worth revisiting again, and again, and again...

  2. What a lovely blog! I've added you to my blogroll and hope you can do the same. I mostly review middle grade and YA books, but sometimes an adult books slips into the mix. Have a great day.