This afternoon my son and I had our own Caldecott competition. We sat down together and read this year’s Caldecott award winners (with the exception of Voice of Freedom, which I decided was too intense for him) and picked out our own favorites of the bunch. He thoroughly enjoyed the concept of judging a competition between the books, and came to the “contest” with enthusiasm.
Finding Winnie – by Lindsay Mattick
This is the story of the real bear that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh books, a bear cub who was found by a military veterinarian during World War One, and who became the mascot for a group of Canadian soldiers heading off to war. The illustrations are delicate and beautiful, and the story is masterfully told. There’s a frame story, in which a mother is telling Winnie’s story to her young son — the boy’s interjections with questions and comments about the story helped to keep my son’s attention as we read. At the end of the book we learn that the mother who is telling the story (and who also happens to be the author of the book) is a direct descendant of the WWI veterinarian who discovered Winnie. This personal touch with history (combined with beautiful black and white photographs included at the end of the book) made this book incredibly compelling to me.
I was split between this one and Last Stop on Market Street in terms of my favorite from this group of books. (Which I suppose makes sense, as Last Stop on Market Street won this year’s Newbery medal, while Finding Winnie won this year’s Caldecott medal.) They’re very different books, and I loved them both in different ways.
Last Stop on Market Street – by Matt de la Peña
This is a truly beautiful story about a young boy and his grandmother riding the bus. I found this book very moving. It interacts beautifully with the concepts of poverty and dignity, and the idea of enjoying the beauty that’s around you without having to own it. CJ complains about not having a car, and his grandmother points out the communal beauty and fun of the bus.
I particularly loved the section in which CJ sees two teens listening to music on a mobile device and tells his grandmother that he wishes he had one of those. She tells him he has the real thing right in front of him, and they listen to the man sitting across from them on the bus playing the guitar. It’s such a beautiful picture of enjoying what’s around you without having to own and consume it.
Trombone Shorty – by Troy Andrews
This brightly illustrated book features the story of Trombone Shorty, a New Orleans jazz musician, and how his interest in music started at a very young age. I came to this book unfamiliar with Trombone Shorty’s music (FYI he’s a contemporary musician, not a “historic” one, and he’s also the author of this book). My son loved the illustrations — especially the fact that photographs are mixed in, collage-like, with the drawn illustrations. My son wanted to point out each and every photograph that was mixed in. It’s an inspiring story for young musicians, and emphasizes the unique way that New Orleans culture centers around and supports music and young musicians.
Waiting – by Kevin Henkes
My son dubbed this one his favorite. It’s a very sweet story about five toys who sit in a window, waiting. One waits for the moon, another for rain, another for snow. It’s beautifully written and has delicate illustrations. I was left with a sense of the importance of slowing down and enjoying the unexpected beauty that comes our way.
Voice of Freedom – by Carole Boston Weatherford
This is a powerfully written biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman who grew up as a sharecropper’s daughter in Mississippi and ended up as a leader in the civil rights movement. It’s an inspiring story, written with energy and beauty, but it’s not for young kids. Amazon recommends it for ages 9 and up, and I would agree with that recommendation. While it’s a picture book, it deals vividly with the injustices of the Jim Crow era. It’s written in the first person, and we hear the (completely justified) anger and defiance in Fannie’s voice as she describes her forced sterilization, the attempts on her life after she registered to vote, and the time she was brutally beaten by a group of white men. This is an important and wonderfully written book, but pay attention to the age recommendation when interacting with it.