Who chooses the Caldecott Medal?

Lakeview Branch Children's Librarian Miriam Medow is serving on this year's Caldecott Award Committee. She tells us a little about her experiences this year so far, in anticipation of the award announcement later in January.

Have you ever wondered how those shiny gold and silver embossed medals wind up on the year's most distinguished picture books?  

The Caldecott Medal has been awarded each year by ALSC, a division of the American Library Association, since 1938.  A different committee of ALSC members is elected and appointed every year to decide which picture book, by an American illustrator, will win the award.  You can watch the live webcast of the award announcments at 5 a.m. on Monday January 27th, and check in with us throughout that week for reports on the awards. 

This year, Oakland Public Library is very proud that Miriam Medow, children's librarian at the Lakeview Branch, is part of the committee.  It is a huge honor--and also a huge amount of work that Miriam commits to on mostly her own time.  I asked her to share with you all a little about what this year has been like so far.

"I've been reviewing books as part of my professional work for several years.  A couple years back, I attended a full-day workshop at ALA's Midwinter conference where we practiced book discussion and learned what it takes to serve on a media award committee. I was super excited by the idea of doing this work, and filled out a volunteer interest form for ALSC to serve on an award committee.

"Six months passed by silently, then one morning last August I received an email from ALSC telling me that I had been appointed to the Caldecott committee! I burst into tears at my computer and immediately called my parents. They're proud :) I then set out to prepare for a year of hard work.

"The more I know about what goes into making children's books, I figure, the better I'll be at evaluating them. Online videos showing artists working in their studios, articles about illustration technique, and interviews with picture book creators -- most notably Maurice Sendak -- have been critical to my (self) education. I've also looked at previous Caldecott winners to see what committees in the past have deemed to be the most distinguished contributions to children's book illustration. Sometimes I disagree with their choices.

"Publishers have been sending me envelopes and boxes of books to consider for the award throughout the year.  In March, they trickled in. By May, it felt like a full-on deluge. I'll admit that, at this point, I groan when I see the UPS delivery truck pull up! I've reviewed over 500 books so far this year, and expect to spend time with another 50 before this Caldecott year is done.

"I've been visiting 2nd and 3rd grade classes at a couple Oakland schools to read books with students, and have learned SO MUCH from those kids about what works and what doesn't work in picture books. They've been amazing audiences, so opinionated!  Over the next month, I'm having special reading times with my 5-year-old book-loving niece to discover what I can about these books in one-on-one sessions. Reading these books with kids has definitely been the best part so far!

"The most difficult and time-consuming part has been pulling together my critical analyses of the books in preparation for the committee's marathon meetings that will be happening January 24th- 26th at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. Everyone on the committee is doing the same, so when we're all in the same room next month we'll be ready for some intense discussions. We have a little over two days to hash it all out and vote on winners. A year of work, culminating in just over two days of decision-making. Yikes!

"Committee members hail from all corners of the country. We range in age from 30-something to 70ish, and mostly have experience in public and school library youth services positions. Some have been on award committees before, but more are newbies like me. From our practice discussions, I know that, though we share a passion for children's literature, we bring a great variety of opinions to the table! 

"Our decision will be made by Sunday, 1/26, and we're not to spill the beans until after ALA's big awards announcements that take place on Monday the 27th. It's as exciting as the Grammys for librarians :)"

If you'd like to learn more about the Caldecott Medal, try exploring the Caldecott Medal website, including resources developed for the recent 75th Anniversary.  

If you'd like to explore some of the eligible books for this year's award, check out the blog Calling Caldecott at the Horn Book.