By Mary Elizabeth Bezanson
Professor of Communication, Media & Rhetoric, University of Minnesota, Morris
For those of us who are very lucky our love of books began when someone we loved read us a picture book. With one exception, preschool children of 2016 will be very lucky indeed to be introduced to this year’s Caldecott Medal Winners. According to the Caldecott Medal Terms and Criteria, a picture book for children is differentiated from books with illustrations as one that “essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”
The Winner of the Caldecott award for 2016 is:
Mattick, Lindsay. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Print
While not a picture book, the first book I ever fell in love with was A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, read to me by my father. Finding Winnie provides the story behind the story of Winnie the Pooh told by the great-granddaughter of the veterinarian who is the focus of the first half of the book. Finding Winnie tells the story of a veterinarian serving for Canada in World War I. He rescued a bear he found on a train platform as he was being shipped out. He eventually took the bear he named “Winnie,” after Winnipeg, to the London Zoo, realizing that the front line was too dangerous for a young bear. At that moment, one story ends and another begins. The young son of Alan Alexander Milne, Christopher Robin Milne, became friends with the bear and was even allowed in her pen to feed her.
The structure of Finding Winnie in its text is more complex. Finding Winnie is a story within a story as a young mother tells her son Cole a “true” story as part of his bedtime ritual. Cole interrupts the telling of the story, shown in italicized text, to ask questions about Winnie’s experiences.
Sophie Blackall, who won the Caldecott for her illustrations, provides realistic yet romantic images to accompany the text. For example, readers see the train taking the soldiers to the coast to be shipped out as a series of images like cartoons with gutters. The separation of images indicate time passing as the train moves across Canada. The same technique is used in a series of images as Harry Colebourn decides to purchase the bear from a trapper that undoubtedly killed her mother. While the story is of war, the ravages for the soldiers and for London are not depicted. There is a sense of amusement as the text and images connect, each deepening the experience of the reader. The illustrator’s skill is even more evident because she gives life to two tales as a unified whole that does not confuse even the youngest of “readers.”
A wonderful addition to the book is the “Album” that is first pictured on the bedside table next to Cole and is then shared with readers at the end of the book. The Album contains actual photographs of Harry Colebourn, his diary, and pictures of Winnie with his fellow soldiers. Also contained are images of the picture that became the basis for statues honoring Colebourn and Winnie in both Winnipeg and London, along with Christopher Robin with Winnie and pictures of Cole with his mother.
In her dedication to her son Cole, the author says, “May this story always remind you of the impact one small, loving gesture can have” (n.p.). Rhetorically the book reinforces the power of the simple loving gesture of rescuing that very special bear. In fact, the book repeatedly references how special Winnie is in both stories, and how special Cole is to be named for the man who rescued her.
The focus of the book on the importance of simple acts of kindness demonstrates that both control and the ability to effect change are within reach. Reading Finding Winnie should also encourage both children and adults to read Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie in both her iterations as a bear living in London zoo, or as a character in a book was indeed a very special bear.
The Caldecott committee also awards Honors to four additional books.
Henkes, Kevin. [author and illustrator] Waiting. New York: Greenwillow Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publisher, 2015. Print.
Winning both Caldecott Honor award and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor award as a book for beginning readers, Waiting is a charming tale. Through lovely pastels, Henkes tells the story of five children’s toys who are waiting. “The owl was waiting for the moon, the pig with the umbrella was waiting for the rain, the bear with the kite was waiting for the wind” (n.p.). There was also a puppy on a sled waiting for snow and a rabbit with an accordion body not waiting for anything in particular. There is a lovely balance between picture and text as the child/reader waits with the toys on the windowsill. They see amazing things outside of the window. One day a ceramic figure of an elephant joined them but was lost when dropped to the floor. The most amazing moment of the story comes when a cat appears on the sill and no one knows what she is waiting for—until the reader learns she is a Russian nesting cat and the four small kittens emerge and also begin to wait.
For young children, and many adults, waiting is seen as wasted time; time when one should be active and productive. The text and images work together to slow time and allow the reader to learn the value of waiting. Many wonderful discussions could be had about how hard it is to wait, why waiting is wonderful, and what each reader is waiting for.
De la Peña, Matt. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Last Stop on Market Street. USA: G.P. Putnam’s Sons: An imprint of Penguin Group, 2015. Print.
In addition to winning a Caldecott Honor Award, this book also received the John Newbery Medal Award for 2016 and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. This book tells the story of C.J. and his Nana as they ride the bus to an unknown location. The colors are vivid and saturated. The reader experiences C.J.’s joy at the end of church and frustration with waiting in the rain for the bus when friends ride by in cars. Throughout the book, his Nana reminds him that they do not need to have a car but he should pay attention to the sights and sounds that surround him on the bus. One of the most evocative segments of the book occurs when C.J. asks the man with a guitar to play a song and all the riders, the nana, the blind man, and the blind man’s spotted dog are transported to new places in their imaginations. Through vivid color and imagery, C.J. is transported from the bus to a place of his own fantasy lost in the song. Soon after, he and his grandmother get off the bus in a “dirty” part of town. His grandmother reminds him that we do not know beautiful without dirt. Finally, just as the reader can take the suspense no longer, he and his grandmother arrive at the soup kitchen where they serve lunch to the community. At the very end, C.J. remarks he is glad that he came and his nana agrees.
While Henkes book is about stillness, Last Stop is about action. Not just the transportation of the bus from church to the soup kitchen, and all there is to see in between, but also the moving experience of listening to music, and the change experienced through service. In the vivid, realistic illustrations the reader connects with C.J.’s experiences as he is transported from the church to his imagination to the soup kitchen. This book does not ask us to wait, but rather to pay attention and to act.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2015. Print.
In addition to winning a Caldecott Honor Award, this work also won The Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Award for Informational books, and the John Steptoe New Talent award from the Coretta Scott King Award committee. This work, through the synergy of poetic text and vibrant collages, captures the strength of the voice of Fannie Lou Hamer as she fights for equal treatment of African Americans during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. This is a book adults should not read to children, but that children should read, because the book must be held to fully appreciate the illustrations and poetic text. The illustrations appear to be painted collages. In the first, the dress Hamer wears contains an image of a musical staff foreshadowing Hamer’s tremendous musical talent; in another, she is pictured next to her husband whose shirt is the map of Mississippi. Pillars of cotton surround them with a linked chain separating them.
The story is not easy to read. The poetry pierces one’s conscience. She tells of being unwittingly sterilized; beaten by a police officer and prisoners ultimately permanently injured; of her continued struggles to be recognized at the Democratic National Convention as a delegate; and struggles to be allowed to vote. This is a tale of persistence and persecution and triumph. Astute readers will realize that she dies at 60, far too young.
The illustrations match the intensity of the story. These pictures are saturated with color. By using the collage technique, pictures emerge and reemerge in pieces throughout the book. For example the dress she is shown wearing while singing at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is shown in the pattern of her outfit on the opening page. One must carefully examine the pictures to see how they weave together the moments of her life as she grows from child to adulthood.
The last two pages of the book are author’s notes explaining the poetry of the book more fully. This is a story of a remarkable woman, remarkably told and remarkably illustrated.
Andrews, Troy “Trombone Shorty.” Illustrated by Bryan Collier a previous Caldecott Honor winner. Trombone Shorty. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print.
In addition to winning a Caldecott Honor Award, this work was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. In this autobiographical tale, Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty, explains how he became interested in the trombone that would generate his nickname. Andrews remarks, “. . . this is a story about music” n.p.. The story is a wonderful example of the power of determination and dedication in the creation of excellence. There is a sweet illustration of Andrew sleeping with his newly found broken trombone. Textually, the story unites around the saying, “Where y’at?”, a form of greeting in New Orleans. The climax of the story comes when Andrews was playing his trombone in the audience of a Bo Diddley concert. Diddley hears him and asks him onstage to play. Andrews became a famous trombone player. A lovely addition to the book is a set of author’s notes at the end. The notes both explain more about his life and love of music and contain adorable pictures of him playing trombone as a small child.
While the story is compelling, the illustrations are captivating. Collier beautifully handles the challenge of translating sound into image. The music of the trombone is pictured as a spiral of colors in deep blacks and brown with white slashes to convey the music spinning out of the trombone. For me, the spirals resemble quilted tubes that carry the music. The illustrator’s notes indicate that the pictures are watercolor and collage. Collier notes further that he repeatedly used the images of balloons through various images in the text. Those balloons became a hot air balloon indicating that Andrews music would now be carried far beyond his Tremé neighborhood. This book can be heard because the illustrations are so evocative of the sound of a trombone.
The Caldecott winner and honor awardees do not disappoint. These are a collection of wonderful stories beautifully illustrated. Children will be very lucky indeed to encounter these works.
 [Caldecott] Terms and criteria. Association for Library Service to Children [ALSC] a division of the American Library Association. 2008. Web. 5 May 2016.