Caldecott Year in Review: 1939

8 11 2018

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Whew! The number of Caldecott Honor titles jumped from two in 1938 to five in 1939. The six books named in 1939, the five honors and the winner, are quite diverse in terms of setting, characters, artwork, and format.


Caldecott Honor Titles

The Forest Pool story and pictures by Laura Adams Armer

Set in Mexico, this is the tale of a young boy named Diego, his friend Popo, and his parrot Polly, who set off into the forest to catch an iguana to add to their zoo. Polly the parrot and the iguana alert the boys to a hole in a tree branch where Diego’s father finds pearls hidden. The artwork is a combination of full-page paintings every few pages and small, line drawings accompanying full pages of text. The paintings are done with soft, curvy shapes in vibrant colors – bright greens and blues with warm reds and golds.

Andy and the Lion written and illustrated by James Daugherty

This title is a retelling of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse” fable. In this version rather than a mouse pulling a thorn out of a lion’s paw, a young boy named Andy performs the brave deed. The text and illustrations for this title are more integrated with each other than in most of the other early Caldecott selections. The placement of the illustrations varies from page to page as well. Page turns are very important to the pacing of the story. Often a page turn comes in the middle of a sentence to create anticipation for what happens next. The illustrations are black ink drawings accented with a golden color similar to that of a lion’s coat.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs translated and illustrated by Wanda Gag

In this traditional telling of the fairy tale, Snow White’s wicked stepmother visits the princess at the dwarfs’ cottage in disguise three times. The first time, she ties the laces on Snow White’s corset so tightly that the girl faints; the second time, she is knocked out by a poison-tipped comb; the third time, a piece of poisonous apple catches in her throat making her appear dead. Rather than a kiss from the prince waking her up, Snow White regains consciousness when her glass casket is dropped and the piece of apple is dislodged. Gag’s black and white illustrations for the story are done with some type of printing, perhaps linoleum cut or woodblock? These illustrations are more integrated with the text than some of the books from this or the previous year, but the text is still quite lengthy.

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Robert Lawson

Wee Gillis is a young boy in Scotland who is asked to choose whether he would rather live with his father’s family in the Highlands or his mother’s family in the Lowlands. Over time he goes back and forth between the two, learning how to call the cattle in the Lowlands with a loud call and how to stalk stags in the Highlands by holding his breath to sneak up on them quietly. Both of these skills develop his lungs, making him the perfect person to play the biggest bagpipes in Scotland, which means he can now live in between the Highlands and the Lowlands rather than having to make a decision of one over the other. This title is the second collaboration for Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (after The Story of Ferdinand). Throughout the book, text is on the left page with full-page black and white, pen and ink drawings on the right. The text is also more limited than some of the other titles seen so far.

Barkis story and pictures by Clare Turlay Newberry

When young James receives a puppy for his birthday he doesn’t want to share Barkis with his sister Nell Jean, even if she shares her cat Edward with him. However, when Barkis falls in the creek near their home and Nell Jean saves him, James has a change of heart. This title still contains more text than many of today’s picture books. Most spreads have text on the left page and illustrations on the right, though a few pages do contain a combination of both. A simple color scheme based on shades of brown and black is used throughout the book. This color scheme works especially well for the brown cocker spaniel and calico cat in the story. Author and illustrator Newberry was well known for her depictions of animals, particularly cats, and her talent is very evident in this title.

Caldecott Medalist

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Mei Li written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth

As the New Year approaches, young Mei Li sneaks out of her house to explore the New Year Fair in the city like her big brother. She takes along her three lucky pennies and three lucky marbles which she ends up using on her adventure. The illustrations for this title are lithographs reproduced from copper plates. I’m not very familiar with this medium, and I’d like to research it more. Handforth based the character of Mei Li on his neighbor while living in Peiping on a Guggenheim Fellowship. The black and white illustrations are integrated with the text, and the placement of each changes from page to page. The composition of the drawings as well as the figure poses and facial expressions (even those of the animals in the story) convey movement and emotion.

For more information on Handforth and Mei Li I highly recommend K.T. Horning’s in-depth piece “Mei Li and the Making of a Picture Book” in the January-February 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. This article also discusses the apparent struggle the early Caldecott committees had discriminating between illustrated books versus picture books, a phenomenon which has been evident to me from just these first two years of selections. Many of the titles do not fit into the typical definition of what is considered a fully realized picture book. I think it’s going to be interesting to see the trends and transitions of picture books as I continue this project.

Picture Book Independent Study Bibliography


Storytime Share: Books to Sing

28 09 2018

There are so many books out there based on songs or intended to be sung rather than just read. I love to sing, so I like to use these books in storytime. Sometimes I even do a whole storytime with singable picture books. It can be a vocal workout, but it’s lots of fun.



Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera; illustrated by the author

This extended version of the traditional song is accompanied by Cabrera’s signature cheery paintings. Toddler, Preschool


Sing by Joe Raposo; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

The classic song about singing just for the joy of singing is accompanied by illustrations that show a bird that has lost its song being inspired by a young musician. Preschool


The More We Are Together by Rookie Toddler

This board book is based on the traditional song and accompanied with illustrations of friends at play. Baby, Toddler


If You’re Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre; illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic

Various animals show how they can be hoppy, sloppy, growly, flappy, and a little bit scary in this book that encourages movement and laughter. Toddler, Preschool


The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Iza Trapani; illustrated by the author

The author expands on the traditional song with additional verses all about the bear using his five senses to explore his environment. Preschool


Little White Duck by Walt Whippo and Bernard Zaritzky; illustrated by Joan Paley

One by one, animals arrive to a pond, but they are eventually scared away when a snake arrives. Toddler, Preschool


Songs: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”

Flannels: “Down by the Bay” and Five Little Ducks”






Picture Book Creator Profile: Helen Dean Fish

5 09 2018

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Who was Helen Dean Fish? When the first Caldecott awards were given in 1938 she had selected the text for both the Caldecott winner, Animals of the Bible, and one of the honor books, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Why didn’t I know her name? She was obviously important to the history of children’s publishing in this country, so I set out to learn more.

Ms. Fish was indeed important to children’s publishing – in fact, she was regarded by many to have been one of the pioneers of the industry. She was born in 1889 on Long Island and lived in the same house there in Hempstead until her death in 1953. After graduating from Wellesley in 1912 she taught briefly in Asheville, studied playwriting at Radcliffe, and led drama clubs in New York. She eventually found work in publishing at Frederick A. Stokes Company, and this led to her illustrious career. In 1922 she was appointed the first children’s book editor at Stokes (which later merged with J. B. Lippincott) and she remained there until 1953. Her time in children’s publishing was considered by many to be the “golden age” of children’s literature. One of her greatest achievements was discovering Hugh Lofting, author of the Doctor Dolittle books. She also selected text and verse for several titles that she edited over the years, such as The Boy’s Book of Verse (1923), and of course the Caldecott-winning title, Animals of the Bible. While Dorothy Lathrop was responsible for the illustrations in that book, Fish was credited with the idea for the book, the selection of the text, and the appointment of Lathrop as illustrator.

During her editing career, Ms. Fish also collaborated with many other talented authors and illustrators. She worked closely with Robert Lawson, in particular on his acclaimed edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, as well as the Caldecott honor title, Four and Twenty Blackbirds (another book for which Ms. Fish selected the text). She also mentored Lois Lenski and worked with Munro Leaf on his Can Be Fun series.

In addition to her passion for literature, Ms. Fish also possessed a great love of travel, authoring one adult book, Invitation to Travel (1937) about her European tours. Much of her journeying was done with the goal of studying children’s literature, and in fact, she even met authors such as Beatrix Potter and Eleanor Farjeon on some of her adventures. Her February 1930 Horn Book article about her first meeting with Farjeon is an especially delightful read.

Helen Dean Fish also gave back to children’s literature, serving as president of the Association of Children’s Book Editors, chairman of the Children’s Book Council, and member of the Children’s Division of the American Library Association. Her dedication inspired Lippincott to establish an award in her name after her death. Ms. Fish’s legacy can possibly best be summed up in Mary Gould Davis’ obituary editorial from the April 1953 Horn Book: “In the world of children’s books she was both an explorer and a builder.” She truly sought out and helped develop the best in children’s literature over the course of her career, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to learn about her.

Picture Book Independent Study Bibliography

Caldecott Year in Review: 1938

19 07 2018

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Welcome to the first post in my new blog project, my Picture Book Independent Study. I’m beginning my study by doing a review of the books that won the inaugural Caldecott Medal and Honors in 1938. After reading these books, I’ve already come up with a few topics that I’d like to research more in future posts, like the history of the Caldecott Medal and, more broadly, the history of picture books for children. I’d also like to learn more about some of the early picture book creators who were honored in 1938. That’s all for future posts though. This post will focus on the 1938 Caldecott Medal winner Animals of the Bible and two honor books, Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale.

A brief overview of all the books:

Caldecott Honor titles

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Four and Twenty Blackbirds collected by Helen Dean Fish and illustrated by Robert Lawson

This book is a collection of individual nursery rhymes and songs accompanied by illustrations. The collection consists of some rhymes that were familiar and quite a few that were completely new to me. As might be expected of an older book, the violent content can be a bit surprising, particularly when characters kill each other. This content is not uncommon in nursery rhymes and folk tales though. The illustrations are black and white drawings accented with green. A few illustrations are full page drawings though the majority of them are smaller ones sprinkled throughout the book. Stylistically, I would say that the most noticeable aspect of the art is Lawson’s ability to capture movement in the drawings. Many of the characters can be seen running, jumping, and flying.

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Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale retold and illustrated by Boris Artzybasheff

This title is one story accompanied by illustrations rather than a collection of shorter pieces like Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Compared to modern picture books, I would say that this title contains quite a bit more text. For the most part, each spread contains an illustration on the left and full-page text on the right. On a few occasions, there are decorative embellishments on the text pages. The story is a retelling of a Russian folk tale about seven brothers, all named Simeon, who help the tsar find a beautiful wife. I’m not familiar with Artzybasheff’s work, and I found his style quite lovely. The illustrations are done as fine-line ink drawings in a limited color scheme of black, red, green, and gold. The inclusion of the gold, as well as the use of lots of curves and swirls, helps to establish the regal setting of the story.

Caldecott Medalist

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Animals of the Bible text selected by Helen Dean Fish from the King James Bible and illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop

As with Four and Twenty Blackbirds this title also contains selections collected by Helen Dean Fish. These selections are a collection of passages from the Bible referring to animals. Most, but not all of the passages, are accompanied by full-page illustrations done by Lathrop. There are a few double-page spreads as well. The illustrations are realistic black and white drawings of animals (and sometimes humans).

Of the three illustrators featured in 1938, Lawson is the only one that was already familiar to me. I know his long list of credits includes The Story of FerdinandBen and Me, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I’m interested to learn more about Artzybasheff and Lathrop. I definitely want to learn more about Helen Dean Fish as well since she was responsible for the text for two of the three titles.

Taking this group of books as a whole, I would say what really strikes me is how different the formatting of them all is compared to modern picture books like those that typically win the Caldecott today. Though there are exceptions, such as Hugo Cabret and the graphic novel titles that have been honored in recent years, these books contain much more text and fewer illustrations. Of course, the separation of the text and illustrations in some cases may be due to the limitations of printing technology at the time. I’m sure that the limited color schemes has something to do with the technology, or perhaps the cost of printing multiple colors at the time.

What these books do have in common with later Caldecott winners and honors is the wide range of unique styles each illustrator possesses. Lathrop’s figures are the most realistic of the bunch, Lawson employs a bit more whimsy in depicting his human subjects, and Artzybasheff’s drawings are the most stylized.

So, that’s my review of the 1938 Caldecott. I’m looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me in the future. I definitely foresee some forays into picture book history, including learning more about the early creators.

Picture Book Independent Study Bibliography

A New Project

12 07 2018


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I am a firm believer in the idea of lifelong learning. I don’t think we should ever stop being curious, trying new things, or really digging into subjects we want to know more about. With that attitude in mind, I am starting a new project for myself. I’m calling it a “Picture Book Independent Study.”

Growing up I was an avid reader. I spent as much time as possible in my school library, and my mother made sure we made frequent visits to the public library to feed our book addiction. As an undergraduate, I took a children’s materials course intended for future teachers – just for fun. In 2000, I began working in the children’s department of a public library and knew that I had found my career path. I received my MLIS in 2003, and the majority of my courses were related to children’s services and children’s literature.

I love picture books. I know quite a bit about picture books from my years of reading, education, and eighteen years of working with children in a public library. Yet I know that there is always more to learn. So with this independent study I’m going to really dig in. I’m not completely sure where this journey will go. I have some plans in mind for certain topics I’d like to tackle, but I also want to be open to following different paths as they arise.

Of course, I will read LOTS of picture books. In particular, I’d like to do a year by year review of Caldecott Medal winners and honor books. I also want to do in-depth studies of picture book creators, both authors and illustrators. I’ll read books ABOUT picture books. I’ll learn more about illustration and art for children’s books. I’ll seek out podcasts and documentaries about picture books and picture book creators. I’ll read blogs and journal articles.

I am so excited to see where this leads!

Note: I will keep a running bibliography for the study, too.


Picture Book Independent Study Bibliography

12 07 2018

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Caldecott Titles



Fish, Helen Dean., and Dorothy Pulis Lathrop. Animals of the Bible: a Picture Book. New York: F.A. Stokes, 1937.

Honor  Books:

Artzybasheff, Boris. Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale. New York: Viking Press, 2004.

Fish, Helen D, and Robert Lawson. Four and Twenty Blackbirds: Nursery Rhymes of Yesterday Recalled for Children of Today. New York: J.B. Lippencott Company, 1965.



Handforth, Thomas. Mei Li. New York: Doubleday, 1938.

Honor Books:

Armer, Laura Adams. The Forest Pool. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938.

Daugherty, James. Andy and the Lion. New York: The Viking Press, 1938.

Gag, Wanda. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Eau Claire, WI: E.M. Hale and Company, 1938.

Leaf, Munro, and Robert Lawson. Wee Gillis. New York: The New York Review Children’s Collection, 2006.

Newberry, Clare Turlay. Barkis. New York: Smithmark Publishers, 1938.

Recommended Reads

Behrmann, Christine A. “Fish, Helen Dean (1889-1953).” Pioneers and Leaders in Library Services to Youth: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2003. 70-71.

Davis, Mary Gould. “Helen Dean Fish, 1889-1953.” The Horn Book 29.2 (1953): 89.

Fish, Helen Dean. “The Spring-Green Lady: Eleanor Farjeon.” The Horn Book 6.1 (1930): 10-16.

Horning, Kathleen T. “Mei Li and the Making of a Picture Book.” The Horn Book 89.1 (2013): 35-40.

Storytime Share: Music

28 06 2018

Our library participates in the Collaborative Summer Library Program. This year’s theme is “Libraries Rock”. So, I’m taking this opportunity to incorporate lots of music-themed books into my outreach storytimes this summer.


dance pookie

Let’s Dance, Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton; illustrated by the author

Dance the Pookie Shimmy with Little Pookie! Toddler

toot toot

Toot! Toot!: Guess the Instrument! by Cocoretto; illustrated by the author

In this lift-the-flap book, readers are asked to guess the instrument under the flap based on the sound it makes. Toddler


Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena; illustrated by Ana Ramirez

Inspired by the Disney Pixar film Coco, La Música goes in search of someone to help create the “Grand Harmony” and finds Miguel, a boy who longs to make music of his own despite his family’s dislike of it. Early Elementary


The Bremen Town Musicians by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; illustrated by Hans Fischer

The traditional tale of four down-on-their-luck animals who set out to join the Bremen town band and end up thwarting a band of robbers and taking over their house to live happily ever after. Early Elementary

pied piper

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

In this beautifully illustrated version of the classic story, the mysterious Pied Piper rids a town of a plague of rats, but then leads away their children when the town refuses to compensate him for his work. Early Elementary

mama allow

Mama Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd; illustrated by the author

Miles and the Swamp Band take a job performing on a riverboat for a group of music-loving alligators, they soon find out that they are not only the entertainment but dinner, too. Preschool; Early Elementary


The Punkydoos Take the Stage by Jennifer Jackson; illustrated by Dan Andreasen

Lexi-Lou loves to sing, so she sets out on a search to find the perfect musicians to round out her preschool band. Preschool

punk farm

Punk Farm by Jarrett Krosoczka; illustrated by the author

The animals on Farmer Joe’s farm lead a secret life as punk rockers when the sun goes down. Toddler; Preschool

bear piano

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield; illustrated by the author

When a bear finds a piano in the woods and learns to play it, he travels the world sharing his talents, but discovers that his favorite audience is his bear friends back home. Preschool; Early Elementary


Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis; illustrated by Paul Rogers

A young boy explores the music created by the sounds all around him. Preschool; Early Elementary

quiet loud

Quiet Loud by Leslie Patricelli; illustrated by the author

Patricelli’s adorable baby character returns in this exploration of quiet and loud sounds. Toddler


Don’t Forget Dexter! by Lindsay Ward; illustrated by the author

Toy dinosaur Dexter becomes anxious when his friend Jack leaves him in the doctor’s office waiting room and doesn’t come back even when he sings their special song. Preschool


Song: “Old MacDonald” with Punk Farm masks from Jarrett Krosoczka’s website

Flannel: “The Trumpet Went Toot, Toot, Toot” from In the Children’s Room blog