Members of the Association of Library Service to Children celebrated 75 years of the Caldecott Medal this weekend with a welcoming reception Thursday evening honoring authors and illustrators, and a day-long preconference on Friday at the Art Institute of Chicago. More than 250 attendees were treated to a keynote presentation by author/illustrator Brian Selznick, a luncheon panel moderated by renowned children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus, breakout sessions on hot topics, small group book discussions, and a talk on trends in picture books by author/illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky.
During the reception, attendees previewed the museum’s special exhibit on the history of the Caldecott Medal, “Play, Pretend, and Dream: Caldecott Medal and Honor Books, 2010–2013,” and had books signed by featured Caldecott artists. The exhibition includes original illustrations from 16 books that have won the medal or an honor award in the past four years, including Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (illustrated by Jon Klassen), Peter Brown’s Creepy Carrots!, and Chris Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy. (Visitors to Chicago can view the works through December 1, 2013.)
On Friday, Selznick, 2008 Caldecott Medalist for The Invention of Hugo Cabret and 2002 Honoree for The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, opened the preconference by hilariously donning the sparkly shirt he wore when he accepted his own Caldecott and acknowledging Zelinsky, three-time Caldecott Honoree and 1998 Medalist for Rapunzel, in the crowd.
Selznick, who designed the logo for the Caldecott anniversary celebration, spoke about the importance of the medal and shared a little of its history and trivia, from its conception in 1921 by bookseller Frederic G. Melcher and on into the modern era. (For example, 1964 winner Maurice Sendak loved Randolph Caldecott’s Baby Bunting, especially its closing illustration, Selznick noted.)
Selznick also acknowledged that there are authors and illustrators that have never been recognized by Caldecott. In closing, Selznick went on to share more memories of his friend and mentor Sendak and the ways Sendak inspired his own work, and called Where the Wild Things Are one of the most important Caldecott winners. He closed with a reading of that iconic and beloved work.
Attendees learned about the process of creating an award-winning picture book in a series of panels: “Matching Words and Pictures,” which featured Erin and Phillip Stead and Neal Porter; “Choosing a Medium and a Style,” featuring Chris Raschka and Lee Wade; and “Preparing Art for Production,” featuring Jerry Pinkney and Patti Ann Harris. Attendees were shown early sketches of completed works (such as Raschka’s little books, in which he creates mock-ups of the earliest drafts of his picture books), and learned more about the revision and design processes.
At lunch, Leonard Marcus moderated a panel on Caldecott honorees featuring Melissa Sweet, Pamela Zagarensky, Peter Brown, and Kadir Nelson. The author/illustrators debated the future of picture books and talked about the various ways that technology might change the field in the future. Attendees also had a chance to discuss in small groups a list of books that each had been pre-assigned in advance, one Caldecott-winning book from each decade.
In the afternoon, Art Institute staff helped facilitate the breakout sessions for further discussion. The topics were varied: “Art and Stories,” ” The Caldecott Medal and Social Issues,” “Caldecott Medal Artists at the Art Institute: A Closer Look,” “Caldecott Books for Older Readers,” “How Did They Do That?,” “Look to Learn; Learn to Look,” “Multi-Layered Meanings,” “Randolph Caldecott and Caldecott Medal History,” “Serving on the Caldecott Committee,” “Style and Media,” “Watching Dry Paint!,” and “Weston Woods and the Caldecott Winners.”
The day wrapped with Zelinsky’s engaging and funny presentation, in which he challenged librarians to look toward the future of the field, especially in light of technology’s many distractions. What could “interactive” picture books look like? Might we see a day when famous picture books, even Where the Wild Things Are, will be adapted for each reader? (Maybe not. After all, “Paul, the king of all wild things…” doesn’t quite have the same resonance as “King Max.”)
Additional reporting by Rocco Staino, contributing editor.