March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Caldetatts”: Santat and 2015 Caldecott Committee Members Get Inked

The book love was strong—and permanent—in the wake of this year’s American Library Association book award announcements and celebrations. Following the Youth Media Awards (YMA) event in January and the conclusion of the Annual Conference in San Francisco, several librarians and fellow book-loving industry folk cemented their love of the winning and honored titles by getting Caldecott-themed body art. Or, as the inked librarians took to calling them, Caldetatts.

2015 Caldecott committee member Angela Reynolds's custom tattoo of Beekle holding a jellybean.

2015 Caldecott committee member Angela Reynolds’s custom tattoo of Beekle holding a jellybean.

Roger Kelly, member of the 2015 committee that selected The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Little, Brown, 2014) as the Caldecott medal winner, explains that the idea was born at two o’clock on the morning after deliberations at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago back in January. “[Fellow committee member] Angela Reynolds and I both wanted to commemorate the fantastic experience, and we made a pact to do so in San Francisco in June.”

Several other 2015 committee members got book-themed tattoos in advance of the San Francisco conference, including librarian Adrienne Furness, who selected the little black cat from Lauren Castillo’s Caldecott honor-winning title, Nana in the City (HMH, 2014).

Says Furness, “I always thought being on the Caldecott Committee would be an amazing experience, but everything about our year exceeded my expectations—our committee was such a smart, interesting, respectful group; we had an extraordinary year of books to consider; and we made decisions I’m so proud of. Once people started talking about tats, I knew I was going to do one.”

Santat's sketch for Reynolds' custom tattoo.

Santat’s sketch for Reynolds’s custom tattoo.

“There was something in the air around the 2015 Caldecott Medal. Our committee bonded in so many ways, and getting inked together was just one more piece of evidence of our amazing friendships,” explains Reynolds.

And it wasn’t just librarian committee members who got in on the inky action.

In April, several months before the conference in San Francisco, the newly minted Caldecott medal–winning author and illustrator Dan Santat heard about the committee members’ plans. Coincidentally, Santat and his editor, Connie Hsu, had been joking about getting Beekle tattoos for over a year.

Back before the YMA announcements, Hsu had told Santat that “if this dream became a reality, I would consider getting a tattoo, but only if it wins the Caldecott Medal.” On the morning of February 2, minutes after hearing the news that his picture book had taken the gold, Santat texted his trusted editor, “Looks like you’re getting a tattoo.”

Santat's sketch for his custom tattoo, inked by Thai artist, Monty Siam.

Santat’s sketch for his custom tattoo, inked by Thai artist Monty Siam.

Originally planning to get his own tat at San Francisco’s famed Black & Blue tattoo parlor alongside the group of committee members, Santat was unable to get an appointment. Luckily, he found a tattoo artist in his hometown of Los Angeles: Monty Siam (aka Monty Mavimol).

“I loved his portfolio and really liked the idea of my first tattoo being done by a fellow Thai artist like myself. He was booked for months but made an exception because he Googled my name and learned that I had won the Caldecott Medal. He told me that he made time in his schedule because he was beaming with pride that a fellow Thai artist had won such a prestigious award and wanted the honor of doing my first tattoo. Conveniently, the appointment fell on Father’s Day, which I thought was appropriate considering Beekle was a metaphor about the birth of my oldest son,” says Santat.

The medal-winning artist decided on a custom tattoo, a image of the paper crown which Beekle wears. The tattoo is on his left inside bicep—his drawing arm.

Why the crown? “I was told that the paper crown was the thing that convinced the committee that my

Santat's finished tattoo, inked by Thai tattoo artist, Monty Siam.

Santat’s finished tattoo, inked by Thai tattoo artist, Monty Siam.

book should be the winner. It was the two strips of tape on the paper crown that was a very subtle and nice detail to them. For me, the paper crown was a type of security blanket for Beekle. The thing that gave him courage and made him feel special even though he hadn’t yet been imagined. For years, I had always felt that self-confidence was something that I lacked in my life so I thought it was a nice symbol to put on my body permanently,” explains Santat.

Santat created original art for Kelly’s and Reynolds’s custom tattoos. For Kelly, Santat drew a star-shaped maple leaf (a prominent visual element in the book). For Reynolds, he created a sketch of Beekle

Roger Kelly's intricate star-shaped leaf tattoo, a recurring image throughout Beekle.

Roger Kelly’s intricate star-shaped leaf tattoo, a recurring image throughout Beekle.

holding a jellybean. As Reynolds explains, the jellybean is “in honor of my ALA friends. We call ourselves the Jellybean Gang. But that’s another story.”

Sharon McKellar, another 2015 Caldecott committee member plans to get a custom tattoo of Beekle after she gives birth later this year. “I was sad to not be able to just do it with [my fellow committee members] during Annual, but am excited for when the time comes! I think I’ll get a simple line drawing of Beekle,” says McKellar.

In addition to Kelly and Reynolds, Victoria Stapleton, executive director of school and library marketing at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, also got inked during the conference.

“There really was not a better way for me to honor Dan and Beekle than getting ink done. Sharing the experience with Roger and Angela was the icing on the cake. I made new friends through the experience, which I will always treasure.”

Did it hurt? “Not a bit,” says Stapleton. “It was like a good back

Victoria Stapleton's Beekle crown and Caldecott-winning year tattoo.

Victoria Stapleton’s Beekle crown and Caldecott-winning year tattoo.

scratch….. Now I’m going to have to go back and get something for [Jerry Pinkney’s 2009 Little, Brown Caldecott Medal book] The Lion & the Mouse.”

The Caldetatt fever seems to be spreading. According to Santat, others have contacted him about custom Beekle-inspired body art.

“I’ve seen one other tattoo online from a librarian I never met. [Her tattoo features] a quote from Beekle: ‘And the world became a little less strange.’ Recently, another librarian contacted me asking for my crown tattoo sketch so that he could also get one. Connie [Hsu] told me that she is getting her tattoo done by an artist in New York this fall.”

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.



  1. Barbara Klipper says:

    What a great piece. SLJ, you got everything right! I loved seeing everyone’s tats, but since I decided against one for myself, I bought a Beekle-inspired crown ring instead that I wear proudly.

  2. “Not a bit”! Oh, that Victoria is either a big liar or…she is just as she’s always hinted – not…quite…human. It’s a beautiful piece of work! :)

  3. Christie says:

    Agreed” “Not a bit” — some tough skinned librarians then. I had a tiny Winnie done years ago and I wanted tigger too but it hurt too much!!