Doug Salati on the Making of 'Hot Dog,' 2023 Caldecott Winner | Youth Media Awards

In this story of a little dog stressed out by the sights, sounds, and feelings of the city on a summer day, Salati wanted to share a universal experience of feeling overwhelmed that would resonate with kids. 

After spending some of Sunday in his studio getting set up for the week ahead, Doug Salati went home and decided to call his parents in anticipation of Monday's Youth Media Awards ceremony.

"They've been keyed into all of the amazing discussion that happens leading up to the big day," said Salati, author and illustrator of Hot Dog, which had gotten a lot of Caldecott Medal buzz since its publication. Salati thought he should temper his parents' expectations. It was incredible just to be a part of the conversation, Salati noted, he didn't want his parents to be disappointed.

While on the phone with them, he received an incoming call.

"A little beep," he said with a laugh, describing that common interruption that, in this case, turned out to be the call that would change his professional life.

Placing his parents on hold, Salati took the other call. It was Rob Bittner, chair of the Caldecott Medal selection committee. Bittner and the rest of the committee members were on the phone to tell Salati "very simply, matter-of-factly, and kindly" that he had won the prestigious award. With the committee members cheering in the background, Salati had to tell them that his parents were on the other line and went back to his original call.

So much for tempered expectations. He could now share that he wasn't just a part of the discussion; he was the 2023 Caldecott Medal winner.

"They were just beyond thrilled," Salati said. "It's awfully fun news to share."

Salati watched the awards ceremony Monday morning with some of his Brooklyn studiomates, who happen to include past Caldecott winners Sophie Blackall and Brian Floca, as well as illustrators Johnny Marciano, Dasha Tolstikova, and Rowboat Watkins.

"I've had a really wonderful, wonderful morning," said Salati a few hours after the Caldecott was officially announced during the ceremony in New Orleans. "It's more than a little wild to be a part of that."

Hot Dog is the first book Salati authored and illustrated. It is the story of a little dog overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and feelings of a big city on a summer day, and the sense of relief and joy he gets when the owner takes him to the beach instead of continuing her day of errands at home.

At first, Salati thought it would be a wordless book, but after some discussion with his editor Rotem Moscovich, they decided that text could add "another layer of emotional impact" to the story.

"The challenge of this book was, how do you take all of these amazingly rich sensory experiences and translate them to the 2-D form, pictures on the printed page?" said Salati. "That was the fun piece of the puzzle that really had to work well....I'm just grateful readers feel that it works."

According to the selection committee, the book met the task perfectly. Readers experience the day, its sensory overload, and the relief with the dog, according to committee chair Rob Bittner.

"We felt the heat in the city," said Bittner. "We felt the coolness on the beach."

But Salati wasn't just telling the story of a little dog with a kind and compassionate owner. He wanted to share a universal experience of feeling overwhelmed that he thought would resonate with kids. He also hoped to show the impact of a friend who acknowledges someone's feelings and tries to help.

"I still have all of those feelings, and I know that other people do too, especially after what we have all gone through the last couple of years, and what people continue to go through," he said. "It's not easy being human. I think what makes it easier is having people in your life who really understand you and support youhopefully, unconditionally, right?regardless of how you're feeling at the time. We should all be so lucky to have that."

He is quick to say he has been lucky to have parents and friends rooting for him and supporting him every step of the way.

"I've always been really fortunate," he said. 

In recent years, he added the picture book community to that village of support.

"What has amazed me and what I've learned about the picture book community is that you can't [create a picture book] by yourself and you wouldn't want to do it by yourself," Salati said, who also noted art director Rachael Cole's role in the creation of Hot Dog. "There are just so many people involved. It helps so much to have great friends who are also creative people to help you talk about things, think about the stories you want to make, prioritize your practice as an artist, and also to think about how that fits into your day-to-day life."

Monday morning they celebrated with him.

"I just feel completely grateful to be part of this amazing community," he said.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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