Each year, the Association for Library Service to Children awards the Caldecott Medal “to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year. The award shall go to the artist… whether or not he be the author of the text.” Unlike other book awards, the Caldecott Medal recognizes excellence in the artistry of a book’s illustrations.

The Caldecott Medal is one of the most prestigious children’s book awards in the world. It was named in honor of Randolph Caldecott, a famous 19th-century illustrator from England. René Paul Chambellan designed the bronze medal in 1937, and it has been awarded every year since then.

Your local library is sure to have many of the famous Caldecott Medal winners from the recent past. If you’re interested in checking out some of these award-winning books, here are a few of the most recent winners:

  • 2011: A Sick Day for Amos McGee — illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by Philip C. Stead
  • 2010: The Lion & the Mouse — one of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
  • 2009: The House in the Night — illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson
  • 2008: The Invention of Hugo Cabret — illustrated and written by Brian Selznick
  • 2007: Flotsam — illustrated and written by David Wiesner

Each year, there are also many other books that are recognized as Caldecott “honor books.” These are books that were nominated for the award but did not win the Caldecott Medal. These “honor books” are considered some of the best picture books published each year.

Only a few artists have won the Caldecott Medal more than once. Five artists have won two Caldecott Medals, while only Marcia Brown and David Wiesner have each won three medals.

Most children learn to read by starting with basic picture books. Beautiful, colorful illustrations can draw children into reading in ways that text-only chapter books cannot. Experts also believe that picture books can help children develop critical thinking skills, as their brains take in the pictures and the text and make connections between the two.

Most adults can think back and remember favorite picture books from when they were children. There’s something special about certain stories that capture our attention. Beautiful illustrations can help bring to life the worlds created by the words on the pages.

As children get older, though, the books get longer and the pictures vanish. When children progress to chapter books, the only pictures to be found are usually on the front and back covers.

Why must that be so? Why can’t all the books we read have pictures? The answer probably lies in the cost of producing books with pictures.

Picture books tend to have shorter stories because producing pictures takes a lot of time and money. Talented artists must be hired to create the pictures included in books. As stories get longer, the number of pictures required increases and so do the costs.

Another factor is the fact that older children (and adults) can better imagine what the worlds in the stories they read look like. Younger children benefit greatly from illustrations.

Their understanding of and experience with the world is less complete. The pictures help them “see” the story being told in the book.

Sadly, fewer picture books are being produced today than in the past. Experts believe that this trend may be caused, in part, by parents who are encouraging their younger children to leave picture books behind in favor of more advanced chapter books.

Parents may be feeling pressure to push their children to advance more quickly than is really necessary, though. Teachers and literacy experts believe that picture books are important and hold a special place in the reading development of children.

So don’t feel like you have to “grow up” to read chapter books too soon. If you enjoy picture books, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, take some time today to grab a favorite picture book and share it with your friends and family.


10 Join the Discussion

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  1. I think some books do not have pictures because they are for older readers who do not need a picture to get the message of the story across however, younger children (who are learning) need pictures to learn what the words are and different things about them. Macey (High Lawn Primary)

    • Hello, Macey! Thanks so much for your comment today and for visiting Wonderopolis! You’re right…book illustrations do help young readers build the story in their mind. Have you had a chance to read any of the famous Caldecott Medal winners listed in today’s Wonder? :-)

  2. I love books without pictures-talk about the opportunity for creativity for anyone young and old reading a book. The reader has the chance to design in their mind the pictures as well as create the scenes. Also if two people read the same book, they can discuss how their visual is similar and or different. Excellent WONDER today!

    • Good morning, Maria! We love the idea of two people reading the same book and sharing their unique “mind’s eye” views! Thank you for this great comment! :-)

  3. As my daughter and I were reading at bedtime last night, she looked at me and said she wanted to read the story (she will start K in August). We have read the story before, so she relied on what she remembered and what she could see in the illustrations to “read” the story to me! She did a great job!

    I am a big fan of books that have won the Caldecott Medal!

    • That’s AWESOME that your daughter is so excited to “read,” Melissa She must have a mom who inspires her to believe in herself and try new things! :-)

  4. Hello Wonderopolis,

    I was doing a little research when I happened upon Wonderopolis! I am a teacher and immediately saw many classroom implications for your site. I’m already thinking about ways I can use the “Wonder of the Day” to promote writing with my primary grade students!

    By the way, I’m very much in agreement with your statements about parents pushing their children towards chapter books too quickly. Unfortunately, many families feel that “graduating” to chapter books is a sign of reading success. If they only understood that there are so many high interest, challenging picture books (Doesn’t anyone remember Patricia Polacco or Reading Rainbow?). I’m a big fan of Caledecott winners and Caldecott Honor books too.

    Thanks for the insightful “wondering”. Bravo, Wonderopolis!

  5. Great wondering! I happen to love books of all kinds! With the pictures one is able to read with support…without pictures one can read with little support at all.

    I have published a math/CD book that teaches children several tough concepts in math. The pictures support and enrich the concepts in the book Math Rapmatics: Mathematical Rhymes Right On Time.

    Children need to Read Read Read!

    • We agree, Stephanie! Reading is AWESOME! We also believe in the power of WONDERing! Thanks so much for leaving us another GREAT comment! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why don’t all books have pictures?
  • What is the Caldecott Medal?
  • Who has won the most Caldecott Medals?

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Try It Out

Ready to try your hand at illustrating a story? Since it’s not as easy as it sounds, we’ll start with a small, simple project. Once you get the hang of things, you can draw, color or paint whatever stories you can imagine!

Read the paragraph below and then draw, color or paint a picture to go along with it. There are no set rules.

You can try to capture everything that is happening in the paragraph in your picture, or you can just concentrate on one part of the story or one moment in time. It’s up to you!

For a snake, Kevin wasn’t the scariest you might come across in these woods. There were a lot of other snakes bigger and meaner than him. Kevin liked to keep to himself most of the time, but every once in a while, he liked to visit Old Man Johnson’s garden at the edge of the woods. Today, for example, he thought he would see if the tomatoes were ripe yet. As he slithered along the edge of the row and turned the corner, a young girl shrieked, and Kevin nearly slid right out of his skin!

When you’re finished, we want to see your picture! Email or send us a copy:

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