Do you have a favorite picture book with illustrations that are beautiful? 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." On June 14, 1938, the very first Caldecott Medal was awarded to Dorothy Lathrop for her book, Animals of the Bible.

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, check out Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Locomotive, or This Is Not My Hat.

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 the worlds in the stories they read. Younger children benefit greatly from illustrations, since 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. In fact, take some time today to grab a favorite picture book and share it with your friends and family.

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