Always Bridesmaids, Never Brides: Caldecott Almosts
There is a phenomenon that I have detected in the wide world of Caldecott Awards. A phenomenon to which one cannot ascribe blame, but rather occurs in a bubble outside of any logic or comprehension. It’s something I’ve noticed for a little while but have never put a name to.
Inspiration for this post came when I was reading a recent PW report on the second gathering of Children’s Books Boston. In the piece (called Why Did That Book Win?: A Children’s Books Boston Discussion) Vicky Smith said something about the newly minted Caldecott winner Brian Floca that I have been turning over in my mind ever since. Quoth Smith: “He seemed to be a permanent bridesmaid.” Which is to say, the kind of fellow who might win a Sibert once in a while, but that might, for whatever reason, never be granted the universe’s favor in terms of a shiny gold Caldecott. When my heart was broken after Moonshot‘s failure to launch (so to speak) I confess I began to feel as Vicky did. That no matter how brilliant the book, Floca might never attain the title of Caldecott Award winning illustrator.
Is it such a big deal to bemoan? Consider, if you will the other “bridesmaids” who have never won a Caldecott proper and yet remain some of the brightest lights in the field. Our cannon of children’s books is full of folks who never were properly appreciated in their lifetime (James Marshall, anyone?). Still, one cannot help but wonder why some of today’s folks, for all that we acknowledge their marvelous talents, never win. Consider this post then an off-kilter combination of keening lament and high-stepping praise, declaring far and wide that the following folks are brilliant and if there were any justice in the universe (fun fact: there is not) they would each and every one of them be Caldecott Award winners in their own right. To wit:
Jonathan Bean – He’s still relatively new in his career and he has lots of luscious time before we can truly write him off. Building Our House was beloved of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and his other books have certainly collected accolades. I think we have not yet seen the last of Mr. Bean and his beautiful books.
Carin Berger – This one baffles me. How is it that she hasn’t gotten any lovin’ from ALSC? Consider, if you will, the splendor of her cut paper works. The joyful beauty of Stardines Swim High Across the Sky. If ever a cut paper / collage artist deserved it, she would.
Sophie Blackall – One wonders if Caldecott committees tend towards the element of surprise. Consider recent winners and awards that went to debut artists. It makes me wonder if, when an artist has a distinctive and easily identifiable style that doesn’t change, if that works against their favor. Ms. Blackall did get creative with last year’s The Mighty Lalouche. Ah well.
Bagram Ibatoulline – The mystery of Bagram Ibatoulline is perhaps the starkest case of bafflement I have. There is not a soul alive who can look at his books and say that the man isn’t rife with talent. Sometimes it isn’t a question of talent, though, but rather the artist finding the right project to match their prodigious skill (see: Kadir Nelson). In the case of Mr. Ibatoulline, I thought that requirement had been met when he produced last year’s The Matchbox Diary with Paul Fleischman. Consider the pedigree! A Newbery Award winning author and an illustrator that can only be compared to someone like Robert Ingpen in terms of true skill. Yet the 2014 Awards came and went and for Mr. Ibatoulline there were to be no shiny stickers or glorious 6 a.m. wake up calls. Boggles the mind, it does.
Barbara McClintock – Another bafflement. I adore her work. My kiddo adores her work (truly that Gingerbread Man was a work of art). She’s akin to Charles Vess or someone similar in terms of true skill. So why does she never get any medals? What about Adele and Simon?
Yuyi Morales – I’m not giving up on this one. She’s brilliant and creative and her style changes all the friggin’ time. Compare the soft focus of Little Night to the models in My Abuelita to the truly eclectic eye-popping poster style of Nino Wrestles the World. This woman is a rip-roaring talent and at some point she’s going to get more than just a Pura Belpre Award or Honor (not that I don’t love those awards too, but how cool would it be if she won in both categories?).
Kadir Nelson – When they speak of artists that never win, they are usually referring to Kadir Nelson. Fortunately the man is incredibly young and has plenty of time to get something shiny before his time on this earth fades to gray. I truly and honestly believe that he just hasn’t found the right book for his art yet. Time after time his art arrests the viewer’s eye but the text isn’t quite there. His latest book Baby Bear aims to change all that. We shall see.
LeUyen Pham – Still a bit peeved that her art on The Boy Who Loved Math didn’t get proper acclaim. One would think that the mere fact that she managed to seamlessly incorporate math into the images would have garnered great love and shiny medals alone! No such luck. That’s okay. She’ll get something at some point here. I feel it in my bones.
Gennady Spirin – In case you were wondering, he lives in Princeton. He, like Ibatoulline, is a case of me wondering if he’s just too good. Too talented to ever get the award. I mean, what would he have to do? The art is so fascinating and beautiful that it practically screams to be recognized.
Who are your own favorite bridesmaids? With any luck, by the time a year passes we’ll be able to knock a couple of these folks off the list, easy peasy.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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