31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Caldenotts
I thought of it just a little too late. You see, each year I write up my “Caldenotts”. These are books that, due to the current state of the rules regarding books that are eligible for the Caldecott Award and Honors, will never see that particular shiny sticker grace their book jackets. That’s okay. I think a lot of us know that these books usually are celebrated, if anywhere, on the New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated lists. Personally, I like to celebrate them as well, but this year I realized a touch too late that I’ve been limiting myself. It shouldn’t just be Caldenotts I celebrate. I should have a separate list of Notberys too! Books ineligible for the Newbery Medal! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Ah well. Next year, look for that particular inclusion on the list. This year, we’ll have to be content with these particularly beautiful book instead. Poor us!
You can find the PDF of the entire list today here.
Oh, and if you’re interested in previous years and their CaldeNotts take a gander at these:
Do You Remember? by Sydney Smith
“Can we make this a memory too?” A boy and his mother lie in bed remembering happy and sad times from the past in this sweet and evocative tale. Doggone it, who gave Sydney Smith permission to put two books out in the same year? Not cool, Sydney. Now I’ve have to deal with a load of trouble on my hands figuring out which one to include on one list or another this month. I’ll confess that personally I still think that his other title My Baba’s Garden is my personal favorite (based entirely off of what he’s doing with light in that book) but we can’t discount this one at all. At first I thought it might be about a son and mom remembering a deceased father but it appears to be a lot more open than that. You could interpret this in a lot of different ways (which sort of reminds me of that picture book Boats for Papa, actually). Fabulous tone, writing, art, and design. This is the first instance you’ll see today of a Canadian artist who cannot win a Caldecott, but not the last.
The Gift of Mnoomin / Mnoomin Maan’gowing by Brittany Luby, ill. Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, translated by Mary Ann Corbiere
The ecosystem around the growth of mnoomin is highlighted in this sumptuous dive into the interconnectedness of nature, published simultaneously in English and Anishinaabemowin. Oo! Look at this little charmer. If you’ve a fondness for picture books that highlight the nature and how all aspects rely upon one another, have I got a book for you! The central focus of this book is the harvesting of a plant often mistermed “wild rice”. But rather than make humans out to be the primary instigators of its creation, this story shows how all the different insects, mammals, fish, and birds work together as the mnoomin continues to grow. And the art! Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibwe Woodland artist and he brings this incredible depth of color and style to all the art here. His sunsets and sunrises alone are worth looking into deeply. Truly beautiful and inconveniently Canadian.
I Wish I Could Tell You by Jean-François Sénéchal, ill. Chiaki Okada, translated by Nick Frost and Catherine Ostiguy
Meet artist Chiaki Okada. A Japanese illustrator, her weapon of choice is the grease-pencil, which gives her art this somewhat ethereal effect when it comes to light. According to publisher Milky Way Picture Books, this title is only her second English-language release, though she’s been published in Asia and Europe for years. For my part, I only really heard of this book when Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes did his annual round-up of titles he thought might have a chance at the New York Times Best Illustrated List (it’s one of my favorite lists that Travis does). In this story a little fox is writing a letter to his grandmother. She died not long ago, and the fox is wrestling with the fact that the last time he saw her, “I said nothing. Not a word”. You get these delightful flashbacks of the two making squirrels out of acorns and walnut shells and playing in other ways and as well. This is, at its heart, a grief book, but the kind where you just want to sit in the scenes for a while. Okada has a Vermeer-like appreciation for the way that sunlight in midday can stream through a window and hit the tops of a basket full of apples, or the way it can dapple a path in a forest. A book that is more than its subject matter.
My Grandfather’s Song by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên
Anyone want to join me in attempting to get to Quang and Liên to move to America? As it happens, you may have seen their work quite a lot this year. Perhaps you noticed the cover of Lei and the Fire Goddess or Meet the Megafauna. They’ve been patiently illustrating books for a while here, but this is (to the best of my knowledge) the first book that they wrote and illustrated themselves. In their Author’s Note, they discuss how personal this book is to them, and certainly it isn’t a story that I have ever heard myself. As they say, “We have written and drawn this story in tribute to the very first pioneers to the south of Vietnam. The story tells how they came, and tilled and sowed the land from marshes and jungles.” When the book opens, our only characters are a boy and his grandfather, living off the land and sea. The boy is continually afraid of the sounds of nature that surround them, so in a way this is kind of a fear-of-nature book as well. Only after a magnificent storm does the boy begin to grow comfortable with the world around him. In time, other families come and join them, the boy’s grandfather dies, and our hero teaches his love of the world to his own son. The book is illustrated entirely in Adobe Photoshop, but replicates the look of watercolors and even scratchboard art at times. It’s just a gorgeous use of the form, and my sole regret is that they would be ineligible for many a fine American literary award.
Skating Wild on an Inland Sea by Jean E. Pendziwol, ill. Todd Stewart
On the banks of Lake Superior, two kids wake in the early dawn, lace up their skates, and take a turn on the dark, wild ice. Well, here’s a beauty. And once more (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here) this book would undoubtedly be a Caldecott contender if its illustrator were not so inconveniently Canadian. It’s a marvelous rendering of pre-dawn light on snow. I know we see a fair number of beautiful books in a given year, but there’s something so simultaneously cozy and grandiose at work here, that I think it’s worth considering. A marvelous wintery title.
We, the Curious Ones by Marion Dane Bauer, ill. Hari & Deepti
A companion, if you will, to Bauer’s previous book Stuff of Stars. I was joking earlier this year that this year the #1 trend in children’s books is The Anthropocene, but I wasn’t really kidding. I have never seen so many books for kids traipse headlong into that particular moment in human history. Bauer is no exception, though she’s definitely going to tackle the origins of humanity through a storyteller’s lens, more than anything else. “Birds sing. Bees dance. Wolves howl, ‘I am here! I am here!’ But we are the ones who tell stories.” She recounts how early humans made sense of the world around them through origin myths and other forms of storytelling. She discusses how those stories sometimes became ingrained, and when people tried to tell alternative stories (like who exactly revolves around whom when it comes to the earth and sun), that meant changing the narrative. Essentially this is a book about how our stories change as our understandings change, and how that connects to the universe itself. The art is by a husband-and-wife duo based in Mumbai. I enjoyed that in their contributor bio they open with, “Paper is brutal in its simplicity as a medium.” Oo! Tell me more! Here they create these incredible backlit paper dioramas that were “hand cut, painted, and photographed.” So no Caldecotts for them, but boy is this some incredible, inventive art. Come for the storytelling, stay for the engulfing beauty.
The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent by Irene Vasco, ill. Juan Palomino, translated by Lawrence Schimel
I’m getting mild Anno vibes from this, though I think that’s simply a response to the size of the characters themselves. The story is nothing the same. There’s a theory out there that you won’t see a picture book about an adult unless it’s nonfiction or the adult is a furry animal that wears clothing. Obviously in situations like Miss Rumphius this is not the case, but it’s true that they don’t happen as often as all that. This title is different. There’s a reality that I enjoyed behind this book, though, that I think kids will dig as well. It doesn’t hurt that Palomino has drawn these remarkable vistas on each page. I’m admittedly a little fascinated by what this book is doing with distance. You view all the happenings from a great height or distance, and it gives you a kind of omnipotent feel over the proceedings. Sometimes you get a bit closer, but that’s when you’re viewing story characters and not real people. That the art itself is frame-worthy, whether it’s lightning or the rage of a swollen river, is beyond question. Oh, and the story? A young teacher comes to a difficult to reach part of the Amazon on her first assignment. She also comes with a load of assumptions that may be somewhat upended with the help of nature itself. Just lovely. Juan Palomino is a Mexican artist and you can find an interview with him here.
Hungry for more titles? Then check out this list Angela Reynolds created, which takes these titles and adds to it!
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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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