I don't have much faith in my ability to judge picture books; as I've mentioned in the past, I can formulate some ideas about the text as text, and I'd like to think I'm pretty good at looking at art (my BA was in art history), but as for putting the two together? I get lost. Add in the fact that my own picture-book-reading era was pretty short, and you can see why I felt cast adrift when I started reading Caldecott possibilities before the awards were announced.
Winner: The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson
This was one of the first picture books of the year that really impressed me, so I wasn't surprised when it won. The text and illustrations do fit together quite seamlessly. The pictures are great, but I will say that I didn't think this was one of the most child-appealing books of the year; I think it's a little busy for young eyes. But I've no doubt that this will be a special book for many children, one that they will keep on their shelves after others have been given away. What we have here is an excellent example of an artist making the most of her medium, and that, in my opinion, is what really makes this book distinguished. I think it was a worthy choice.
Honor: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
I can pull out the "just not my thing" card once in a while, right? When I read this I was puzzled that it was being put forth as a possibility for the Caldecott; I didn't think they could be serious. Surprise on me! I would be pleased to hear praise for this one if it IS your thing. To me, it was sort of comic-booky (wait, just realized that's not a universal insult...), and really felt like it was from an adult's point of view. But probably when kids read it they get something different.
Honor: How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
I felt incredibly pedantic when I read this and mostly felt the mother's annoyance at the father coming home with a map instead of food. "Your child is hungry!" I wanted to shout. Yeah, yeah, physical hunger loses to spiritual hunger... I also couldn't get past being annoyed that the character was supposed to be learning all about these different places from the map, but obviously he had access to an encyclopedia or something. I'm as bad as Ramona Quimby. Anyway, I did like the pictures a lot, but I was even more interested in the author's teenage version of one of the illustrations in the back. Of course the ones in the book were technically better, but I loved the liveliness of the youthful one.
Honor: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jennifer Bryant
Okay, I have heard that there are children out there who love William Carlos Williams. Any time he was introduced when I was in school, though, none of us were impressed. (I am maybe, maybe, finally coming to some appreciation. I can see now why my elementary school teacher said "This is Just to Say"--the one about the plums--was one of the great love poems of the English language.) I approached this book with suspicion, thinking it was probably one of the many picture books that's nothing more than what adults want children to enjoy. I liked it much more than I expected to, though. I'm not convinced on child appeal, but I found it very lively, creative, and well put together. This was my favorite of the Honor books this year.
So, I'm still bummed that my favorites of the year didn't make it (What to Do About Alice, Wonder Bear, Twenty Heartbeats, Dinosaur vs. Bedtime), but I'm putting my lack of enthusiasm for the honored books down to ignorance. I reserve the right to appreciate them more in the future.