I know very little about picture books, or what makes a good one. This has been an interesting exercise for me. I kept finding myself considering the books only as art (I have a BA in art history, so I have a sort of natural inclination) or only as stories (since I... I don't know, read a lot, I guess). It was hard to try to judge the illustrations as telling a story and interacting with the words.
As with the Printz, there are a few front-runners I wasn't able to read--namely, Wabi Sabi. But I've probably read at least thirty Caldecott-eligible books.
What to Do About Alice? (Barbara Kerley/Edward Fotheringham). This isn't a popular choice, but I thought it had a great interaction between illustration and story. The illustrations are evocative of the time period (turn of the 20th century), but they have a lot of humor and movement; the tone of illustrations matches the tone of the text perfectly.
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Kadir Nelson). Oh, I don't know what to do with this book. It's a wonderful book, and I want it to win something so that more people will know about it. The pictures (oil paintings) are incredible works of art. When I read it I thought it was a shoo-in for the Caldecott. But on reading the criteria... these illustrations don't interact with the text. They're just gorgeous pictures. They add to the book, but they aren't an integral part. I don't know if this meets the criteria well enough to win. And I don't think the text is good enough for the Newbery. I would love to see it win the Sibert for non-fiction.
Twenty Heartbeats (Dennis Haseley/Ed Young). I haven't heard a thing about this book, so maybe it isn't as original as I think it is, since I don't know picture books. But as art, this book is terrific--the illustrator used collage to create gorgeous texture and fine movement. The illustrations are similar to one that's getting more attention, Silent Music (James Rumford), but the collages are far more effective, in my opinion.
The House in the Night (Susan Marie Swanson/Beth Krommes). This is one I'd heard a lot about, and while at first I thought the illustrations were rather too busy to be really distinguished, or attractive for children, this is another case where the illustrator did a great job with the medium (scratchboard).
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime (Bob Shea). This is, possibly, not a serious choice, but it had the best use of mixed media that I saw. Interspersing drawings with bits of photograph struck me as amusingly seventies; sort of a Sesame Street feel.
I haven't read Wabi Sabi (Mark Reibstein/Ed Young) or The Little Yellow Leaf (Carin Berger), but they look intriguing. I confess that I couldn't get past the central issue with In a Blue Room (Jim Averbeck/Tricia Tusa), which makes me feel pedantic. Making the room yellow instead of blue was an intriguing choice, and I would have thought it was terrific if the text hadn't said over and over that she WAS in a blue room (even before the moon came out). The illustrations themselves still wouldn't have pushed this up to the top for me, though.
WHAT I THINK WILL WIN
Consensus seems to be around Wabi Sabi, and I won't be surprised to see something for We Are the Ship. The House in the Night is sure to be on there somewhere. Into the Volcano (Don Wood) is a possibility.
Did you take a look at A River of Words? That was definitely one of my favorites. I also really liked The House in the Night, Alice, and In a Blue Room (the blueness of the room never bothered me!)
No, I haven't been able to find A River of Words around here. It does look good.
I'm curious about whether I would have even noticed that the room wasn't blue if I hadn't already read something about it. Betsy Bird mentioned it here, and the author talks about it in his own blog here.
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