How do you pick a favorite book? Do you choose a sentimental favorite, the one that is considered "good literature" by professionals, or some other criteria? For this list of my favorite Caldecott books, I stuck to the latter criteria: books considered so good they have a shiny round sticker on the cover.
Last year, when I shared my top Newbery books, I resisted making this list of Caldecott favorites because I thought there was no way to narrow down a list to a reasonable number. When I was curating this book list, I was actually surprised at how many of my favorite books I thought were Caldecott winners but were not!
I won't lie. I feel unsatisfied with this list. Yes, I love all of these books, but I keep thinking, "But what about...?" Or, "Should I switch that one for this one?" Ugh! I had to just stop thinking about it. It was too hard to think about making the list diverse in terms of genre, publication date or representation–qualities I always consider when designing a book list. The only rule I stuck to was that I could only include one book per illustrator.
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About the Caldecott Medal
In 1937, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) established the Randolph Caldecott Medal to honor the year's "most distinguished American picture book for children." Randolph Caldecott was a 19th century English illustrator, but the award is only given to American illustrators.
Every year, the ALSC names a single gold medal winner and at least two silver honor recipients. (In 1992 there was only one honor.) Most people may not be familiar with the first recipient, Dorothy P. Lathrop, but will surely recognize illustrators like Robert McCloskey, Maurince Sendak, and Tasha Tudor.
Favorite Caldecott Medal Books
Make way for my 10 favorite Caldecott medal books, including both gold medal winners and silver medal honor books!
THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats (Winner, 1963)
One of my book list goals is to introduce readers to new-to-them books. I've mentioned in the past that there is no need for me to include Harry Potter or Where the Wild Things Are on a book list because you already know about those books! But it would be a betrayal of the title, "my favorite Caldecott books," if I did not include The Snowy Day, one of my all time favorite books. (Truth be told, I have a lot of "all time favorite books.") Even though you already know the story of Peter enjoying the glories of a white winter day, go ahead, pick it up and read it again as soon as you can. All ages.
THY FRIEND, OBADIAH by Brinton Turkle (Honor, 1970)
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I debated far too long between this book and one of Robert McClosky's titles (One Morning in Maine, Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal) but since it was six of one/half-dozen of the other, I chose Turkle's book in the hopes of introducing you and your children to a new friend. Obadiah's Quaker family lives in colonial Nantucket. Much to the young boy's annoyance, a seagull follows Obadiah everywhere. One day the seagull is absent, and Obadiah is surprised to find he misses the bird's presence. He finds the bird down at the wharf, tangled up in fishing line. After he helps rescue the seagull, he has a new attitude towards the bird. One thing I love about this book is that the gentle story and illustrations do a great job of transporting the reader to colonial Nantucket. You can almost smell the sea air! Ages 4 and up.
CINDERELLA, OR THE LITTLE GLASS SLIPPER by Marcia Brown
To me, Marcia Brown’s rendition of the classic fairy tale will always be the quintessential version. There are many, many Cinderellas out there, some quite good, others horrendous. Brown's book is not gruesome like the original Grimm tales but it’s not saccharine-ified like Disney. In fact, this was the first book that taught me Cinderella actually went to the ball three times. So you know, she actually knew the prince well enough to marry him. (I joke.) Anyway, Brown’s illustrations are divine and, oh my goodness… the costumes! Let’s just say there will be a lot of dress up play after reading this book. Ages 4 and up.
FISH FOR SUPPER by M. B. Goffstein (Honor, 1977)
I have always been in awe of how this little book with line drawings and a no-nonsense story can be so utterly beguiling and that's why I am so delighted that Goffstein's Newbery Honor book Fish for Supper is back in print. I wish I knew where my old copy was! The story is simple–a grandmother gets up at 5, goes out to the lake, catches a fish for her supper, cleans, cooks and enjoys eating the fish. The old lady's quiet enjoyment of self-reliance and dedication to her task is captivating. She is a marvel. Ages 3 and up.
A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE'S INN: POEMS FOR INNOCENT AND EXPERIENCED TRAVELERS by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen (Honor, 1982; Also won the Newbery)
This short, award winning picture book is full of funny poems that tell the story of a group of human, animal and sunflower visitors to an imaginary inn run by the poet William Blake. The inn is staffed by quirky characters; dragons and angels keep the place running. To be perfectly honest, I did not think my then-10 year old would like this book so I started reading it out loud to myself. But he came running right over and immersed himself in the illustrations and the fantastical tale the poems tell. Ages 4 and up.
MORE: Funny poetry for kids
TEN, NINE, EIGHT by Molly Bang (Honor 1984)
I had to include this book for sentimental reasons, but you should also look at Bang's The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher (Honor, 1981), which is quite unusual (a picture book quality I love) I read this book so many times to my little ones, I can still recite it from memory. It is my favorite counting book of all time. Also available in Spanish. Ages 0-5.
TUESDAY by David Wiesner (Winner, 1992)
I have never met a single person who didn't say "I love this book!" Wordless books like this one grow with a child. As kids get older they discover more and more detail in the illustrations, and when they are younger, looking at wordless books encourages a positive engagement between parent and child. In fact, it's been shown that parents who read wordless books use more complex vocabulary than when chatting about books with text. They are also excellent tools for ESL teachers. Wiesner's surreal Tuesday, in which flying frogs invade a town at night is full of humor and mystery. Ages 3 and up.
HUSH! A THAI LULLABY by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade (Honor, 1997)
I have this title on no fewer that 8 book lists! After a mom puts her baby to sleep in a hammock she has to hush the sounds around her. Author Minfong Ho writes each animal's onomatopoetic sound and I like that they are unusual to English speakers. For example, the lizard says "tuk-ghaa", the pig says, "uut-uut." The gentle, rhythmic text creates such a lovely lullaby. Ages 3 and up.
I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen (Honor, 2013)
When Klassen's now-classic picture book about a bear looking for his hat was published, adult readers were divided (all the kids I know loved it). I mean, the ending is not what you've come to expect if you've spend most of your life reading saccharine children's books. I, however, laughed out loud for longer than I can remember, and even my stoic husband cracked a smile at the ending. And the visual humor Klassen conveys will those eyes! So funny. Ages 3 to 103.
THANK YOU, OMU! by Oge Mora (Honor, 2019)
I adore the wonderful cut-paper collage illustrations in this timeless tale about the community value of generosity and sharing. Omu is making stew and its delicious smell enchants the neighborhood. One by one, a diverse group of visitors, drawn in by the scent of Omu's stew, knock on her door and ask for a bowl. Omu generously shares with others but eventually realizes that she no longer has any left for herself. Not to worry! Her neighbors don't forget her kindness and they all join together to return the favor. Ages 3 and up.