Second graders have been learning about the Dewey Decimal System and how the library is organized. We took a break from Dewey recently, to have a Mock Caldecott Contest. Every January, a panel of judges, representing the American Library Association, meets to award the next Caldecott Medal. This award is given to the illustrator of the "most distinguished" picture book published in the United States the previous year. The judges consider things like the illustrator's technique, how well the illustrations convey the theme of the book and how well they believe the illustrations appeal to children. The real Caldecott committee considers hundreds of eligible books in their decision. Our second graders looked at ten.
The ten picture books we included in our contest were books that children's literature reviewers and bloggers thought were front runners for the award . To kick off our contest, I read aloud Lindsay Mattick's wonderful book Finding Winnie, the True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. This book is the story of the author's great-grandfather, Henry Colebourn, who purchased a bear cub from a trapper at a train station in Canada. At the time, Henry Colebourn was on his way to fight in World War I. 'Winnie," as Colebourn named the bear, was soon beloved by his regiment. She traveled with them by train and overseas by ship to England. Before the regiment reached the front lines of the war, Colebourn brought her to the London Zoo to live. Winnie became a favorite of many children who visited her there, including Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne. The friendship between Winnie and Milne's son inspired the well-known series Winnie-the-Pooh.
Second grade students loved this book! I did not tell them ahead of time that this was the story of Winnie-the-Pooh (although a few guessed). It was great fun to see this realization occur. The kids marveled that Winnie was so friendly she was allowed to have visitors right in her zoo enclosure! The author includes photographs in the back of the book that show Henry Colebourn with Winnie and the real Christopher Robin petting the bear. The photographs and journal entries in the back matter of the book drove home the fact that this was a true story.
We discussed how students would judge this book and the nine others in our contest. It was up to them to read each book with a partner and then evaluate how well the illustrator had done. On a scale of one to five, they had to rate how well the illustrator used the medium. I explained to them that this word meant what the artist used to make the picture. They had to pretend they were an art teacher grading the art work. Did the illustrator do a good job using watercolors? They could circle five. Next they considered how well the illustrations helped them to understand the story and third, if they thought children (like themselves) would like these pictures and want to read the book.
It was very enjoyable watching students squirreled away around the library taking turns reading to their partners. They were very engaged in this activity. The comments I overheard showed that students were taking their evaluations quite seriously. "This illustrator uses beautiful colors." "The pictures have a lot of detail." Stay tuned to find out the winner of our Mock Caldecott Contest.