The History of the Caldecott Medal

Stories have stimulated imagination, creativity, and play among children for centuries. Sitting down to read a book together provides children and their caretakers with a short break from reality and time for bonding and togetherness.

Books provoke curiosity and discussion, all while exposing children to a wide range of language and vocabulary. Picture books in particular help young readers develop an appreciation for art as well as writing.

The Caldecott Medal, which annually recognizes the previous year's most distinguished American picture book for children, is one of the most prestigious awards for children's books. It has been awarded since 1938, given to the book's illustrator by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

The Caldecott Medal's Namesake

The Caldecott Medal is named for Randolph Caldecott, a nineteenth-century English artist. Caldecott, who greatly influenced children's book illustrations, was recognized by the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Although he also illustrated novels for adults as well as travel guides, and even drew humorous cartoons and sketches of the House of Parliament, two books for children illustrated by Caldecott were published at Christmastime for eight years.

Two of his most famous picture books included The House that Jack Built from 1878 and Sing a Song of Sixpence from 1880. Caldecott was esteemed for his brilliant manner of expressing himself with pictures rather than words, making him an ideal choice for the name behind this prestigious award.

Criteria for the Award

The Caldecott Medal is for "distinguished illustrations in a picture book" and for "excellence of pictorial presentation for children." To be considered for the Caldecott Award, an illustrator must be a United States citizen or resident. The illustrations must be original for the picture book, which must have been published in the U.S. in English during the previous year.

Books must be intended for audiences up to age 14 in order to be considered. A Caldecott Selection committee comprised of 15 members decides on the Caldecott Award winner each year. Eight committee members are selected by the ALSC and seven, including the chairperson, are appointed by the ALSC President.

Publishers commonly send copies of picture books to the committee for review, but committee members are also asked by the chairperson to identify strong candidates. Each committee member must nominate books throughout the year.

In addition to books that win the distinguished Caldecott Medal, the committee has awarded Honors to various runners-up each year since 1971.

Distinguished Caldecott Winners

It is an extreme honor to win the Caldecott Medal, yet some talented illustrators have received the award on numerous occasions:

Marcia Brown, a writer and illustrator of more than 30 children's books, won three Caldecott Medals during her lifetime:

  • Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper, 1955
  • Once a Mouse, 1962
  • Shadow, 1983

Additionally, Brown received the Caldecott Honors for five of her other works.

David Wiesner, best known for his picture books that tell stories without words, has won three Caldecott Medals:

  • Tuesday, 1992
  • The Three Pigs, 2002
  • Flotsam , 2007

Barbara Cooney, who wrote and illustrated more than 200 children's books over the course of sixty years, won two Caldecott Medals:

  • Chanticleer and the Fox, 1959
  • The Ox-Cart Man, 1980

Jon Klassen, a Canadian-born New York Times bestselling author who moved to Los Angeles after his graduation from Sheridan College in 2005, is also a unique success story in that he was the first person to ever win both the Caldecott Medal as well as the British Kate Greenaway Medal, also for children's book illustration, for the same book — This is Not My Hat, which he wrote as well as illustrated. That same year, Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Klassen, was named a Caldecott Honor book. The artist is also well-known for his animation work on the feature films King Fu Panda and Coraline.

Maurice Sendak won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for his beloved picture book Where the Wild Things Are, which has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The book has also been adapted into an opera as well as a feature film. Additionally, Sendak received seven Caldecott Honors throughout his lifetime.

Despite our growing attachments to technology, apps, and the Internet, picture books continue to be a critical aspect of children's growth and development. Flipping through books remains an amazing experience for even the youngest of children, and the annual Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honors distinctions continue to be an astounding honor and tradition for talented American illustrators.