Reflections on Gold: Pike’s Mock Caldecott Award

mocklabelBy Fran Mellin

It’s Monday, January 27th, 2014 at 9:58 a.m. and my heart is pounding. My eyes are fixed on my laptop screen, watching the live webcast of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Award announcements. Which picture book will win the coveted Caldecott Award? This same nervous anticipation fills Mrs. Voorhees’ third grade classroom a few days later when I arrive to announce the winner of the Third Grade Mock Caldecott Award. The students fall silent as soon as I enter, watching and waiting. As soon as the winning book appears out of the voting box, the room erupts in joyous applause: The Day the Crayons Quit is the overwhelming winner!

Each winter at Pike, third grade students immerse themselves in the world of the picture book, honing their critical thinking skills as they analyze the relationship between art and text, artistic techniques such as perspective, and pictorial interpretations of mood and theme. Using the structure and criteria of the real Caldecott committee, students debate the pros and cons of each title, going beyond “I loved the art” to statements like “The endpapers related to the beginning and ending setting. I like the pacing.” They pore over details, mining for examples to support their opinions. On voting day, it’s down to business as students cast ballots using the same procedure as the real committee.

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This marks the 10th year of the Mock Caldecott Award here at Pike. Since I began teaching this unit, interest in mock Caldecott programs has skyrocketed nationwide. The ability to learn and connect online has enriched our study profoundly; illustrators take us inside their studios and librarians connect their classes through blogs, Twitter, and other social media. I recently shared our students’ comments on our Reading Corner blog. This week, students will read a post from children’s librarian Travis Jonker, a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee, who wants feedback about their decisions. You can be sure that Pike third graders will have plenty to say!

So, which book did win the Caldecott Medal? Locomotive by Brian Floca, a non-fiction historical narrative of a family’s transcontinental train ride. The stories it tells are compelling; yet I yearned to see the stories of others who are part of America’s railroad story, such as Chinese laborers and members of the Shoshone tribe. Debbie Reese, professor of American Indian Studies, and Brian Floca himself have engaged in passionate, thoughtful online conversation around this important topic of inclusion.

The awards excitement has died down, but those of us lucky enough to connect children and literature are already looking ahead to next year’s golden moments.

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