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What is a Caldecott?

Closeup of Hey Diddle Diddle by Randolph Caldecott

Thousands of books are published every year, and of those, some are judged to be better than the rest in one category or another.

One of those awards is the Caldecott Medal, which is given by the American Library Association to outstanding illustrated children's literature, or picture books.

The gold foil seal on these books lets people know the art inside is going to be especially rewarding.

"What's so important about art in a book?" you might ask, but can you remember Shel Silverstein's poems without his silly line drawings of dogs hanging over disappearing sidewalks, or of The Giving Tree, well, giving?

What would Green Eggs and Ham be without the improbable illustrations of Sam I Am and his friend in a box, in a house, with a fox, with a mouse...?

Whether it's something iconic like Where the Wild Things Are or something breathtaking like The Polar Express, the illustrations in our favorite books not only help us identify those works, but they also teach us something about the world of art.

This is especially important now as national leaders are recognizing the importance of art education in creating a flexible workforce than can take on our nation's challenges.

Randolph Caldecott was a British artist who lived from 1846 to 1886. Every Christmas for eight years he released two illustrated books priced at a shilling each. These became affordable and popular gifts for children, and as a result, he is recognized as the father of the modern picture book.

You might recognize his rendition of the poem Hey, Diddle, Diddle in the accompanying close-up illustration of the dish running away with the spoon. The entire public domain image can be found in the Wikimedia Commons.

Read more about the effort to add Art to the nation's educational emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics at the Rhode Island School of Design's advocacy site: stemtosteam.org.

Also, check out our Best Books for Young Readers page for links to Caldecott and aother award-winning titles for children at JCPL.