Named after Randolph Caldecott, a 19th-century British illustrator renowned for his pen and ink drawings that accompanied early children’s books, the annual Caldecott Medal recognizes “the year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.” It’s been given out since 1937 and is basically the Oscars of illustrated kid’s books. This year the Medal went to Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the American Library Association also gave honorable mentions to 4 other deserving books. They’re all worthy additions to your bedtime story rotation.
Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
A biography of the titular artist and social commentator, Radiant Child combines lyrical prose with collage-style artwork (the same Basquiat specialized in) to tell a powerful coming-of-age story. We meet Basquiat as a child in Brooklyn – precious, passionate, always drawing – and follow his growth as an artist, through pain and heartbreak, working first in street art and eventually in galleries. Javaka Steptoe’s illustrations were painted on wood scraps found throughout Basquiat’s own New York City, a fitting tribute to a man who turned everything around him into artwork.
Leave Me Alone!
Leave Me Alone! is the story of an elderly woman who gets exactly what she wants, only to discover it isn’t exactly what she thought it would be. In this case, what she wants is for her grandchildren to leave her alone — surprise, surprise — while she knits 30 sweaters for each of them. So, she packs up and leaves her house in search of a quiet place. On her journey she encounters vicious carnivores, not-so-vicious herbivores, and tiny green aliens. The moral is one everyone can appreciate: everybody needs alone time.
Freedom in Congo Square
Author Carole Boston and illustrator R. Gregory Christie’s Freedom in Congo Square opens with some historical context: since the territory’s inception, Louisiana’s slaves did not have to work on Sunday afternoons. On these afternoons they gathered in New Orleans’ Congo Square and developed the rudiments of cultural traditions like jazz music. Despite its weighty subject matter, Freedom in Congo Square is told through simple, friendly couplets – “Slavery was no ways fair / Six more days to Congo Square.”– and illustrated in the style of folk art, in bright colors and heavy layers of paint. You must tell your children difficult stories, and this is how you should start.
Du Iz Tak?
What’s better than stories about bugs? Nothing, that’s what. The bugs in question in Du Iz Tak include two damselflies, some beetles, a pill bug (named Icky!), a cricket and a caterpillar-turned-moth, all coexisting within a few square feet of earth. In exquisitely detailed illustrations and a strange, invented language, these characters marvel at the world around them — the shoot that rises into a tree, the caterpillar that magically transforms into a moth — a world at once majestically large and atomically small. It’s a gorgeous story.
They All Saw A Cat
An astonishingly powerful story for its form, They All Saw A Cat begins with a cat walking out into the world. On every page it passes another creature — a child, a dog, a bee — and the artwork transforms to show us how that particular creature sees the cat. The language is simple and metronomic, with each line accompanied by a vibrant expressionistic illustration. The way one’s identity shapes their perspective of the world isn’t an easy thing to teach, but They All Saw A Cat makes it as simple as turning a page.