ALA Annual 2013

A wild ride through social issues found in past Caldecott books

A group of pre conference attendees engaged in a fruitful discussion about how examinations of Caldecott books are able to illuminate various aspects of the eras in which they were published and awarded. Led by Christine Jenkins (Associate Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne) the group examined books dating from 1938 to 1970. While not specifically looking for problems or areas that might be objectionable to contemporary readers, the participants frequently
commented on their observations about stereotypical gender role portrayals in many of the winning titles from the 20th century. Together with my work partner Nancy, I examined the books from 1962. While we both like Marcia Brown’s winning title called Once a Mouse, we agreed that it may be vulnerable to challenges due to the magical/occult elements (a mouse is changed repeatedly into different animals). Fox went out on a chilly night illustrated by Peter Spier has pictures of guns and fox on fowl violence that might not be viewed with particular sympathy by vegetarians nowadays, although I for one still love this song! Little Bear’s visit illustrated by Maurice Sendak seemed at first glance above reproach and we talked about its portrayal of the child character within the structure of an extended family model. Then we noticed that Little Bear runs off to retrieve his Grandfather’s pipe! A children’s book that suggests smoking as having any place in the lives of young children may be problematic today. These are just a few examples of the dozens I heard from around the room as we all examined Caledcott books from past eras. Our facilitator Christine emphasized that Caldecotts can help us understand a wide range of social issues that were at play while each years’ committees examined and selected their winner and honorees. This was a fascinating program that has inspired me to begin work on a Caldecott history project with a middle grade class I know.

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