Last week, author-illustrator Chris Raschka won the 2012 Caldecott Medal—the children’s book equivalent of an Oscar—for his touching picture book, A Ball for Daisy. Which made us wonder: What was it about this particular book that led the awards committee to choose it as “the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children” published last year?
We posed that question to Robin Smith, who knows a thing or two about the Caldecott, having served on the 2011 Caldecott committee. Robin, a second grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, also reviews children’s books for a number of publications, including BookPage. In a guest post, she offers her opinion on what makes this wordless book about a little dog and her treasured toy a very special book indeed.
Guest post by Robin Smith
When A Ball for Daisy was named the 2012 Caldecott Medal winner, some of us had trouble controlling our smug smiles. As a matter of fact, we grinned. We had followed the mock award committees and rarely saw this treasure make it past the initial lists, but we knew. Those of us who have been lucky enough to serve on a Caldecott committee understand how certain books might catch the fancy of those 15 people sequestered over the long weekend of the American Library Association’s Midwinter meetings and this one seemed like it had potential. I held out hope for a few other titles to be honored, but I was pretty sure Daisy would wear a sticker of one color or the other.
Well, first of all, the wordless format allows the art to be examined without any distracting fonts or wonky word choice. There is a plot, for sure, and it is well paced and brimming with emotion. This is not to say that books with words are at a disadvantage, just that this particular wordless book was successful at getting across both the plot and emotional punch without any words.
Gestural drawings are perfect for this story and Chris Raschka is a master of this technique. Soft, pleasingly sloppy lines catch the emotional essence of Daisy. Daisy’s grey and black outlines are firm and thick when things are going well and shaky when Daisy is disappointed and sad. Her body language is spot on, too: Contrast her confident stride to the park with the forced march home.
The overall design of the book is satisfying too. Horizontal frames tell much of the story, but single, full-page paintings let the child reader know when something important has happened. I love how some of the horizontal frames stretch across both pages of a spread, showing the action clearly. Kids instinctively know how to read these pages and love telling the story in their own words. My favorite spread follows Daisy’s emotional response when her ball suddenly pops. I heard Raschka himself refer to this spread as the stages of grief . . . and it is! The background watercolor moves from yellow to brownish purple, leaving no question as to Daisy’s deep feelings of loss.
There are so many things to appreciate about Daisy that were surely discussed around the table in Dallas. The paper is sumptuous, preventing any bleed-through of color. (Yes, the committee will discuss such mundane things as paper quality.) The dog’s-eye view changes subtly when the story becomes about both dogs and owners. First, it’s all feet and fire hydrants. All of a sudden, near the end of the story, the reader sees the whole girl who is Daisy’s owner when she is needed for cuddly couch comfort. But, really, it’s always about Daisy, isn’t it?
Using a limited color palette carefully adds to the simple genius of the story. Making a story that is simple and satisfying is not easy. Creating a story that a committee can discuss, discovering new and wonderful things upon each re-examination, is what moves a book to the top of the heap.
In a year with so many fantastic picture books, I am sure it was a challenge finding the one book that a majority of the committee members could agree on. I have had some experience with this type of group decision-making, and I completely trust the process. I hope everyone who might have overlooked the timeless appeal of Raschka’s book can give Daisy another look.
Thanks, Robin. Daisy is definitely an unforgettable dog with an important message about love and loss. And for those who want to know more about the award, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) offers this description of the criteria to be evaluated by the 15 members of the Caldecott Committee:
a. Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
b. Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
c. Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
d. Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
e. Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.