The Caldecott has been the Emmy of children's book illustrating since 1938, recognizing the year's most artistic and innovative picture book. Where do artists get their ideas? How do they translate these ideas into actual books? What changes do the original story and art undergo? How do illustrators feel when they hear they've won the big prize?
A Caldecott Celebration lets readers step into the studios of Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Marcia Brown (Cinderella), Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are), William Steig (Sylvester and the Magic Pebble), Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji), and David Wiesner (Tuesday). Adding historical overview to the individual profiles, historian Leonard Marcus selected artists who represent different decades, starting with McCloskey in the 1940s to Wiesner in the 1990s. The volume also includes a complete list of Caldecott winners as well as a glossary explaining a few technical terms.
Art is the major focus here, including photos of each author and their dummies, preliminary sketches, and finished artwork. The transformations that take place between concept and final book are intriguing. For example, Where the Wild Things Are began as an odd, narrow little book shaped like a ruler, entitled Where the Wild Horses Are. At one point, Sendak wrote in his notebook, "ABANDON!!!! dreadful story!!" Thankfully, he didn't heed his own advice. He decided he didn't draw horses well, however, and enjoyed letting his imagination run free with Wild Things.
Marcus's short but wide-ranging discussion of each artist will appeal to both older school-age children as well as adults. Who couldn't help but be charmed to hear that for Make Way for Ducklings, McCloskey consulted with duck experts, studied duck specimens, and brought 16 ducks home for up-close study? (My friend, Elizabeth Orton Jones, the Caldecott winner for 1945, confirmed this.) And who would guess that the members of McCloskey's beloved Mallard family were not originally called Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack? Instead, they started out as Mary, Martha, Phillys, Theodore, Beatrice, Alice, George, and John. Would that family of ducks have won the Caldecott? Maybe not.
My only gripe about this lovely little book is that it isn't longer!