Partners in Creativity: Inspiring Childhood through Art and Stories

“Think of it like the Oscars, but for picture books,” smiles Aaron Stefanich, Children’s Librarian at Grand Forks Public.

“Or, like a book club where you talk about the art just as much as the story,” replies Matt Anderson, Director of Education at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the Caldecott Medal annually recognizes the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It is awarded to the illustrator by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association.

For the last several years, Aaron and Matt have hosted a Mock Caldecott Program at the library, which provides local picture book lovers the chance to participate in the fun of voting for their favorite illustrated books.

Going for the Gold: 2022 Caldecott Predictions

Thousands of children’s books are published every year. While this year had many challenges of its own, it certainly didn’t lack in producing new creative children’s books. Aaron and Matt watch for “Caldecott Buzz” in a variety of ways—from the ALSC website to a popular Goodreads group—and dozens emerge as the top contenders. From these, here are some of our top predictions for 2022.

1. The Rock from the Sky

Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Author: Jon Klassen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Media: Digital and watercolor

It’s hard to try and look past Klassen’s wonderful deadpan sense of humor and masterful storytelling and focus on the illustrations of this book, but illustrative prowess is synonymous with the Caldecott award. The directional movement of the story is playful and effortless. Our minds are always aware of the falling rock, whether we can see it or not, we know it’s about to make an appearance. In the 31 pages of the first chapter, we only see the rock 4 times, yet it’s always there, just out of sight.

2. Have You Ever Seen a Flower

Illustrator: Shawn Harris
Author: Shawn Harris
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Media: Pencil and colored pencil

A visual euphony, a tour de force, a non-stop page-turning ride of vibrant colors and passion for imaginative storytelling. Shawn Harris chose the simplest and most underrated pair of mediums, the pencil and colored pencil, to create a series of playful and deeply meaningful illustrations from cover to cover.

3. Milo Imagines the World

Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Author: Matt de la Pena
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Media: Acrylic paint, collage, and digital

Milo Imagines the World is a heartwarming story. The illustrations carry the viewer through Milo’s world full of innocence and curiosity. Christian Robinson is skilled at creating scenes where there is always something to find and little details to pick out. The illustrations are colorful and engaging while remaining balanced and paying attention to the gutter most of the time. The visual interchange between the scenes in Milo’s sketchbook and his interpretation of his environment is interesting.

Experiencing the Whole Story

When Matt reviews a book, he looks at the entire package design. Does the cover match the jacket? What’s in the inside cover? Front vs. back? Is the design consistent across the pages? Is the gutter disrupting or enhancing the composition? From the texture of the pages to the smell of the materials used (fun fact: soy ink smells amazing!), from thoughtful use of color to the rhythm and flow of the story, nothing goes unnoticed.

The top picks are not just beautifully illustrated books; they’re beautiful stories that honor the illustrator.

“Kids pay attention to the details,” shares Matt. “They’ll notice if something is off or missing.” How the book is created—the materials and tools used to create the art—needs to fit the nature of the story. The top picks are not just beautifully illustrated books; they’re beautiful stories that honor the illustrator.

“We have a pretty good track record,” smiles Matt. “We’ve been spot on with our predictions through the years.”

The ALA Youth Media Awards will announce the 2022 Caldecott Medal winner on Monday, January 24. When the year’s winner and any honor books are announced, the library generally orders a second copy of the book(s). At the same time, Matt adds his favorite “Matt’s Picks” to the North Dakota Museum of Art store, and grows his small library at home of beautifully illustrated stories.

It Takes a Team

The Mock Caldecott is just one example of how Grand Forks Public Library and the North Dakota Museum of Art have worked together through the years. The first collaboration started years ago with the museum offering art at the library’s Summer Reading Program Kickoff event, followed by the library bringing books to Family Day at the museum. “We share a similar goal of helping people widen their understanding of the world,” explains Matt. “Literature, visual art, music—it’s all part of a healthy community.”

In early 2020, the library and the museum had received a grant through the North Dakota State Library and the North Dakota Library Coordinating Council to offer artistic programming at the 2020 Summer Reading Kickoff event. However, as the pandemic hit and plans changed, Aaron and Matt, together with Sheila Dalgliesh, Independent Artist, and Rita Haag with ArtWise, thought of a new way to redirect the funds.

“Instead of giving up and retreating, we got creative and continued serving the community,” shares Matt. “When people couldn’t come to us, we brought the creative experience to them.”

Take & Make Kits were born as a result. Together with ArtWise, we have distributed 750 Take & Make Kits per month for 13 months to local homes—for free.

“It took COVID for us to discover what we could do as a team,” explains Aaron. “Take & Make Kits provided joy for people and introduced them to new ideas.”

“You need art, music, and stories,” adds Matt. “The experiences that life is modeling to us become our reality. If art, music, and stories aren’t modeled, we won’t have it in our lives.”

“Childhood is precious,” adds Aaron. “Give kids more stories and creative experiences, and they’ll be better adjusted in the world.”

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