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by Colby Sharp

One of my favorite things to do with my students is a Mock Caldecott unit. Each year, my friend Mr. Schu and I select 20 books for the study. Mr. Schu posts the list on his blog with a whole bunch of resources. I kick off the unit by sharing Mr. Schu’s post with my students, and then we get to work.


During the unit my students read and reread and reread the books on the list. We discuss the Caldecott criteria. They quickly develop favorites. Those favorites often change as they dig deeper and look more closely at the books.


Once they’ve become experts on the 20 picture books they select a favorite. Then they talk all of their mad persuasive writing skills and create a video essay trying to convince their classmates which book they think should be honored by our pretend Caldecott committee.

After watching the videos, students can come to the front of the classroom and give their final arguments. I love watching an 8-year-old kid beg their classmates to vote for the book that they hold closest to their hearts.

After everyone has said all that they have to say about the books, I pass out the ballet. Each student is allowed to vote for up to four books. This year the first round of voting resulted in 5 books receiving a significant amount of votes.


On to round two.

I love watching the kids react to their favorite book not making it to round two. We talk about how important it is that they respect the opinion of the committee, and that they finish the job that they started. Even though the book they loved the most didn’t win, doesn’t mean they can check out.

During the second round of voting students select two books. This year Deborah Freedman’s SHY and Jon Klassen’s WE FOUND A HAT received the most votes.


Time for the final round!

Before this round we have another round of debates. I really enjoy watching kids get behind a new book, and try to convince their classmates why that book is the one they should vote for.

For the final tabulation of votes, I read the anonymous votes out loud one by one. It creates a fun and dramatic environment.

By a vote of 18-9 SHY took home this year’s top prize.


Deborah Freedman saw some of the tweets that I posted about our little project, and she offered to Skype with our class. The day after we selected SHY as our Mock Caldecott winner we spent a half hour chatting with Deborah about books, chasing your dreams, and how she became an a creator of books.



It is my hope that we can work together to help the kids in our lives realize that you don’t ever have to ever outgrow picture books.

colbysharpColby Sharp is a third grade teacher in Parma, Michigan. He is the co-founder of Nerdy Book Club, Nerd Camp, and the #SharpSchu Twitter book club. He co-hosts The Yarn podcast with Travis Jonker. Mr. Sharp is currently working on THE CREATIVITY PROJECT with a bunch of his friends. Visit him online at and on Twitter @colbysharp.


Viking is generously giving away a copy of Deborah Freedman’s SHY to accompany today’s Storystorm post.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


If you’re seeking to understand the significance of yesterday’s Newbery Medal being awarded to a picture book, grab a cuppa and settle in.


Photo courtesy of author Carter Higgins from AlltheWonders.

Five years ago, The New York Times published an article that caused consternation among picture book creators: “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” In fact, the words within plunged a dagger directly into our hearts.

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

It felt as though No Child Left Behind was leaving we authors and illustrators behind. A children’s bookseller was even quoted as saying that picture books sat languishing on their shelves, dying sad little deaths.


As a parent of young kids, I saw it happening. I’d be at the library and witness tots being steered toward thicker books that didn’t have pictures, children being told they’re smarter than 32 pages. Parents suggesting, “You don’t want this,” while in the picture book section. The word “this” dripping with disdain. At the school, parents bragging about their 2nd graders finishing the entire Harry Potter series.

And I remembered being in 2nd grade myself and being told to abandon picture books…and being devastated.

What parents were missing, and some may still be missing, is that chapter books, while perhaps longer, aren’t necessarily more “difficult” than picture books. In fact, I just had a discussion with my agent this week about the pros and cons of revising a manuscript and turning it into an early chapter book series. Since these books are for newly independent readers, the language is far simpler to allow autonomy. I expressed my concern over having to simplify my sentences and vocabulary. I felt my word play and structure would be limited. That’s right, writing a chapter book would force me to be less complex in my storytelling. (I should emphasize I’m talking about early chapter books here, not middle-grade novels which are for older children and are the standard Newbery fare.)

Back in 2010, the economy also played a role in what some saw as the picture book’s demise. The recession lingered and families had less discretionary income. Some publishers reported signing fewer picture book projects. No one was quite sure what to make of ebooks and iPads competing for kiddie eyeballs in the coming years, either. Would everyone migrate to digital books and snub hard copies?

Fast forward five years. Juvenile ebook sales have actually declined (by 1.4m units in 2014, according to Nielsen). iPads did not replace a parent’s lap and a physical book. The economy bounced back and children’s books have emerged as the bright spot in publishing. “The Children’s/YA market in 2014 represented 36% of the overall print market…slightly bigger than the adult fiction market,” reports Nielsen. Moreover, the price of children’s books has remained unchanged for over a decade. In other words, picture books are a terrific financial value. Now let’s talk about their intellectual, artistic and just plain JOYFUL value.

With yesterday’s announcement of Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET winning the Newbery Medal, an honor typically bestowed upon middle-grade novels, librarians are sending a clear message that debunks the NYT article of yore:


They are not simple little books with cute drawings. They are art. They are motion and emotion. They introduce children to the complexities of the world around them in a charming, engaging manner. They teach life skills while they entertain. They relay a story both visually and contextually, challenging children to solve their playful puzzle. They introduce children to irony and satire, history and innovation, wit and wisdom. They expand the imagination and teach storytelling skills. And they do all this while amusing parents, grandparents and caregivers as well. How’s that for a nifty little package?


As Dr. Seuss once said, you can read them in a box. You can read them with a fox. (Or was that something to do with breakfast?)

So bravo to Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson and the ALA. We all won yesterday, folks. WE ALL WON.


Historical notes: The Newbery Medal was awarded to a picture book once before in 1981, although A VISIT TO WILLIAM BLAKE’S INN can be categorized as an illustrated collection of poetry and, at 48 pages, not necessarily a traditional picture book. Other picture books have received Newbery Honor recognition: MILLIONS OF CATS (1929, prior to the Caldecott), FROG & TOAD TOGETHER (1973), DOCTOR DE SOTO (1983), SHOW WAY (2006) and DARK EMPEROR AND OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT (2011).

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