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What is the Caldecott Medal?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Caldecott Medal is an award given yearly by the American Library Association in honor of the best illustrated Children’s book of the year. The bronze medal given is named after Randolph Caldecott, a British artist, who illustrated many Children’s books during the 19th century. His works include illustrations of the books The Babes in the Woods and The House that Jack Built.

The Caldecott Medal is comparable to the Newbery Medal in its assessment of children’s literature. However, the Newbery Medal, also given by the American Library Association, focuses on text, while the Caldecott medal focuses on illustrations. Both awards are considered to be the highest honor an American children’s book can receive.

The book Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book illustrated by Dorothy Lathrop, received the first Caldecott Medal in 1938. Since then, many wonderful books have won the medal. These include: Make Way for Ducklings, Song of the Swallows, The Snowy Day , Where the Wild Things Are, Jumanji, and The Polar Express.

Famous illustrators who have had their work honored with a Caldecott Medal include Maurice Sendak, Leo Politi, Marcia Brown, Robert McCloskey, and Ezra Jack Keats. Several illustrators have won more than one Caldecott Medal, including Leo and Diane Dillon, who won back-to-back Caldecott Medals for the years 1976 and 1977. Marcia Brown has received three medals and McCloskey has received two.

As well as awarding a yearly Caldecott Medal, the American Library Association also selects Caldecott honor books each year. Past honorees include the books No, David! and Stone Soup.

Both Caldecott Medal and Honor books can only be selected from the pool of American illustrators (residents or citizens). Thus some popular children’s books never make the cut because non-Americans illustrate them. Such is the case with the work of Marcus Pfister, a Swiss illustrator who is known for his best-selling Rainbow Fish.

In catalogs of books available to school children via Scholastic Books or Arrow Books, one can often find a grouped set of five to ten Caldecott Medal or Newbery Medal books for less than 20 US dollars (USD). These are often fantastic deals on high quality books, which might individually retail for about five to eight USD each. They are also a great way to introduce children to books that many feel offer superlative illustrations and/or text.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Grivusangel — On Mar 30, 2014

"The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night," illustrated by Peter Spier, is a Caldecott Medal book and was always one of my favorites. The drawings are so beautifully detailed and the colors are wonderful.

I would look at the pictures for hours, looking for new details and usually, I'd see something I hadn't seen before. It's a wonderful book and thankfully, still in print!

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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