What Is the Caldecott Medal?

Children are very visual. One of the best parts of reading books as a child is appreciating at the illustrations and how they can bring the story to life. When it comes to children’s books, there are several annual awards that honor and recognize excellence children’s literature. The most coveted by illustrators of children’s picture books is the Caldecott Medal. Unlike the Newbery Medal, which awards non-illustrated children’s literature, the Caldecott Medal is given to illustrators regardless if they are the authors of the book or not. Books are judged by their style and content. Some nominees don’t even have any text, only illustrations that tell the story. The Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association (or ALA) are responsible for administering the Caldecotts. The award was founded in 1938 and has been given out annually ever since. Like the Newbury, the Caldecott Medal is considered the highest award an American children’s book can receive. But what are the criteria for the Caldecott Medal? How are they chosen? For illustrators of children’s books, this is important information that you need to know.

Origins of the Caldecott Medal


After the creation of the Newbury Medal, some people felt that artists of children’s books were just as deserving of recognition for their work. Thus, in 1937 the man behind the Newbury, Frederic G. Melcher, suggested the creation of a second annual medal. The Caldecott was named in honor of the nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Randolph Caldecott was one of the most influential illustrators of children’s books during the 1800’s. His artwork showed an ability to convey movement, action, and humor that many artists of the time were unable to display. His works has appeared in such books as The Babes in the Woods and The House that Jack Built. When the Caldecott Medal was first accepted, the Section for Library Work with Children invited the School Libraries Section each year to name five of its members to the awards committee. This is why the inscription on the Caldecott Medal reads “Awarded annually by the Children’s and School Librarians Sections of the American Library Association.” Even though the ALA sections have been renamed several times since then, the wording on the inscription has remained the same.

After the suggestion and approval of the Caldecott Medal, it was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan in 1937. On one side of the bronze medal is a scene taken from Randolph Caldecott’s illustration from The Diverting Story of John Gilpin. The scene has the character Gilpin riding a runaway horse and surrounded by geese, barking dogs, and surprised people. The illustration is actually based on a 1782 poem by William Cowper.  On the other side of the medal is one of Caldecott’s the illustration depicting “Four and twenty blackbirds bak’d in a pie.” Besides the illustrations, the medal has the winner’s name and date engraved on the back.

How To Get Nominated

The Caldecott Medal is available only to eligible American illustrators. There are several requirements and procedures that each entry must go through in order to be considered. Here are the requirements:

  1. The book must be published in English in the United States during the preceding year.
  2. All the illustrations in the book must be original work.
  3. The artist must be a legal citizen or resident of the U.S.
  4. Eligible books are considered for their technique, interpretation of the story, style, characters, theme, delivering information through the pictures, and appropriateness for children.
  5. The book must be respectful of the understanding and abilities of children.
  6. The book must be able to stand on its own, not as part of other media such as video or audio.

When considering Caldecott Medal nominees, committee members must look at the book’s presentation in regards to an audience of children. While every book that enters is to be considered an illustrated picture book, other components can be used in the committee’s deliberation. For instance, a book’s written half is taken into consideration as well as the book’s subject matter and overall look.

Because the Caldecott Medal is only awarded to illustrators who are American citizens, sometimes critically-acclaimed books are not eligible because they are illustrated by a non-American. So many great children’s picture books never get nominated, at least not for this award. Originally, illustrated children’s books could not be nominated for both the Newbery and the Caldecott, even if they met the requirements of both. However, in 1977 the Board of Directors of the ALSC changed the ruling and stated that any book that was published in the preceding year could be eligible for consideration for either or both awards. To keep the selection process separate, the ALSC set up different committees that would administer the Newbery and the Caldecott Medals.

To apply for the Caldecott Medal, authors send one copy of their work to the ALSC office along with a statement of which award, the Caldecott or the Newbery, that the book is being submitted. You must also submit one copy to the award committee chair. Submitting copies to each committee member is allowed but not required. The awards are announced every January during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. Winners of the Caldecott are chosen by committee but there is also a selection of Honor books that are also selected every year.

Caldecott Medal Winners

Here is a list of the Caldecott Medal winners since the award was first founded.

  • 2009: The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes, written by Susan Marie Swanson
  • 2008: The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brian Selznick
  • 2007: Flotsam written and illustrated by David Wiesner
  • 2006: The Hello, Goodbye Window illustrated by Chris Raschka, written by Norton Juster
  • 2005: Kitten’s First Full Moon written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
  • 2004: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
  • 2003: My Friend Rabbit written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
  • 2002: The Three Pigs written and illustrated by David Wiesner
  • 2001: So You Want to Be President? illustrated by David Small, written by Judith St. George
  • 2000: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat written and illustrated by Simms Taback
  • 1999: Snowflake Bentley illustrated by Mary Azarian, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
  • 1998: Rapunzel written and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
  • 1997: Golem written and illustrated by David Wisniewski
  • 1996: Officer Buckle and Gloria written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann
  • 1995: Smoky Night illustrated by David Diaz;, written by Eve Bunting
  • 1994: Grandfather’s Journey illustrated by Allen Say; written by Walter Lorraine
  • 1993: Mirette on the High Wire written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
  • 1992: Tuesday written and illustrated by David Wiesner
  • 1991: Black and White written and illustrated by David Macaulay
  • 1990: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China written and illustrated by Ed Young
  • 1989: Song and Dance Man illustrated by Stephen Gammell, written by Karen Ackerman
  • 1988: Owl Moon illustrated by John Schoenherr, written by Jane Yolen
  • 1987: Hey, Al illustrated by Richard Egielski, written by Arthur Yorinks
  • 1986: The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
  • 1985: Saint George and the Dragon illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, written by Margaret Hodges
  • 1984: The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot written and illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen
  • 1983: Shadow, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown; original text in French: Blaise Cendrars
  • 1982: Jumanji written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
  • 1981: Fables written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel
  • 1980: Ox-Cart Man illustrated by Barbara Cooney, written by Donald Hall
  • 1979: The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses written and illustrated by Paul Goble
  • 1978: Noah’s Ark written and illustrated by Peter Spier
  • 1977: Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon, written by Margaret Musgrove
  • 1976: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon, written by Verna Aardema
  • 1975: Arrow to the Sun written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott
  • 1974: Duffy and the Devil illustrated by Margot Zemach, written by Harve Zemach
  • 1973: The Funny Little Woman illustrated by Blair Lent, written by Arlene Mosel
  • 1972: One Fine Day, retold and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
  • 1971: A Story A Story, retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley
  • 1970: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble written and illustrated by William Steig
  • 1969: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, illustrated by Uri Shulevitz, written by Arthur Ransome
  • 1968: Drummer Hoff illustrated by Ed Emberley, adapted by Barbara Emberley
  • 1967: Sam, Bangs & Moonshine written and illustrated by Evaline Ness
  • 1966: Always Room for One More illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian, written by Sorche Nic Leodhas
  • 1965: May I Bring a Friend? illustrated by Beni Montresor, written by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers
  • 1964: Where the Wild Things Are written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  • 1963: The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  • 1962: Once a Mouse, retold and illustrated by Marcia Brown
  • 1961: Baboushka and the Three Kings, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, written by Ruth Robbins
  • 1960: Nine Days to Christmas illustrated by Marie Hall Ets, written by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida
  • 1959: Chanticleer and the Fox illustrated by Barbara Cooney, adapted from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by Barbara Cooney
  • 1958: Time of Wonder written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey
  • 1957: A Tree Is Nice illustrated by Marc Simont, written by Janice Udry
  • 1956: Frog Went A-Courtin illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky, retold by John Langstaff
  • 1955: Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper, illustrated by Marcia Brown, translated from Charles Perrault by Marcia Brown
  • 1954: Madeline’s Rescue written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • 1953: The Biggest Bear written and illustrated by Lynd Ward
  • 1952: Finders Keepers illustrated by Nicholas Mordvinoff, written by William Lipkind
  • 1951: The Egg Tree written and illustrated by Katherine Milhous
  • 1950: Song of the Swallows written and illustrated by Leo Politi
  • 1949: The Big Snow written and illustrated by Berta & Elmer Hader
  • 1948: White Snow, Bright Snow illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, written by Alvin Tresselt
  • 1947: The Little Island illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, written by Golden MacDonald (Margaret Wise Brown)
  • 1946: The Rooster Crows written and illustrated by Maud & Miska Petersham
  • 1945: Prayer for a Child illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, written by Rachel Field
  • 1944: Many Moons illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, written by James Thurber
  • 1943: The Little House written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
  • 1942: Make Way for Ducklings written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey
  • 1941: They Were Strong and Good written and illustrated by Robert Lawson
  • 1940: Abraham Lincoln written and illustrated by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
  • 1939: Mei Li written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth
  • 1938: Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop, written and selected by Helen Dean Fish