How To Hold a Mock Caldecott (And 7 Books I Like for the 2018 Award)

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Ashlie Swicker


Ashlie (she/her) is an educator, librarian, and writer. She is committed to diversifying the reading lives of her students and supporting fat acceptance as it intersects with other women’s issues. She's also perpetually striving to learn more about how she can use her many privileges to support marginalized groups. Interests include learning how to roller skate with her local roller derby team, buying more books than she'll ever read, hiking with her husband and sons, and making lists to avoid real work. You can find her on Instagram (@ashlieelizabeth), Twitter (@mygirlsimple) or at her website,

One of the things I was most excited about when I got a job in a school library was the Mock Caldecott. Following book awards has been a hobby of mine for awhile, and the idea of getting to spend several weeks talking about excellent picture books and their various excellent qualities—and it counting as work—was thrilling. Actually, that’s most days in the library. This job is truly the best.

If you’re not familiar with the Mock Caldecott, the basic idea is that you pick a slew of books eligible (the American Library Association lays out the terms here) and share them with students, then hold your own vote to see which would win. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. At my school, we picked several books and spent two class periods exploring them, doing picture walks, and letting students share their favorite illustrations. Then we ended with a vote—each student could pick one book, no honors awarded, and paper ballots were used.

This being my first time with this lesson, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was so proud of my students and their insightful observations. We got into class discussions about conveyed emotions, the use of color to set mood, and the ways that illustrations took over the narrative and told the story beyond what the text shared. I saw students struggling to separate the way the text made them feel from the impact of the illustrations (which is what the Caldecott is supposed to be judged on). Several students fought me on picking more than one winner—I’ve never been so pleased to get into an argument at work.

I explained that because there is no shortlist, we really don’t know which book will win the highest Caldecott honor until the announcements at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Despite the fact that the winner might not be one of the books we discussed, my students are so excited to watch the video of the actual announcement and compare the book that wins to our own Mock Caldecott winner.

Here are the books on our Mock Caldecott ballot, selected using a combination of research into “Caldecott buzz books” and also books I like because that small power gives me enormous pleasure (and gives my students deep dives into important books I think they’ll love). I’ve included anonymous student quotes that were left in the optional spot on the ballot because kids really say it best. Without further ado…

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan

“This book is slightly creepy, and I think it’s nice that the girl was finally able to talk.”




Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut  by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

The pictures look like something from a museum, and I like that all the people are cheering for the boy at the end.”




After the Fall by Dan Santat 

I like that Humpty Dumpty was brave and I can’t believe the twist at the end!”





Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Ana Ramirez

The colors are really pretty and I loved the movie Coco.”




Life by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel  

“This book had really beautiful illustrations that made me feel calm and a little sad.”




Nothing Rhymes With Orange by Adam Rex

“The orange was funny and I liked when we all tried to guess something that rhymes with orange. I like the photographs, too.”



The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

“I liked the underwear.”




There you have it! Most of the buzz at my school is between Cinnamon and After the Fall, but we’ll all have to wait until February 12th to find out the real winner. Who do you like for the Caldecott this year?