Scotch Plains Library

Michelle Willis Serves on Caldecott Committee


“Each year the American Library Association honors books, videos, and other outstanding materials for children and teens. Recognized worldwide for the high quality they represent, the ALA Youth Media Awards, including the prestigious Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King Book Awards, guide parents, educators, librarians, and others in selecting the best materials for youth. Selected by committees composed of librarians and other literature and media experts, the awards encourage original and creative work in the field of children’s and young adult literature and media.” (

In the library world, it is considered a great honor to be chosen to serve on an awards committee. Michelle Willis, Head Children’s Librarian at Scotch Plains Public Library, has been singled out to serve on the Caldecott Committee.  Before she flies to Seattle later this  week for the committee’s final deliberations and prize announcement, we  sat down with Michelle to find out more about the Caldecott, her committee role, and her observations on  why  the award and the children’s picture books it recognizes, can be influential in our children’s lives.                                            

Q. Many readers of this column will remember hearing about the Caldecott in grade school. Can you give us a brief refresher? What is the Caldecott?

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A. The Caldecott is an award given each year to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children of that particular year. It was named in honor of 19th century illustrator Randolph Caldecott. The award is given by the Association for Library Service to Children which is a division  of the American  Library Association.  

Q. How were you chosen for this committee?

A. Well, the committee is comprised of 14 members, plus a chairperson. Seven members were chosen by vote, and seven members were appointed. I was appointed to the committee and I do not know who nominated me. It is very exciting.      

Q. Wow--It is a big honor to be part of this small group! What are your responsibilities and what is the committee’s goal?

A. The committee’s goal is to determine the best most distinguished American picture book of the year. It is a year long process. Any book that was published for the first time by an American illustrator during the calendar year of 2012 is eligible to be considered for the award. So, I personally have reviewed more than 500 picture books this year! Ultimately, the committee will choose one book to win the medal and it is also customary to choose several books as honor recipients.

Q. When will we hear about the winner?  

A. The winner will be announced the morning of Jan. 28.The Caldecott award will be announced at the same time as other awards, including the Newbery for the author of a children’s book.

Q. Why are pictures so important in children’s literature?

A. For me personally, I think picture books are so important, not just for young pre-readers. There are many, many picture books that are more appropriate for older children. They have very rich text, but the illustrations complement and enhance the text. In the best picture books one can actually tell the story without the text. So, illustration is essential.

Q. How can people find past Caldecott award books?

A. The winner receives a gold medal. The winning book will get a gold sticker on the cover of the book and the honor books receive silver medals.  When you see the gold or silver medal on the cover of the book, you know you are seeing a notable book.  In the library we have nearly all of the Caldecott winners in our collection and a great many of the honor books.  If you would like to read any of them, we have a list available at the Children’s Room Desk.

Q. Given your participation, Is SPPL planning any special events to coincide with the Caldecott awards?

A. Yes, we are! On the Saturday following the announcement I will do a story time when  I will read this year’s winner, and the honor recipients,  and the children and adults who attend the story time can vote on which book they feel should have won. You don’t have to sign up for this program. It is free and open to the public.

Q. Do you have a favorite winner from past years?

A. I have A LOT of favorite winners.  I have favorite winners from when I was a child, and favorite winners as an adult. I would say my top three are probably Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are,  Ezra Jack Keats’  The Snowy Day, oh, wait, not just three…Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, and then two of my more recent  favorites are Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann, and  Chris Van Allsburg’ s The Polar Express.

Q. Thank you for chatting with us and congratulations on this honor! Any advice for young readers and their  families?

A. Come to story time on February 2nd to enjoy this year’s winning books.  I look forward to hearing which book is your favorite.



Scotch Plains Library

1927 Bartle Avenue
Scotch Plains, NJ 07076

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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