Diane Prather: Look for Caldecott seals on children's books

This column has reviewed many award'winning books for children. One of the most prestigious awards is The Caldecott Medal. It's presented each year to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book for children that was published the previous year in the United States.

The picture book is selected by an award committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association.) The winning book carries a gold seal that's embossed with a print of a horseback rider surrounded by children, dogs, and geese and thc words "The Caldecott Medal."

Although only one Caldecott Medal is awarded each year, one or more picture books may receive The Caldecott Honor. These books are recognized by a silver seal.

The idea for The Caldecott Medal came back in 1937 when Frederic G. Melcher, an American editor and publisher, suggested naming an illustrator award after Randolph Caldecot. He was an English illustrator who lived from 1846 to 1886.

And so the first Caldecott Medal was awarded in l938 and has been presented every year since.

This year's Caldecott Medal was awarded to Kevin Henkes who wrote and illustrated "Kitten's First Full Moon," a picture book for young readers. The artwork is very unusual. Gouache and colored pencils were used to prepare the wonderful pictures. They are done in white and black but mostly in shades of gray.

As the book opens, a kitten sits on the top step of a porch. Kitten is looking at the moon, but she's so young that she doesn't know what it is. She thinks it's a bowl of milk.

So Kitten closes her eyes, stretches out her neck, opens her mouth and licks. But all she gets for her effort is a bug that's been flying around the porch.

The bowl of milk is still there, so Kitten stands up on her hind legs and reaches out from the top step. This time, she slips and falls down the steps. Poor kitten! She bumps her nose, bangs her ear and pinches her tail.

And as the story goes: "Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting."

Finally, Kitten chases the bowl of milk, but even though she runs all the way to the pond, she never gets any closer to the milk.

At the pond, she climbs all the way to the top of a tree, which is pretty scary. She doesn't reach the bowl of milk, but when she looks down, there's an even bigger bowl of milk (as the moon is reflected in the water).

Of course, the pond isn't a bowl of milk, and Kitten ends up wet and cold. There's a happy end in store, though.

"Kitten's First Full Moon" is Henkes' 34th children's book. He also received a Caldecott Honor for "Owen".

This cute book is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers (2004). It's $15.99 in hardback. ISBN 0'06'058828'4

The next time you visit the library or bookstore, watch for the Caldecott seals.

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