The Caldecott

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The Caldecott is the most prestigious award a children’s book illustrator can receive, and it’s an award that, once received, changes each recipient’s life. We will discuss what the award is, how it is chosen, some patterns with books that have received this honor, and some tips on what you can do to try and become a more Caldecott-worthy illustrator.

What are you working on? [01:17]

Will Terry: Bonnaparte Falls Apart Part 2, and a new board game in his digital painting style. Not the best pay, but he has complete creative freedom and so it’s worth it.

Lee White: Just moved to Nashville, Tennessee from Portland Oregon. Still working on two books, one that he is writing and illustrating himself, and still working out the deal for illustrating someone else's story.

“Cain’t never could do nothing.”- Southern Saying

We might be doing a live workshop later on in Nashville, but don’t quote us on that, all 3 of us would be there.  Keep your ears peeled.

Jake Parker: Has been crazy busy and gone a lot. He did a Comic Con in Denver, a workshop up in Boise, and a workshop here in Provo, and did a bunch of work for Snowplow 2; and, Skyheart is at the printer in China! There has been some translation issues that have slowed the process down, so we’ll see if the books get here in color or black and white!

Today, we want to dive in and see if what sort of a role awards play in the life of an illustrator or comic book artist, and does it play a role in developing your art.

If you are an illustrator, new or old, we hope that we can shed light on some of the illustration awards and what impact receiving different awards can have on a creatives life..

What are the Awards? [11:00]

There are specific awards that we want to dive into on this podcast.

  • The Caldecott Award, conceived in 1937 by Robert Caldecott.

  • The Newbery Award, given to Young Adult Fiction, it’s an award for writers.

  • The Eisner, given for creative achievement in comic books.

Eisner Award: the Academy Awards of Comic. Given to different categories, i.e. Best Publication, Best Writing, Best Art, Best Short Story, etc. It’s an award and the publishers love it because they get to put the special award sticker, and whoever won the award has a prestigious bargaining chips for future projects.

It’s important to understand the audience for each of these awards and oddly enough the for the Caldecott, they are librarians.

Will hated school growing up and the last place he would imagine being is a library convention. But as fate would have it, he ended up going to one, and he has now been to three of them.

American Library Association (ALA) hosts a conference where illustrators and librarians collide.

Librarians matter because they are the ones who will be recommending your books!

The Caldecott [15:00]

The Caldecott is the biggest most prestigious award for children’s books. The Caldecott is determined by a committee of 15 people and 8 of those people are appointed by the ALA. These people are composed of librarians and school teachers.

They are supposed to primarily focus on the artwork, but there aren’t any poor stories that win the Caldecott. Art is a component but other components like story are a factor that enhance the children's book.

Look for patterns. Think about the patterns of the wards winners. Lee likes to look for systems and commonalities to help inform success. There is often strategy to most things we do. Even when playing Monopoly!

Since 2000, only 4 Caldecott winners have different writer and illustrator. It means that more Caldecott winners not only illustrate but also write their book. Is this a coincidence?

Committee members  like to promote and celebrate 1 person. If you win this award you are the “Miss America” of illustration for the next year.

Can winning one of these awards change your life? [22:06]

There are over 200 children’s books awards but they are not life changing like the Caldecott. Almost every state has one award and they are sometimes narrow and specific. Will won the North Carolina book award one year. In Utah there is an award for Best Mormon Illustrator. Any award is great to receive but are not on the level of receiving a Caldecott.

These awards are great but the Caldecott is different. You will be known and introduced as a Caldecott award winner, and the book will be in print for the rest of their life, which translates to a lot of money.

There are over 200,000 libraries across the US and stock Caldecott winners. Sometimes one library could buy 10 copies of 1 Caldecott winners book, and restock every year. There are also people that collect Caldecotts. It is a fail safe for the libraries and bookstores because these books have a stamp of approval and popularity built into them.

There are Caldecott honorable mentions that also reap the reward of this honor and Lee has a friend that recieve $75,000 in royalties.

Jon Klassen is an illustrator/writer that has been raking in the Caldecott.

Jon Klassen

This Is Not My Hat

If you were to win a Caldecott, publishers try to lock you into your next book deal. You become known for this award and it makes you a distinguished illustrator.

There are Caldecott terms to book deals that stipulate how payment changes if you were to win a Caldecott.

Should you change your art to win? [31:40]

Will feels as if you need to change your art style to win a Caldecott but Lee sees that Caldecott winners of the past have very different styles and are really all over the place. There are books that are Caldecott material and there are other books that aren’t but are still wildly successful.

Why is I Want My Hat Back distinguished and Fancy Nancy not? Fancy nancy is extremely commercial and sells well but not as literary.

Fancy Nancy

There are books that have a balance of the two like Olivia. Olivia won a Caldecott and also became very commercial.


There are many things that precede winning a Caldecott. There is networking and knowing someone that can get you in the right circles and in the right places. Being connected and known is very important.

Dan Santat is a great example of a person that has been around the block before winning the Caldecott. He spoke at conferences for years and was really well known along with producing great work.

The Adventures of Beekle

It’s true that winning a Caldecott seems as likely as being hit by lightning.

Step One: Write your own stuff

Step Two: Be Jon Klassen

Step Three: Speak at SCWI

Actionable item [41:29]

Here are some actionable things that might not get you a Caldecott but moves you in the right direction. Believe in your work and keep moving forward with it. Think about what is the type of creator you want to be and what best fits your personality. You don’t need to be award winning to be successful. If you are just trying to mimic other people you will always be a few years behind, of course you can learn from others but really do what you love and develop your own unique style and voice. Do the thing that you love to do and that you are good at and eventually the world will catch up.

Nuances of a Caldecott [50:04]

There are so many books that are great and when it comes down to choosing a winner the committee starts considering the nitty gritty. They start to think what doesn’t work about the books- does the book’s cover have room for the sticker,  what is the paper quality like, what is the font, what is in the end paper etc.

Things to consider [53: 56]

Be like Jon Klassen in the sense that he was trying to be himself. If you are trying to copy someone that has won you will be always be behind. Create the thing that only you can create.

Also consider that design matters and  having a good sense of graphic design is important for the whole package. Chris Van Allsburg is a great example of this. He combines his art with design to create a great book. His pieces are beautiful and leave room for type. Great artists have a great graphic design sense and some create their own fonts for their books, i.e. Jon Klassen.

The Caldecott can be a motivator, and can push yourself to create on a higher level. You can ask yourself,  “Is this Caldecott worthy?”

Chris Van Allsburg

Summary [01:07:00]

Consider writing

Be unique

Consider the details

Drive yourself to create something good and worthwhile!


Jake Parker: Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: Instagram: @leewhiteillo

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