Caldecott: Books For Kids

As one of two of the most prestigious awards given in the United States for children’s literature, the Randolph Caldecott Medal is given to the “most distinguished American picture book for children” (Caldecott Medal Home Page) With that in mind, we have a great list of books below that you will want to make sure your children have read at least once. What makes these books great? The pictures. Take a look and decide what your favorite might be!

Smoky Night book
#1
Smoky Night
Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Eve Bunting’s heartfelt story and David Diaz’s dramatic illustrations create a compelling child’s-eye view of urban violence. A young boy and his mother are forced to flee their apartment during a night of rioting in Los Angeles. Fires and looting force neighbors—who have always avoided one another—to come together in the face of danger and concern for their missing pets. David Diaz was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his bold acrylic paint and photo-collage illustrations.

Rapunzel book
#2
Rapunzel
Written and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A retelling of a folktale in which a beautiful girl with long golden hair is kept imprisoned in a lonely tower by a sorceress. Includes a note on the origins of the story.

Madeline's Rescue book
#3
Madeline's Rescue
Written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

In the Madeline series, this book is about the dog, Genevieve, who rescued Madeline from her fall to the river. When Genevieve is lost, the girls try to find her. Genevieve ends up back home, and all of the girls want Genevieve to sleep in their bed! It turns out that Genevieve has a bunch of pups, so all the girls get their wish to have a dog in their bed at night. :)

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines the smallest one was Madeline.”

Nothing frightens Madeline—not tigers, not even mice. With its endearing, courageous heroine, cheerful humor, and wonderful, whimsical drawings of Paris, the Madeline stories are true classics that continue to charm readers even after 75 years!

When Madeline falls into the river Seine and nearly drowns, a courageous canine comes to her rescue. Now Genevieve the dog is Madeline’s cherished pet, and the envy of all the other girls. What can be done when there’s just not enough hound to go around?

Black and White book
#4
Black and White
Written and illustrated by David Macaulay
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

What appear to be four separate stories, one installment of each appearing on each spread of the book, turn out to intermingle and, in time, become one story. Always Macaulay is playing with our perceptions and making allusions and illusions. A robber hides out in a herd of cattle who, in turn, disrupt the passage of a train. At the train station, passengers at first are absorbed in the newspapers they are reading, but as the wait lengthens, they start playing with the newspapers and with each other. A boy, a passenger on the train, witnesses some of the events, but not all of them. Parents, previously staid and distant, have apparently changed, at least temporarily, because of their time spent waiting for the train that day. The book can be frustratingly confusing or, in the proper hands and minds, a challenge and a source of fascination.

This is Not My Hat book
#5
This is Not My Hat
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

The 2013 Caldecott Medal winner!

From the creator of the #1 New York Times best-selling and award-winning I Want My Hat Back comes a second wry tale.

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. And even if he does, it’s not like he’ll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humor swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale.

  1. A Tree is Nice - “Trees are very nice,” says Janice May Udry in her first book for children. She goes on to explain that even one tree is nice, if it is the only one you happen to have. Some of the reasons why trees are so good to have around are funny. Some are indisputable facts. But in all of them there is a sense of poetic simplicity and beauty which will be sure to entrance any young child. Whether he knows one tree or many, he will relish the descriptions of the delights to be had in, with, or under a tree. Marc Simont’s joyous pictures, half of them in full color, accentuate the child-like charm of the words. And each painting of a tree or trees shows just how very nice they can be.

  2. Snowflake Bentley - “Of all the forms of water the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.” — Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) From the time he was a small boy in Vermont, Wilson Bentley saw snowflakes as small miracles. And he determined that one day his camera would capture for others the wonder of the tiny crystal. Bentley’s enthusiasm for photographing snowflakes was often misunderstood in his time, but his patience and determination revealed two important truths: no two snowflakes are alike; and each one is startlingly beautiful. His story is gracefully told and brought to life in lovely woodcuts, giving children insight into a soul who had not only a scientist’s vision and perseverance but a clear passion for the wonders of nature. Snowflake Bentley won the 1999 Caldecott Medal.

  3. Song and Dance Man - Illus. in full color. “In this affectionate story, three children follow their grandfather up to the attic, where he pulls out his old bowler hat, gold-tipped cane, and his tap shoes. Grandpa once danced on the vaudeville stage, and as he glides across the floor, the children can see what it was like to be a song and dance man. Gammell captures all the story’s inherent joie de vivre with color pencil renderings that leap off the pages. Bespectacled, enthusiastic Grandpa clearly exudes the message that you’re only as old as you feel, but the children respond—as will readers—to the nostalgia of the moment. Utterly original.”—(starred) Booklist.

  4. Time of Wonder - Winner of the Caldecott Medal! For fans of Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Make way for Ducklings. “Out on the islands that poke their rocky shores above the waters of Penobscot Bay, you can watch the time of the world go by, from minute to minute, hour to hour, from day to day . . .” So begins this classic story of one summer on a Maine island from the author of One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal. The spell of rain, the gulls and a foggy morning, the excitement of sailing, the quiet of the night, the sudden terror of a hurricane, and, in the end, the peace of the island as the family packs up to leave are shown in poetic language and vibrant, evocative pictures.

The Egg Tree book
#10
The Egg Tree
Written and illustrated by Katherine Milhous
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

One Easter morning, Katy and Carl went on an egg hunt through Grandmom’s house. Katy couldn’t find anything until she went up to the attic. And there she discovered a very special set of eggs…Grandmom had painted them when she was a little girl. And now, she hung them from the branches of a tiny tree — an Egg Tree! So began a very special Easter tradition.

This Caldecott Medal-winning story of a Pennsylvania Dutch Easter will surely inspire children to make Egg Trees of their very own.

Flotsam book
#11
Flotsam
Written and illustrated by David Wiesner
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

When a young boy discovers a camera on the beach and develops the film, he finds with his microscope many layers of pictures within the photographs.

Drummer Hoff book
#12
Drummer Hoff
Written by Barbara Emberley and illustrated by Ed Emberley
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

A rhyming, vibrantly illustrated picture book based on the folk song of seven soldiers.

Ed Emberley won the 1968 Caldecott Medal for his bold illustrations for Barbara Emberley’s jaunty adaptation of the cumulative folk song about soldiers who build a magnificent cannon and Drummer Hoff, who fires it off.

Kitten's First Full Moon book
#13
Kitten's First Full Moon
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
board book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

Kevin Henkes’s acclaimed national bestseller about a kitten, the moon, and a bowl of milk was awarded the Caldecott Medal and was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. This sturdy board book edition is perfect for little hands!

Kitten’s First Full Moon is an acclaimed modern classic, from one of the most celebrated and beloved picture book creators working in the field today. This memorable character and her suspenseful adventure are just right for the very youngest child. It is Kitten’s first full moon, and when she sees it she thinks it is a bowl of milk in the sky. And she wants it. Does she get it? Well, no . . . and yes. What a night!

A concise story, large type, and luminescent pictures play second fiddle to the true star of this book: a brave young kitten who sets out into the world on a quest that leaves her bruised, bewildered, and hungry, but that ultimately leads her back home, where something special is waiting just for her. This perfectly sized board book edition introduces Kitten to a new generation of the youngest readers. Winner of the Caldecott Medal, an ALA Notable Book, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, and winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award.

Animals of the Bible book
#14
Animals of the Bible
Written by Helen Dean Fish and illustrated by Dorothy P Lathrop
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Dorothy Lathrop’s Animals of the Bible won the very first Caldecott Medal when it was originally published in 1937. Now, in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of this prestigious medal and its first recipient, comes this special deluxe edition of Lathrop’s award-winning collection of some of the Bible’s most extraordinary animals. Thirty richly detailed black-and-white drawings illustrate the favorite stories of the Creation, Noah’s Ark, the first Christmas, and many others. A glorious tribute to a great tradition in children’s literature, this special anniversary edition will be a keepsake to treasure for years to come.

  1. Shadow - Shadow lives in the forest… It goes forth at night to prowl around the fires. It even likes to mingle with the dancers… Shadow… It waves with the grasses, curls up at the foot of trees… But in the African experience Shadow is much more. The village storytellers and shamans of an Africa that is passing into memory called forth for the poet Blaise Cendrars an eerie image, shifting between the beliefs of the present and the spirits of the past. Shadow… It does not cry out, it has no voice… It can cast a spell over you… It follows man everywhere, even to war… Marcia Brown’s stunning illustrations in collage, inspired by her travels in Africa, evoke the atmosphere and drama of a life now haunted, now enchanted by Shadow.

  2. Finding Winnie - Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie. In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war. Harry Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter tells the true story of a remarkable friendship and an even more remarkable journey—from the fields of Canada to a convoy across the ocean to an army base in England… And finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made another new friend: a real boy named Christopher Robin. Here is the remarkable true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

  3. Mirette on the High Wire - One day, a mysterious stranger arrives at a boardinghouse of the widow Gateau—a sad-faced stranger, who keeps to himself. When the widow’s daughter, Mirette, discovers him crossing the courtyard on air, she begs him to teach her how he does it. But Mirette doesn’t know that the stranger was once the Great Bellini—master wire-walker. Or that Bellini has been stopped by a terrible fear. And it is she who must teach him courage once again. Emily Arnold McCully’s sweeping watercolor paintings carry the reader over the rooftops of nineteenth-century Paris and into an elegant, beautiful world of acrobats, jugglers, mimes, actors, and one gallant, resourceful little girl.

  4. The House in the Night - 2009 Caldecott Medal Winner A spare, patterned text and glowing pictures explore the origins of light that make a house a home in this Caldecott Medal-winning bedtime book for young children. Naming nighttime things that are both comforting and intriguing to preschoolers—a key, a bed, the moon—this timeless book illuminates a reassuring order to the universe.

Ox-cart Man book
#19
Ox-cart Man
Written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
picture book
Recommend Ages: 2-5

Winner of the Caldecott Medal

Thus begins a lyrical journey through the days and weeks, the months, and the changing seasons in the life of one New Englander and his family. The oxcart man packs his goods - the wool from his sheep, the shawl his wife made, the mittens his daughter knitted, and the linen they wove. He packs the birch brooms his son carved, and even a bag of goose feathers from the barnyard geese.

He travels over hills, through valleys, by streams, past farms and villages. At Portsmouth Market he sells his goods, one by one - even his beloved ox. Then, with his pockets full of coins, he wanders through the market, buying provisions for his family, and returns to his home. And the cycle begins again.

“Like a pastoral symphony translated into picture book format, the stunning combination of text and illustrations recreates the mood of 19-century rural New England.”—The Horn Book

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship book
#20
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
Written by Arthur Ransome and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz and Arthur Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

When the Czar proclaims that he will marry his daughter to the man who brings him a flying ship, the Fool of the World sets out to try his luck and meets some unusual companions on the way.

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship is the winner of the 1969 Caldecott Medal.

Noah's Ark book
#21
Noah's Ark
Written and illustrated by Peter Spier
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8
Thoughts from Grammy

Peter Spier is a genius and this is one of his best. I love the details in every illustration. He incorporates spare text from the Old Testament, complemented by the inclusion of a seventeenth-century poem, which he translated from the Dutch original. (For a real treat, look up the book on youtube, James Earl Jones reads the poem!) The first time I read this I was stunned by how many of the unexplained details of the Flood story Spier had contemplated and included for the reader’s consideration. One illustration, in particular, has stayed with me for nearly a quarter century: one of a group of elephants standing in thigh-high water. There is so much to look at and talk about on every single page. This book is a joy to read!

“the book is a triumph, the definitive Noah’s Ark.”—Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Caldecott Medal, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark has been the iconic edition of this tale for over 40 years, in print continuously since its debut in 1977.

In Spier’s imaginative retelling, readers witness the danger and the grandeur of the terrifying flood but also the lighter moments: Noah’s wife jumping on a crate to avoid the rats; Noah shooing all but two bees from a busy hive; and all the animal babies being born in the spring. It’s an illustration feat that’s both majestic and tender.

The Three Pigs book
#22
The Three Pigs
Written and illustrated by David Wiesner
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

This take on the story of the “Three Little Pigs” is imaginative and fun! I love that it uses the illustrations to tell a big part of the story. The book starts out with the original tale of the wolf blowing down the pigs’ houses, but the pigs escape out of the story, go visit others’ stories and help characters there, and then, altogether, they fix the ending of their own story with the wolf and live happily ever after.

This picture book begins placidly (and familiarly) enough, with three pigs collecting materials and going off to build houses of straw, sticks, and bricks. But the wolf’s huffing and puffing blows the first pig right out of the story . . . and into the realm of pure imagination. The transition signals the start of a freewheeling adventure with characteristic David Wiesner effects—cinematic flow, astonishing shifts of perspective, and sly humor, as well as episodes of flight. Satisfying both as a story and as an exploration of the nature of story, The Three Pigs takes visual narrative to a new level. Dialogue balloons, text excerpts, and a wide variety of illustration styles guide the reader through a dazzling fantasy universe to the surprising and happy ending. Fans of Tuesday’s frogs and Sector 7’s clouds will be captivated by old friends—the Three Pigs of nursery fame and their companions—in a new guise.

MEI LI book
#23
MEI LI
Written and illustrated by Thomas Handforth
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

After spending an eventful day at the fair held on New Year’s Eve, Mei Li arrives home just in time to greet the Kitchen God.

  1. The Biggest Bear - Johnny Orchard, who is humiliated to have the only barn in the valley without a bearskin nailed to it, vows to shoot the first bear he sees. When a cub follows him home from the woods one day, Johnny makes it his pet. Johnny confronts a difficult choice when the bear becomes out of control in this Caldecott Medal-winning book.

  2. Chanticleer and the Fox - King of the barnyard, Chanticleer struts about all day. When a fox bursts into his domain, dupes him into crowing, and then grabs him in a viselike grip, Chanticleer must do some quick thinking to save himself and his barnyard kingdom. Winner, 1959 Caldecott Medal Notable Children’s Books of 1940–1970 (ALA) Winner, 1992 Kerlan Award

Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!