Annual Mock Caldecott Challenges Students to Think Critically about Book Illustrations

Once again, Arlington Public School students were able to spend some time thinking critically about new picture books and their beautiful illustrations as they participated in the annual Mock Caldecott. This highly anticipated event is Arlington’s version of the Caldecott Medal awards, announced every January by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). The ALSC is a division of the American Library Association (ALA). 

The first step is to choose the books for the students to evaluate. APS K-12 library teachers and library paraprofessionals worked with Pam Watts, Head of Children’s Services at Robbins Library, to create a list of 10 books that they believed were good contenders for the coveted Medal. Named after 19th century English Illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the ALSC states that it “shall be awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year. The award shall go to the artist, who must be a citizen or resident of the United States, whether or not he be the author of the text.”

Here are the books that made the APS list:

Before voting begins, the elementary library staff members review the books with their students, helping them look for illustrations that are unique, surprising, and innovative. Discussions include the design elements that are used, such as cover art, text placement, and use of color. Different techniques and art materials that artists use to create books are explored. The children are encouraged to think deeply about how a book is created. The students then vote for the one they believe was most worthy of receiving the Caldecott Medal, using jars with counters, paper ballots, or online voting with Google forms.

At Gibbs and Ottoson, Middle School Librarian Jennifer Lauchlan collaborated with the art teachers to bring their classes to the libraries on a specific day. This gave the students  the opportunity to browse the nominees. A voting link was sent out the following day.  K-12 Lead and AHS Library Teacher Stacy Kitsis followed a similar process at AHS so that the high school students could take part as well.  After the votes are tallied, the school library teachers and paraprofessionals share them with their students.

This year’s top choice in the Arlington Public Schools was Jumper with 598 votes. Second place went to Evergreen with 438 votes, and Big came in third with 377 votes. Here are the overall winners by school.

Elementary School















Tie: Big and Jumper

Middle School



My Powerful Hair



High School


Arlington High School

An American Story

This year, the ALA Caldecott Medal award winner for most distinguished American picture book went to Big, the APS third place winner. Big also was chosen as a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book. Arlington’s top choice, Jumper, was selected as an ALA Robbert F. Sibert Informational Book Award Honor Book, which goes to authors and illustrators of the most distinguished informational book published. 

The AHS winner, An American Story, was the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book winner. There Was a Party for Langston, also on the APS list, was a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. The Coretta Scott King Awards, also from the American Library Association, honor Black writers and illustrators.

Besides being thoughtful and fun, the Mock Caldecott is especially notable for being something that involves all schools and grade levels. Ms. Lauchlan describes the benefits of the annual event this way: “The Mock Caldecott process generates a great deal of excitement among students and provides a real world connection to what students do in the school libraries. Students learn about different book awards and practice their skills at evaluating and discussing illustrations with one another. The middle and high school collaborations with the art teachers provide an opportunity to experience contemporary art via picture books, and the art teachers enrich the discussion with their content knowledge.”