On Monday, the 76th Randolph Caldecott Medal will go to the artist of the most distinguished American children's book of 2013. (Past winners include Make Way For Ducklings, Where The Wild Things Are and The Polar Express.) The Caldecott committee doesn't bother with nominees, but that doesn't mean we can't wildly speculate about what could win — and then look at all the beautiful picture books that are in the running.
In that spirit, we've conducted two rather informal surveys of 1) what folks around the Internet are saying and 2) what we at NPR Books thought were pretty great. We cross-referenced our results via somewhat unscientific methods and ... voila! If one of these books (listed in no particular order) wins that big, shiny medal, then bully for us. If not, well, they're still winners in our eyes.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Laszlo is afraid of the dark. Every now and then he visits the dark in the basement, where the dark lives, in hopes that the dark won't ever return the favor by visiting Laszlo in his bedroom. But one day, it does. This book is all about the art. Jon Klassen's pitch black pages — cut, now and then, by Laszlo's flashlight — take you back to the days when that shadowy space in your closet was almost certainly home to a monster. If Klassen does take the prize, it'll be his second in a row — he won last year for This Is Not My Hat.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger and his animal friends are very civilized: They wear top hats, throw tea parties and have incredible posture. Then one day Mr. Tiger tries something new — he starts walking on all fours and roaring like a wild animal. It isn't long before Mr. Tiger goes too far and his classy friends banish him into the wilderness. (My favorite part about Peter Brown's work here is all the paint speckles.)
Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner
A group of tiny aliens have crash-landed in the home of a cat named Mr. Wuffles. In order to make repairs, they venture out of their ship, slip past the feline sentry and find refuge in the world of a nearby radiator. There, they befriend a group of insects who offer them Cheez-Its, some replacement parts and help with an escape plan. David Wiesner, a three-time Caldecott winner, tells this story through wordless panels that are packed with detail. (We've had our eye on this one for a while.)
Journey by Aaron Becker
A lonely girl takes her red crayon, draws a door on her bedroom wall and walks into a world of steampunk flying machines and turretted canal cities. She navigates this fantasy realm via boat, balloon and flying carpet, all drawn with her crayon. Journey is a clear nod to Crockett Johnson's Harold And The Purple Crayon, but this version doesn't have words; instead Aaron Becker tells his story through meticulous watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations. (We've also had our eye on this one.)
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
This biography of the late South African leader was published in early January 2013, 11 months before Mandela's death, so it's a timely consideration for this year's medal. Kadir Nelson tells Mandela's story through cinematic oil paintings that depict the grassy hills of his childhood home, the study halls of his Johannesburg schooling, the look on his face after he's put behind bars. Compared to our other, more fantastical picks, this book is firmly rooted in real life, but it's beautifully executed.
The Tortoise & The Hare by Jerry Pinkney
OK, yes, we've all heard the story, but what makes this book memorable isn't the classic Aesop fable; it's 2010 Caldecott-winner Jerry Pinkney's stunning illustrations. From the bumps and ridges of the tortoise shell, to the colors and consistencies of the hare's coat, this book demands your attention — if only because there's so much to take in.
Brush Of The Gods by Lenore Look, illustrated by Meilo So
As Lenore Look tells it, Tang dynasty painter Wu Daozi was not the best calligrapher — at least not as a kid. So instead of Chinese characters, Daozi drew horses, flying Buddhas and, eventually, a butterfly so life-like that it flew away. Meilo So's ink-and-watercolor paintings start out in Daozi's black and white style, then burst with color as his subjects comes to life, making Brush Of The Gods as fun to look at as it is to read.
This Is The Rope: A Story From The Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
A girl tells her family's story through the rope her grandmother took with her from South Carolina to New York. The some-time clothing line helped move her grandparent's young family north, and her mother to college. But it starts and ends with a childhood memory of jumping rope; a memory that's shared between the girl, her mother and her grandmother. James Ransome's warmly-hued oil paintings capture scenes from a close-knit family as memory would preserve them — vibrant and inviting.