The Caldecott Project

Digging through the school pictures from my teaching days got me thinking about my 5th graders and some of the awesome things we did together each year.  I've blogged about our Scrabble tournament, cooking in the classroom,  Civil War Living History Camp on Angel Island, the time my class starred in an instructional video, and when we were photographed for a book.  I've never blogged about the Caldecott Project.

I am, obviously, a huge fan of books.  Throughout the school year, I would introduce my students to as many great books as I possibly could.  Since it was 5th grade, we spent most of our time reading chapter books, but toward the end of the year we did a huge unit on Caldecott-winning books.  As you might know, each year the Caldecott award is given to the most distinguished American picture book for children.  The award has been given each year since 1938.

To begin each year's Caldecott Project, I would teach the kids about the history of the Caldecott award and we'd work together to brainstorm what characteristics the winning books might share. Then I'd gather up as many of the winning books as I could find and display them around the classroom.  Over the course of a week or so, they would read and evaluate as many of the books as they could, filling out a form, giving each book a grade, and summarizing its strengths and weaknesses.  We shared our evaluations and discussed our favorites and why we thought they deserved the Caldecott honor.  Then, each student would select his or her favorite Caldecott book for deeper study.

Their first task was to write a summary of the book that would entice someone to read it, ideally without giving away the ending.  Then, using the illustrator's style, they created their own version of a cover for the book.  We assembled these illustrations & summaries into a class book.  Here's the book made by the 5th grade class of 1999-2000:

And here are a few sample pages.  This is "The Funny Little Woman" (1973 winner), as illustrated and summarized by JP.

Here is 1978's winner, "Noah's Ark," as drawn and summarized by Levi.  

Because our school was year-round back then, we were in school when the county fair took place.  We always entered some sort of class project, and then would then take a field trip to the fair to see our exhibit.  I'm proud to say that the Class of 2000 earned a first place ribbon (and the corresponding $15 premium) for this awesome book.  They were absolutely thrilled and I couldn't have been more proud.

The final part of our Caldecott Project was the hardest for many of my students.  Each had to take the book they'd been studying and use it to give a presentation to another classroom.  Their assignment was to explain the history of the Caldecott award and then read the book to the class, holding it teacher-style (the pictures always facing the audience) so that everyone could admire the award-winning illustrations.  The teacher they were visiting would evaluate them on their public speaking skills (eye contact, loud voice, good expression, etc.) during the presentation.  My students worked extremely hard preparing, many of them reading out loud over and over to siblings, parents, neighborhood kids, or the family pet.  The evaluations I got back from the other teachers (often former teachers of my students) were glowing.  

I loved everything about the Caldecott Project and hope that my former students have fond memories of it.  (I don't think any of them were too scarred by having to give that presentation...)  When people ask me if I miss teaching, my thoughts always go to projects like these and all the other ways in which we had fun while learning.  So many great memories. 


  1. I love reading too but have never heard of the Caldecott medal. I do vaguely remember seeing those gold "medals" on some of the books I read in my youth but never really paid attention to what it meant! You teach me something new everytime I read your blog! Wow!
    BTW - although I love the creativity of your project, I would have not enjoyed the public presentation part! Ugh! ;0P

  2. This is so awesome Cindy!! What a brilliant way to get the kids engaged in reading, speaking, art and the county fair! I'm sure that the kids remember it (those creative, great, hard projects always stick with you!) :) So love this!!

  3. Ooooh...I love learning through pictures! Sounds like a great project to involve kids in!

  4. Loving that book!! What a great idea!! LOVING the treasure chest! You heard about Barbara Park right?? :(

  5. I'm with Doreen! It's a very cool project, but I'd be terrified of the public speaking part. I love their illustrations.


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