100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Stuff the Committee Loves: Trying to Predict the Caldecott Medal


Year after year, a Fuse #8 Productions proves she has more guts than your average blogger by giving her first round of Newbery and Caldecott predictions 10 months before they are announced.

Meanwhile, us less guts-having bloggers just chime in with our picks mere weeks beforehand.

But while I would be totally lost if I tried to predict anything now, I thought it would be fun to give some insight into how I make my late-in-the-game predictions. Sometimes I do well. Other times, I don’t.

*NOTE* Does the actual committee adhere to any of these things I’m about to list? Mostly, that’s a big, giant NO. I repeat: NO. But when I’m an outsider trying to guess what might win, here’s what’s going on inside my head (along with, first and foremost, the Caldecott criteria).

So basically, these are just, like, my opinions, man. Please take them as such.

The committee loves . . .

1. When a book has one creator.

I don’t know why, but history has shown that a lone creator seems to have some sort of upper hand over author/illustrator teams. Why? I’d just be guessing.

2. When the amount of illustration labor is dumbfounding.

When I’m making predictions, I make sure to ask myself “Of all the books that I think are distinguished this year, is there one where the illustrations were created in a way that seems overwhelmingly laborious? Is there a book where it is clear that the illustrator not only didn’t take shortcuts, but took the long way on purpose?” I think of recent winners like Radiant Child, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, and The House in the Night.

3. When a respected illustrator tries something different.

When a beloved illustrator tries something different, it gets a boost when I’m trying to predict winners. Matthew Cordell switches it up and does a wordless book, Wolf in the Snow? Grace Lin tries a new style in A Big Mooncake for Little Star? These sorts of books are ones to watch.

4. When they can say FIRST!

I talked about this a bit when I made my 2019 predictions. I think everyone loves to be the first one to discover something good. So when a relative newcomer makes a jaw-dropping (and deserving) book (2019 example: Thank You, Omu!), I think the committee is ready to recognize it.

5. When the illustrations truly carry portions of the book.

This one is basically part of the criteria, but when the artwork in a book goes full-on Lorne Michaels during TV Fun House and declares “This is my shooooooooo”, it helps. Think of times in books when the text gets kicked out for a while: the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are. Think the seaweed sequence in This Is Not My Hat. This line of thinking also explains the Caldecott success of wordless books.

6. When things get physical.

Primarily digital illustrations have almost never been awarded. Don’t know why. It’s what’s happened so far and I take that into account when trying to predict.

7. When a book gently beats you over the head.

Take note when a book has a motif that you can point to and say “I see what you did there.” In Hello Lighthouse, that motif was circles. Once you notice it, you begin to see them everywhere in the illustrations. I think of the David Small-illustrated One Cool Friend that won an honor a few years back. That one had a turtle motif that kept dropping subtle hints about the conclusion of the story.

8. When you don’t tell them what to do.

Beware the book that is universally loved. The ubiquitous book can be a sitting duck. And from what I know about human nature, people (and committees of people) never like feeling like they’re being told what to do.

9. Ignoring sequels.

When I’m making my predictions, I almost never include sequels. They grab attention, but not many Caldecott medals.

So there you have it – the stuff swirling in my head when I try to guess Caldecott.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I like this, Travis. What makes a Caldecott winner? And now I’m thinking about it for Newbery… There is a certain type of “Newbery book.” I’m not sure I could put it in such nice categories as you did.

  2. I like this too, Travis. An insightful post–makes me think about how the committee members might break down various aspects of each contender to weigh them, both separately and together. Thanks for sharing.