Congratulations, Caldecott Losers!

Dr. Seuss, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (cover)In terms of number of Caldecott Medals won, you are now tied with Dr. Seuss.  And Crockett Johnson.  And Wanda Gág, Eric Carle, Esphyr Slobodkina, James Marshall, Donald Crews, Jon Agee, Tim Egan, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Barbara Lehman, Mo Willems, Lois Ehlert, Leo Lionni, and H.A. Rey.  None of them won the Caldecott Medal, though several won one or more Caldecott Honors: 3 (Seuss, Sís, Willems), 2 (Crews, Gág, Smith), 1 (Ehlert, Lehman, Marshall).

Awards tend to honor consensus, not genius.  Which is not to say, of course, that the Caldecott Medal has bypassed all geniuses. It hasn’t. Virginia Lee Burton, David Macaulay, Robert McCloskey, Jerry Pinkney, Peggy Rathmann, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, and David Wiesner have all won.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverBut, in 1938, Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street didn’t even merit a Caldecott Honor. Dorothy P. Lathrop’s pictures for Helen Dean Fish’s Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book won that year. Caldecott completely ignored Crockett Johnson’s books. The year that Harold and the Purple Crayon was eligible (1956), the award went to Feodor Rojankovsky’s illustrations for John Langstaff’s retelling of Frog Went A-Courtin‘.

Yet Mulberry Street and Harold and the Purple Crayon remain both beloved and in print, as do Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale, H.A. Rey’s Curious George, and Donald Crews’ Freight Train (an Honor Book in 1979).  Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.

So, to all who did not win the Caldecott Medal this year, you’re in excellent company.

(I suspect those who didn’t win today’s other awards are also in great company, but I know picture books best – and so have chosen to focus just on the Caldecott.  Also, just to be clear, this is not intended to criticize this year’s winner. Love Chris Raschka’s work! Rather, the point of this post is to place the award-giving into some context.  That’s all.)


  1. Pam Rucinski


    Our five kids loved Dr. Seuss! Now I’m reading the same books to our grandkidlets. They’re a bit more tattered but loved just the same. Our favorite is, “Horton Hears a Who.” Our children grew up in the right-to-life movement and Horton’s care for the “little” ones — “A person is a person no matter how small,” spoke so perfectly to the value of an unborn child.

  2. Reply

    Since you’ve posted this comment twice (once over on the most recent post), instead of repeating what I’ve written over there, I’ll note that, when the book was published (1954), one reviewer called it “a rhymed lesson in protection of minorities and their rights.” In the book, smallness is an arbitrary mark of difference — like race, creed, orientation, etc. The Whos are people with a society (government, school system, architecture, games, etc.) all their own; the animals fail to perceive that they’re people, but Horton ultimately convinces them that they are. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Seuss wrote this just after returning to Japan — one could see this book as an implicit criticism of the racial stereotyping (of the Japanese) in the political cartoons he created during the Second World War.

  3. Wrynne Winters


    Esphyr Slobodkina did win a Caldecott for Caps for Sale, no?

    I should add, though, that I am quite in agreement. That Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert have never won is mind-boggling, particularly when they are so widely known for their illustrations. But most awards are like this, I believe. Many people have voiced similar complaints with the Newbery selections through the years.

  4. Wrynne Winters


    Or…not… Okay, totally hallucinated that title on my Caldecott list…

  5. Reply

    Lionni did NOT win the Caldecott Medal, sadly enough, contrary to what you say above. He won three Caldecott Honors for SWIMMT, FREDERICK and INCH BY INCH.

    But great feature piece here!!!

  6. Reply

    Sam: Duly noted. I’ve removed Lionni from the Caldecott Medal Winner list above, and moved him to the Caldecott Medal Loser list. Also, In addition to Swimmy, Frederick, and Inch by Inch, Lionni received a Caledcott Honor for Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.

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