COLUMBIA — Beloved childhood books such as "Where the Wild Things Are," "Polar Express," and "Make Way for the Ducklings" all have the distinctive gold medal on their covers. This year, Columbia librarian Brandy Sanchez had a say in which new book would be adorned with the Caldecott Medal.
The prestigious medal recognizes the previous year's best illustrator of an American children's picture book. Books that are categorized typically become best-sellers.
This year's winner is Jerry Pinkney, who adapted and illustrated the fable "The Lion and the Mouse." Pinkney is the first individual African-American to win the honor. (A husband-and-wife team won in 1976 and 1977.)
The 2010 Honor Books, a secondary level of recognition for the Caldecott, are "All the World," written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee and "Red Sings From Treetops," written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Sanchez's favorite scene in Pinkney's book is one in which the lion is trapped in the net.
"You feel the plight," Sanchez said. "There's absolutely no words whatever, but you can hear the action in your mind."
The Caldecott was first awarded in 1938 by a committee of 23 public and school librarians. One factor on judges' minds is the book's staying power.
"Twenty years from now, we hope this book will still be relevant to children," Sanchez said.
Sanchez, who works at the Columbia Public Library, and the other 14 judges who are also librarians, reviewed more than 650 picture books from major publishing houses and independent presses and books that were self-published. Books targeted toward children from infants to 14 years old are eligible.
Each book is judged on its indiviual merit; librarians are told to not compare books to the illustrators' other books or past Caldecott winners.
"It's more than a story," Sanchez said of the books in general. "Someone has poured their heart and soul into it. So every book deserves your full consideration."
Sanchez was appointed to the 2010 Caldecott Committee in August 2008 by the president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. Eight members of the committee are elected by the members of the library service, and the chair and the other members are appointed by the organization's president.
Sanchez previously served on the Carnegie Medal award committee for best children's video production. She compared the unpaid workload to having a part-time job and said she neglected all of her reading except for picture books for the most part. Each month during 2009, Sanchez and the other judges received the same boxes of books to evaluate; a few from each set would stay in the running.
This month, the committee met in Boston to deliberate. Pinkney's win was announced at the American Library Association on Jan. 18.
"You spend hours poring over these books," Sanchez said. "Removing yourself so you can discuss dispassionately is the hard part."
She is now making a list of her favorites to share with other librarians so they can recommend them to children. Her goal is to promote the books she discovered last year.
Sarah Howard, children and youth services manager at the Columbia Public Library, was also on a national award committee. She helped pick the 2004 Newbery Medal winner, "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo.
"Never again will I get the opportunity to read that many books or to be with people who have read the same books and discuss them," Howard said. "That's just a gift in itself."
The Newbery Medal honors the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children and is one of the most prestigious prizes for children's literature.
DiCamillo's fantasy novel tells the tale of a mouse with huge ears who falls in love with a human princess. Howard said "Despereaux" is accessible to young readers because it's a fairy tale. "It kind of leads the way to kids reading other books," she said.
"I don't expect every kid to be in love with this book — reading is such a personal thing," Howard said. "But it gives someone a place to start."