Going for the Gold: How Picture Books Get Those Shiny Medals

About the Randolph Caldecott Medal and other Youth Media Awards 

The Caldecott is one of the oldest and most prestigious awards bestowed on children’s books. The award is given to the most distinguished American picture book, in English, for children (birth to age 14) of the preceding year (2024 Committee reviewed 2023 titles). This award has an enormous and lasting impact on children’s literature – children will enjoy these titles with their caregivers and teachers for generations to come. 

If you are very curious about this award, and other Youth Media Awards, read more here. For a complete list of Youth Media Award winners, go here

My Time on the Caldecott Committee 

This past year I had the incredible privilege to serve on the 2024 Randolph Caldecott Committee. My fellow committee members and I reviewed every eligible picture book (this includes illustrated informational texts and graphic novels) published in 2023, which was around 700 titles!  

Receiving the award is a significant boon for publishers, as well as the illustrators, so publishers send boxes filled with books to each committee member beginning in March. Every eligible book went on my shelves for consideration. 

As you can imagine, reviewing and keeping track of 700 titles is a challenge, even when they are picture books! Every committee member has a unique organization process. Mine involved a spreadsheet, alphabetized titles, and sticky notes. Titles I knew I wanted other committee members to review were recorded in a spreadsheet. Any titles I fell in love with, and which I felt fully met all our criteria (see below), got a sticky note.  

Each month, members submit a list of titles they want other members to review. These are called recommendations. In October, November, and December we also submit nominations. Each committee member can nominate up to 7 titles total and may not nominate a title more than once. We get three nominations in October, two in November, and two in December. For these 7 nominations, we must provide a justification statement. This list of nominations is what the committee discusses during meetings in January to decide the ultimate medal winner and any honors.  

Because my job at the library (Deputy Director) keeps me very busy, I did all the book review, note taking, and discussions after work and on weekends. All told, it was about 8-10 hours a week from March to December. In January we attended the LibLearnX conference and were provided two days for discussion, decision making, writing press release blurbs, and gathering other necessary information for the press kit.  

When reviewing titles and during discussion members focus on the following criteria: 

  • Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;  
  • Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;  
  • Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;  
  • Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;  
  • Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience. 

While I cannot share the specifics of what we discussed – all of that is confidential – I can say that the benefit of having a diverse committee is that we all see different things. What I thought were my favorite titles going into discussions changed wildly after hearing from my incredible colleagues. At times it felt like I was getting to audit a PhD level course on art! It was a gift to learn so much! 

After discussion comes a ballot. This is done electronically, with every member casting a vote for their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place choices. A committee can ballot as many times as they need to. If a winner is not decided after the first ballot the committee must go back to discussion. The process is repeated until a winner is clear. For a book to be crowned the winner it must receive at least 8 votes and have an 8 point lead on the second place title. Each first place vote is given 4 points, second place vote 3 points, and third place vote 2 points. If there is no winner after the first ballot the committee is allowed to remove any titles that perhaps do not receive any, or many, votes from the list for subsequent balloting. This must be done by consensus of all members. We are not allowed to disclose how many rounds of balloting our committee went through to decide the winner. After a winner is chosen the committee moves on to discussing honor titles. Choosing honor titles is optional and there is no limit on the number of honors that can be chosen. It is believed, however, that choosing too many honor titles makes the award feel less prestigious. It is common to see 2 to 4 honor titles. 

On Sunday night of the conference, we called the winner and honorees on speaker phone to tell them the good news! Until that phone call they do not know where their work stands as there is no shortlist and we are not allowed to talk to anyone about the standing of any eligible picture book (this remains confidential forever, in fact). The following morning the rest of the world learns the news and there is much fanfare, publicity, and excitement from librarians, publishers, the press, and, of course, the awardees. There will be a fancy celebration in June at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Diego where the winner and honorees of the Caldecott and Newbery receive their physical medals and meet the members of the committees! 

Some of my fellow committee members and I went to the exhibits section of the conference where publishers have their booths to find the winners and have a photo op! We even got to place the gold medal on Big!

My Committee made the following selections and in doing so made history. Vashti Harrison is the first Black woman to win the Caldecott!


2024 ALA Youth Media Awards Winners

List created by TRLSophia

Embark on a literary journey with the 2024 ALA Youth Media Awards Winners Book List, a curated collection celebrating the outstanding contributions to children's and young adult literature.

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