The Caldecott Medal / Animals of the Bible

caldecott-medalThe winner of the 2014 Caldecott Medal will be announced tomorrow and I am pretty excited to see who will be taking home the prize this year.  So let’s take a short history lesson by learning more about the Caldecott Medal and the first book to take it home.

We first have to talk about The Newbery Medal, which was the first award of any kind that recognized the authors of children’s books.  The first Newbery Medal was awarded to The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon in 1922.  In 1936, it was suggested that a second medal should be given to recognize the outstanding artwork of picture book illustrators.  The medal was named after Randolph Caldecott, a 19th century English illustrator and was first awarded to Dorothy P. Lathrop for Animals of the Bible.  The winners are selected by the Association for Library Service to Children, which is a division of the American Library Association.


Biblical Text selected by Helen Dean Fish, Illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop

J.B. Lippincott Company, 1937

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

The plot in a nutshell:  Illustrated stories from the Bible, all featuring animals

The book begins with a Foreword by Helen Dean Fish, in which she tells us how much she loved the Bible stories of her childhood, especially when they prominently featured animals.  She went through and pulled all the animal stories she could find to include in this book and Dorothy Lathrop was chosen to illustrate and given free rein to select the stories she wanted to illustrate.

The book is divided into stories from the Old Testament and New Testament, with a short section in the middle that just lists some random quotes that mention animals.  The stories are included in their King James versions, so you’re going to run into phrases like, “whithersoever thou goest,” which is likely to confuse kids who aren’t familiar with this way of speaking.  Truth be told, I had to go to a Biblical interpretation website to understand a couple of the stories myself.  I see this book being a hard sell for modern kids, especially when there are so many modern and kid-friendly translations and story collections out there.

This is the illustration for the description of the behemoth from the book of Job.

This is the illustration for the description of the behemoth from the book of Job.

The artwork, though, which is what won the book’s place in history as the first Caldecott Medal winner, is truly a thing of beauty.  Artist Dorothy P. Lathrop began her career in 1919, illustrating picture books for Walter de la Mare.  She was also a writer, with one of her own children’s books winning a Newbery Honor (which was then called a Runner-Up) in 1931.   Her artwork is simple pen and ink, with no other color, but her incredible talent and understanding of animal physiology comes through in every picture.  She has also signed each picture at the bottom, which is rare to see in a picture book.  Certainly it is interesting to look at this book and compare it to contemporary picture books.  Books have changed tremendously in the past 77 years since this book won the inaugural Caldecott Medal.  I can’t wait to see which book joins the ranks of Medal winners tomorrow!

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that everyone loves animals and they help make stories more interesting.  Apparently, this has always been the case.


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