How to Host a Mock Caldecott in the Classroom

by Melissa Taylor

Photo credit: Jim Craigmyle, Stone Collection/Getty Images

Want to get your students excited about the illustrations in picture books? Host a mock Caldecott contest!

For classrooms and libraries, hosting a mock Caldecott adds even more depth to your reading experiences because you’re asking kids to scrutinize the artwork and think critically about its success in the book.

Students will also notice artistic techniques and style, visual story interpretation, and appeal by looking at the artwork and how it complements the text.

Every January, American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children awards the Caldecott award to the most distinguished American picture book artist with one winner and several honors. The committee considers qualified American picture books published the previous year.

Because it’s a bit more complicated than just liking the artwork, here are the specific Caldecott criteria the committee considers.

Caldecott Criteria

The award committee looks at five criteria which I’ve reworded a smidge to be more kid-friendly.

1. The illustrations show excellence in artistic technique.
The illustrator skillfully creates the artwork in any technique, including collage, painting, drawing, and drawing.

2. The illustrations interpret the story well.
The illustrations represent the words in the book, showing the characters, plot, setting, or concept the way the author describes them.

3. The style of the illustrations matches the mood, theme, or concept of the story.
Pictures and text need to work together. For example, a scary story has a spooky mood, so the illustration style needs to match it. Introduce or review mood, theme, and concept if necessary.

4. The illustrations are essential to the plot, theme, characters, or information.
The visual elements support a reader’s understanding of the book. For example, the illustrations show more details than the text.

5. The illustrations appeal to children.
Kids know what they like. Which illustrations do they like best?

Mock Caldecott Lesson Plans

Whether you’re a librarian or classroom teacher, use the ideas below as a starting point for your mock Caldecott unit. Then, modify it for your students’ ages and the time you have.

1. Introduce the Caldecott Award to your students.
Teach them what it is, the history, and previous winners.
Find the previous winners on the ALA website.

2. Reveal the criteria for evaluating the books.
Use a previous year’s winner to model each of the requirements.

Upper Elementary Grades: If you’re able to spend several days with older students, teach your students how to evaluate each criterion, how to use evidence to support their opinions, and how to engage in a productive discussion. After your instruction, give students ample time to read and review each book, then discuss their thoughts in groups or partners.

Lower Elementary Grades: Try a simple rating and voting system if you teach younger children or have limited time. Students won’t discuss nor evaluate all the criteria but rate the book’s illustrations based on the fifth criterion—its kid appeal.

Use a simple voting system to find the winner and honor books. For example, if you’re picking one winner and three honor books, ask students to rank their favorites from 1 to 4, with one being the winner. Another option is to rate books from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.

3. Choose your contenders.
Now you’re ready to dive into the books. Consider 10 to 20 picture books published this year by American authors. It goes without saying (but I’ll add it anyway) that you should only consider books that students can see in person.

Every year in publishing, the contender list seems daunting. Here you will find contender lists from other educators:

Ask your students to look through the year’s picture books and help you make a top 10 – 20 list. Or pre-select the titles you want to discuss with your students.

4. Read and evaluate.
Now that you have the books to consider, it’s time for students to read and evaluate them.

Begin by showing students how to evaluate the illustrations based on the criteria. Remember, if you’re asking them to work in groups or partners, review how to thoughtfully consider someone else’s opinions in a discussion.

For extra depth, invite an art teacher to collaborate with you on your lessons to help students better understand the artistic styles and techniques.

Read all the books aloud to the entire class or ask students to read the books in small groups.

If students work in small groups or partners, ask them to discuss their opinions before evaluating each book.

If you’re working in a whole group setting, facilitate a group discussion of the criteria for each book before evaluations.

Provide sticky notes, note cards, or preprinted sheets of paper for the evaluation process. Use these to record thoughts and scores.


  • Introduce opinion writing and ask students to write a paper or a speech supporting their favorite book choice.
  • Help kids learn new artistic techniques.
  • Ask students to create their own picture books using one of the artistic techniques they learned about.

5. Tally the votes.
After you’ve read and reviewed all the books, tally the votes to find the mock Caldecott winner and three or four honor books.Celebrate all their hard work with a Caldecott party!

Extension: Graph the results.

6. Wait for the winners to be announced.
Watch for the ALA’s Caldecott awards announcement on January 24, 2022. Read any books that you might not have considered. (And have another Caldecott party!)