The story-enhancing illustrations of Caldecott books, named in honor of nineteenth century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, are a wonderful resource to create a critical-thinking approach to reading, listening, thinking, and understanding. The expressive illustrations help to bring the stories to life and ask students to follow along and get lost in the story. Recognized as the most distinguished American picture books of their time, the art and storylines in Caldecott winners build on each other — together creating the complete story experience.

Caldecotts introduce children to a wide range of illustration styles, inspiring their own artistic growth. The stories offer equally diverse possibilities for language arts lessons. Fables (written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel; HarperCollins, 1980) is full of dialogue, modeling conventions for students' own writing. Other Caldecotts are filled with with language-learning opportunities.

Caldecott classroom connections extend beyond art and language, enhancing learning across the curriculum. Mirette on the High Wire offers lessons in compassion and tenacity. It's a good book for introducing the science concepts of gravity and balance. Grandfather's Journey shares the cross-cultural experiences of a family from Japan. Officer Buckle and Gloria is very useful in providing safety instruction, while raising awareness of other people's feelings at the same time.

Book groups (or author/illustrator studies) are a wonderful way to nurture children's love for literature and encourage them to make personal connections to books they read. Donna Peabody, a K-1 teacher at Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont, suggests these strategies for organizing book groups with young children.

  • Offer a choice of titles, if possible. For example, if you're reading Officer Buckle and Gloria, set up groups to compare other titles by the same author.
  • Model appropriate responses for book group discussions, encouraging respect for different ideas. Remind children to give one another "think time," too — time to let a child who is speaking formulate a thought without interruptions. (And when you notice children giving think time, be sure to compliment them.)
  • Get children started by inviting them to look at the book cover. What connections can they make to other books by this author or illustrator?
  • Have children keep response journals. Invite them to record reactions to a part of a story you want to draw their attention to. Other journaling ideas include free writing about favorite characters, recording words to describe characters, recording words to describe characters or setting, and giving personal responses to an event in a story. Let children use their response journals to guide group discussion.
  • Suggest that students use some of the same techniques you use in reading lessons to guide their discussions. They might make webs to organize details, use Venn diagrams to compare characters, or make lists of descriptive words, characters, and so on.
  • Encourage parent involvement by asking them to help their children make lists of five all-time favorite books. Have children bring their lists to class and graph the data. Use the results to guide future child-generated author studies.