Collecting, Identifying, and Valuing First Edition Childrens Books

Children's Book Awards

Childrens Picturebook Price Guide The illustrated children's picturebooks that win awards, by definition, are of the highest caliber. In nearly all cases, the winning book will be increasingly sought after by readers, and therefore will sell more copies and stay in print longer than otherwise. Because of this increased demand and exposure for the particular book, the collectibility and value of first edition copies are enhanced by the receipt of an industry award for illustration.

There are a number of awards given annually to illustrated children's picturebooks, the most significant awards being the following:

  • Caldecott Medal and Honor
  • Horn Book / Boston Globe
  • Kate Greenaway Medal
  • Golden Kite
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Irma Simonton Black Award

Caldecott Medal And Honor Awards

The Caldecott Medal has been awarded annually since 1938 to the artist of the "most distinguished American picturebook for children." The Medal is named in honor of the nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott, and is awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The Award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States. As stated in the ALA terms for the Caldecott Medal,

"The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picturebook for children published in the United States during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picturebook except that the illustrations be original work. Honor Books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished."

The Caldecott Honor books were not always called such; in the early years, these distinguished books were referred to as "runners-up." Regarding the changing of this terminology, from the ALA:

"From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott "runners-up." In 1971 the term "runners-up" was changed to "honor books." The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books."

Highly Regarded Within The Childrens Book Market

The Caldecott Awards are the most prestigious in the industry. There is only one Caldecott Medal book awarded each year, and one or more Caldecott Honor books. Ponder the odds. Thousands of illustrated children's picturebooks are published each year, and only one is singled out to win the Caldecott Medal! Because of this, first editions of each of the Caldecott Medal books are highly collectible, and sought after by many book collectors and booksellers. First edition copies of the early Caldecott Medal books are extremely difficult to find.

The primary reason for their high regard is the credibility of the American Library Association within the children's book industry, and in particular, that of selection process. We have never heard reliable arguments asserting the Caldecott selection process has been influenced by biased factors or entities.

Selecting Great Books Before Their Time

Another reason for the high esteem of the Caldecott awards is the longevity of the process, and of course the continued success of many of the awarded books.

As an example of this, simply take a look at the number of Caldecott winning books which are still in publication decades after they were first published (for a complete list of the Caldecott Medal books, and Caldecott Honor Award Books). Some might argue that winning the award is the reason the book is still in publication, but we strenuously disagree. Our argument is, over time, a book, the story, and its illustrations must be appealing to a wide audience, in many cases over the span of several generations, before it can be printed with the magnitude of many Caldecott award winning books. In our opinion, the Caldecott awards have consistently selected books which have high audience appeal over time.

In many cases, the Caldecott award winning illustrator was selected years before their popularity had risen. As an example, Chris Van Allsburg's 1980 Caldecott Honor award for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi comes quickly to mind. This was Van Allsburg's first book, before Jumanji or The Polar Express, and the Caldecott selection group had the boldness to select this first book by this relatively unknown illustrator. In retrospect, one can appreciate the incredible foresight of this selection.

Another prime example is Madeline, written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 1940. Madeline is still in print today, has crossed over to TV, and had a major motion picture made over 50 years after it's initial publication. No one would argue that the Caldecott award given to the book somehow created Madeline's enormous success over the past sixty-five years - the quality of the book is the primary reason for its tremendous success over time. Again, this is an example of incredible foresight by the Caldecott selection committee. In reviewing the Caldecott award lists, one comes upon case after case of similar long-term success stories.

Some collectors and booksellers feel the Caldecott selections have been politicized over the years. In our opinion, whether politicized or not, it is superfluous to the credibility and proven record of the Caldecott selection process over the nearly seventy years it has been awarded. The examples listed above are just a few of the many instances of bold and foresightful selections.

Boston Globe - Horn Book Award

The Boston Globe newspaper and The Horn Book, Inc., have co-sponsored the Boston Globe- Horn Book Awards since 1967. The Boston Globe-Horn Book presents awards "for excellence in literature for children and young adults," and they are considered to be among the most prestigious in the industry. Eligible books must be published in the United States, though they may be written or illustrated by citizens of any country.

Each year a committee of distinguished professionals in the field of children's literature evaluates submissions from U.S. publishers. The committee selects winners in three categories; Picturebook, Fiction, and Nonfiction. Honor books may also be awarded in each category, and, on occasion, special citations will be given a book for its high quality and overall creative excellence.

Kate Greenaway Medal

The Kate Greenaway Medal has been awarded annually since 1956 by The Library Association of London for "outstanding illustration in a children's book." The Library Association awards only one Greenaway Medal each year, so it is quite prestigious. To be eligible, books must be published in the United Kingdom during the preceding year.

The Greenaway Medal is awarded to the artist who has "produced the most distinguished work in the illustration of children's books." It is awarded based on the nominations submitted to members of the Library Association's Youth Libraries Group, from general Library Association members. The nominated books are assessed upon a number of elements, including the design, the format and production, as well as artistic merit. For a complete listing of the Kate Greenaway Award winning books, see the chapter on "Some Approaches to Collecting."

Golden Kite Award

The Golden Kite Award is presented annually by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to "excellence in the field of children's books"21. It is notable in that it is the only award presented to children's book creators by their fellow authors and artists.

In addition to categories for fiction and non-fiction, Golden Kite Statuettes are awarded for picturebook text and picturebook illustration. Also, an Honor Book plaque is awarded in each category. The awards are given to the creative works that "genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of children."22

Coretta Scott King Award

The Coretta Scott King Book Award is presented annually by the Coretta Scott King Committee of the American Library Association's Ethnic Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table. Originating in 1970, the award was initially given to authors only; beginning in 1974, an award for illustration was initiated.

"The award is given to an African American author and an African American illustrator for an outstandingly inspirational and educational contribution. The books promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream. The Award is further designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.

The purpose of the award is to encourage the artistic expression of the African American experience via literature and the graphic arts, including biographical, historical and social history treatments by African American authors and illustrators."

Irma Simonton Black Award

Since 1972, the Bank Street College of Education in New York has annually presented the Irma Simonton Black Award for excellence. Irma Simonton Black was a writer and editor of over 29 children's books. In 1937, she was a founding member of the Bank Street Writers Laboratory. Upon her death in 1972, the Bank Street College of Education established the Irma Simonton Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature. The Award was presented in Irma's name only until 1992, when James Black's name was added in recognition of his ardent support of the Award. From the Bank Street website:

"The Award goes to an outstanding book for young children - a book in which text and illustrations are inseparable, each enhancing and enlarging on the other to produce a singular whole.The Award is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book. The process is as follows:
From the many children's books published each year, an adult group of writers, librarians and educators choose approximately twenty to twenty five books that they consider the best candidates for the Award. These books are then sent (in four sets) to the four 8-9s and 9-10s classrooms at the Bank Street School for Children. Over the course of five weeks the children read and discuss all of the books before selecting four finalists. These four--called the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Honor Books--are placed in classrooms or libraries in several different schools, in New York and elsewhere. The children in these classrooms read, examine, discuss, and re-read the books over a four week period, before they select the winning book. Twelve schools in five states participated in the selection of the 2004 award, with over 2500 children voting on the books."

Six Key Factors

Dr. Seuss First Edition Identification The collectible contemporary children's book market is evolving and maturing, although the hobby has not yet reached adolescence. The factors that affect a book's value and collectibility are not solidified within the hobby. The current state is Caldecott and Seuss-centric, synchronous with 'mainstream' collectible books, in that every bookseller KNOWS they have value. However I believe the hobby will mature into something significantly different.

With this in mind, we've identified six factors which affect the collectibility and value of a contemporary children's picturebook. The six factors are a starting point for dialogue within the hobby, which will create some controversy and discourse. Over time, this collaborative tension will lead to evaluation and evolution of the factors generally accepted to affect a book's value and collectibility. Eventually these factors will become solidified within the hobby.

The six factors are intimately connected, so it is difficult to individually describe one without intermingling the description with the other factors. One factor will invariably impact other factors. Not one to retreat from a challenge, we will try nonetheless.

© Stan Zielinski
A serious collector having fun with fun books.


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