How Randolph Caldecott Influenced Book Award History

The Caldecott Medal: It graces the covers of beautiful, whimsical, and sometimes downright bizarre-looking children’s books.

Every year, notable children’s books illustrators receive receive the Caldecott Medal. Some recent winners are This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Each of these show originality, creativity and technical know-how in the field of illustration.

But what is the history of the Caldecott medal? When did we decide to recognize notable illustrators as well as authors?


It all starts with Randolph Caldecott, a popular illustrator in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the high point in Caldecott’s career, every Christmas for eight years Caldecott released two books priced at a shilling each, which children would eagerly anticipate. Think the nineteenth century equivalent of Harry Potter midnight releases, without the kids in wizard robes and oversized glasses.

Caldecott also illustrated more than children’s books; he drew comics, painted with watercolor, and illustrated novels and travel books. How’s that for a diverse resume?


Caldecott’s most successful and famous books include The House that Jack Built and Nursery Rhymes which reached 867,000 copies by 1884, by which time he was famous all over the world.

But another of Caldecott’s illustrations would live on to be even more popular: the cover of The Diverting History of John Gilpin.


In 1937 the Newbery Medal existed to honor children’s books. But soon, people began to realize that wasn’t quite enough.

That’s when Frederic G. Melcher stepped in to recognize great illustrators. And guess whose work stood high enough to represent all great children’s book illustrations? That’s right: Randolph Caldecott.

The American Library Association said “Why haven’t we done this before?” and quickly accepted Melcher’s proposal.

Caldecott’s illustration showing a man on a galloping horse from John Gilpin still graces the Caldecott medal for outstanding children’s book illustrations, and it’s a picture that has become recognizable to book lovers throughout the world. And that’s how Caldecott made history.

What’s your favorite book that has been awarded the Caldecott Medal?

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