Alia Shields fondly remembers when her mother, a kindergarten art teacher, pulled a children’s book from the library shelves and pointed to the gold medal on the cover.
“She said … ‘If you see this medal, you know it’s a good book.’ That always stuck with me,” Shields said.
That decoration was the Randolph Caldecott Medal, an award bestowed annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist with the most distinguished American picture book for children.
Shields, a youth services librarian at the Cherry Hill Public Library, will now serve as one of 15 people in the country on a committee that decides who receives that medal. Shields was elected to the 2023 Caldecott committee, so throughout 2022, she will read more than 700 children’s books to help determine who earns the distinction.
Eight spots on the committee are elected, while seven are appointed by the Association for Library Service to Children. As an association member, Shields has chaired other committees in the past, so she received a call asking if she was interested in having her name put on the committee ballot this spring.
Shields’ name had been in contention twice prior, but the third time’s the charm. The morning of the election results, she was fully prepared to cry no matter which way the results went. Luckily, she wound up shedding tears of joy when she found out she’d nabbed one of the few coveted spots on the 2023 committee.
In 2022, Shields and her fellow committee members will attempt to consume as many children’s books published in 2022 as possible. The Caldecott Medal will subsequently be awarded by her team to an illustrator in January 2023, which is why the committee bears the name of 2023.
Shields said she’s prepared for the challenge. She previously served on a committee awarding the best science-fiction book for children and young adults that involved extensive reading. Her time on that committee gave her practice at being disciplined with reading and taught Shields to set aside time each day to get it done.
Everything discussed in committee meetings is kept strictly confidential, so Shields can’t share how members will choose the winner. But she’s excited to be part of the process.
She noted there’s something iconic about the award that stands the test of time. To this day, young readers (much like herself back in the day), know the medal means they’ve made the right pick.
“Some kids may not be able to tell you what the award is for … but they know [the book] is good,” she said.