The Most Distinguished American Picture Book for Children: Beekle!!!

Yippee! I love it when the ALA awards are announced! And that day was yesterday.

The Newbery.

The Caldecott.

And so many more that I didn't even realize existed until adulthood! (The Printz, for Young Adults; the Theodore Seuss Geisel, for Easy Readers; the Odyssey for Audiobooks; the Sibert for non-fiction; and all these and more!)

I am particularly thrilled with the news that The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, has garnered the Caldecott Medal. My taste for Santat's work has been validated in the biggest way. *puts on hip sunglasses* I was a fan before he won the Caldecott.

"Beekle" as we call this book in the Stewart household, is fantastic. Just gorgeous. So lovely. When I picked my first-grader, Benjamin, up from school I told him the news. He was as thrilled as I.

"What was your favorite picture from it?" I asked him.

"Hmmm." He took a minute. "The one where [Beekle] is sailing past the dragon."

"That one is so awesome!" As well as being a visual feast, it marks a major turning point in the book -- Beekle, an imaginary friend who hasn't been imagined yet, decides to stop waiting for someone else to think of him. He does "the unimaginable" and becomes the captain of his fate.

"My favorite," I said, "was the one with the tree. The huge tree full of stars." You guys. This tree. It's an autumn tree, with thinning red leaves. Except the leaves are all shaped like stars. I don't know if this was originally laziness (it certainly comes easier to me to draw a star than a maple leaf) but it is just breathtaking. I'm not the only one who likes it -- one of the characters in the book thinks it's worth drawing.

And the difference between these two illustrations (my favorite and Benjamin's favorite) is a testament to Santat's skill. One left me impressed with it's complexity (both in the composition and in the execution) and other impressed me with its simplicity.

My  version of the Beekle tree.
This is JUST like the tree in the book. I'm probably going to get in trouble for making fan art that is so close to the original.
I can smell next year's Caldecott, now. 
Anyway, we've put The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend on hold at the library (again) so that we can stare at it some more. We own a couple other great books of Dan Santat's (Sidekicks, Carnivores) but haven't got Beekle yet.

Let's muse for a moment. Do you think it's harder to illustrate a book you wrote, or a book someone else wrote? Like many illustrators, Dan Santat has done both. He wrote and illustrated Beekle.

I imagine it all depends. I mean, if you are illustrating someone else's book, you have something to go off of. It's like, "Ok, I've read this and it's given me some ideas so here we go." But then . . . it's maybe more pressure? Like, what if the author totally hates what you've done with it? (I know, many authors have zero say in the illustration of their books. But still. I'd feel worried that I'd somehow wreck all the author's hard work or something.) OR what if one bit just really bugs you and you want to change the wording a bit? But you can't. You're not the author. You're not the editor. You're just the illustrator.

Of course, if you are doing both the writing and the illustrating, these problems disappear. Don't like something? Just change it! But then, there's the whole other problem of, hmm, You-Have-to-Come-Up-with-ALL-of-it. If the text stinks? Your fault. If the pictures are sub-par? It's on you. Yikes!

I don't know which way I would have it. How about you?
* I would like to state for the record that it would be SO BOSS to be on the Newbery or Caldecott selection committee (Sorry other ALA award committees, being on you would just be BOSS, not SO BOSS. Everybody knows the Newbery and the Caldecott.)

** Excellent interview with Dan Santat at Publisher's Weekly. Knowing what Beekle's story meant to him adds a new layer of meaning to the story for me, as a parent.

***This post contains affiliate links. If it floats your boat to click on them and then make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Which would float my boat.


  1. Quentin Blake addresses your question:

  2. Awesome! I haven't read this one yet. I am not as cool as you are. But I already knew that. ;) It is now on hold at my library. I can't wait!

    1. psh. you have many cool points that i don't have. but i did manage to find this one first. ;)

  3. I had cleverly ordered Beekle in paperback from the Scholastic Book Club - it arrived a couple of days ago. I adore Beekle also :-)


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