The Lion and the Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)

I haven't come across any books as truly beautiful as this one in a while. Jerry Pinkney tried his hand at a wordless picture book and retelling an ancient fable, and he ended up with a Caldecott for his efforts. The setting is in Africa (he actually traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to see the African savannah), and every page is filled with the beauty and majesty of nature. In this wordless version, the images show the mouse running from a predatory owl and in her haste she scampers up the back of an enormous beastly lion. For whatever reason, he sets her free rather than having her for a snack, and she promptly returns to her nest and tells her babies what happened. We see hunters setting a large net trap, and the lion stumbling into it. He roars a terrible roar (sorry, that was Where the Wild Things Are) and the mouse hears his distress. She comes to his rescue, frees him from his trap, and they all lie happily ever after. In the gorgeous African grasslands. 

The House in the Night (Susan Marie Swanson)

This was the 2009 Caldecott winner. My personal thoughts on its selection were simply that it was undeserving. The illustrations are black and white etchings/penmarks with random items colored in yellow.  It is unusual, but not necessarily spectacular.

The story is rather vague and without any real purpose. There's an adult giving a child a key to a house, then describing the house with the light and a bed and a book and a bird and a song  that is all about the dark, then the story reverses until it ends back with the house in the night and a home full of light.

Yep, it's weird. I guess the "notable" portion of the Caldecott Medal can sometimes mean weird.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Simms Taback)

This story is about Joseph and his overcoat. His coat wears down, so he turns it into a jacket. When that wears down, he makes a vest, then a scarf, then a handkerchief, etc. At the end of the book, he loses the button that was covered with the last scrap of fabric. The last thing he makes is a story about his overcoat's journey, which shows that you can always make something out of nothing.

It isn't all that terrific a story, but the book is vibrantly illustrated. Each page is brightly colored with cutouts that help predict what and who might come next in Joseph's story.

The "making something out of nothing" connection would be easy with artwork, recycling, cause and effect, etc. There is even a song at the end of the book, written by Simms Taback himself.

An Untrue Tale by Harve Zemach: The Judge (Harve Zemach; Ilust. by Margot Zemach)

I came across this book while on the floor in the nonfiction section of my library, and loved it! It is a short, rhyming story of various individuals coming before the judge and are trying to convince him of a coming surprise. The watercolor illustrations are very clever, and each picture presents new information about the different people and their situations. In one picture, a man with a wooden peg leg is trying to persuade the judge to let him go, but the way the pictures are drawn we can see that the man is only pretending to have a peg leg. To add to the hilarity of the illustrations, the people in the book are called Nincompoop, Ninnyhammer, Dimwit, and Dunce. I can just see my kids rolling around on the carpet laughing!