For one Saturday morning in January at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, the adults pull from the children's shelves the coolest new picture books.
They spread the 150 or so titles across tables, bar from the room all but the most well-behaved children, and devour the colorful pages among themselves for a couple hours. Then they vote on their favorites.
It happens each year at the library's Caldecott Adult Read-In, a local mock-up of the national Caldecott Medal competition that recognizes the illustrator of the year's most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Caldecott is the artistic counterpart of the Newbery Medal, bestowed to the author for writing the most outstanding American children's book.
Both national medals are awarded by the Association for Library Science to Children, a division of the American Library Association. Winning Caldecott titles include Make Way for Ducklings, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Polar Express.
The vote outcome of Toledo's read-in has six times predicted the national medal winner, most recently in 2007 with Flotsam by David Wiesner, said Nancy Eames, library youth services coordinator.
Ms. Eames believes that one is never too grown up for the riveting illustration found in many children's books.
"An adult who likes children's literature may not have as many comrades as, say, some one who's in a book group that discusses adult fiction," Ms. Eames said. "So it's an opportunity to really meet some like-minded adults and really see some fabulous, beautiful books."
Annette Carroll of Whitehouse and daughter Faith, 9, pitch in at the library. Faith was among the few children to participate.
More than 50 people attended yesterday's read-in in the downtown Toledo library, with many teachers, librarians, and parents in the crowd, as well as general aficionados of children's literature.
After four hours of browsing the books and six rounds of voting, participants settled on Baseball Hour by Carol Nevius and illustrated by Bill Thomson as the best children's picture book published last year. The runners-up were Bats at the Library, which was written and illustrated by Brian Lies; Doo-Wop Pop by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Bryan Collier, and Lady Liberty, a Biography by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares.
They will see how closely their tastes match with the Caldecott's 15-member award committee on Jan. 26, when the committee announces its selections. The association each year also names three to five Caldecott Honor books - the runners-up.
Toledo's first read-in occurred in 1974 through the effort of Herbert Sandberg, the late children's literature expert and University of Toledo professor who founded what became known as the college's Sandberg Children's Literature Institute.
The initial read-ins were held at Maumee Valley Country Day School for Mr. Sandberg's college children's literature class, Ms. Eames said.
The event opened to the general public several years later when it moved to the library. In recent years the read-in has drawn as many as 70 picture book lovers, depending on how cold and slippery that weekend's weather was.
Robert Scarlett of Maumee has been going for 15 years with his children, three of whom he expected to bring to yesterday's read-in. Organizers recommend that only children mature enough to read quietly alongside adults attend.
"I would go even if my kids were up and out of the house," Mr. Scarlett said.
"I enjoy looking at the artwork, and the interplay between the text and the artwork is always very fascinating."
Barbara Walters, an assistant professor of children's literature at Lourdes College, said that each year she takes her class of about 25 students.
Ms. Walters recently has bumped into a lot of former students at the read-in, who must share a similar love for beautiful illustration.
Sometimes it's adults who cherish these books the most.
"I just read two picture books today to my juniors in college, and they were mesmerized," Ms. Walters said.
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