Celebrating World Book Day with Caldecott Award Committee Member Katie Paciga

Dive into the world of children’s books and culture with associate professor Katie Paciga from Humanities, History and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago.

Katie Paciga sits in front of a packed bookshelf filled with children’s books. Over the past year, Paciga has reviewed nearly 800 picture books for consideration of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, an award for the most distinguished picture book in American Children’s publishing.

She is a member of the (Randolph) Caldecott Medal selection committee, currently serving her two-year term. As a member of the 15-person committee, Paciga reads hundreds of illustrated books sent by publishers across America. She became involved with the committee through working in Early Childhood Education before becoming a professor at Columbia.

“I started paying attention to the role of literature and teaching children to become literate when I was a Kindergarten teacher,” Paciga says.

As an educator, Paciga’s expertise with children’s literacy and language development made for a natural fit with her Caldecott committee work. She teaches courses in Columbia’s Core on Culture in Young Children’s Literature and Critiquing Children’s Culture. The curricula are focused on how children’s literature and media play a significant role in the development of language.

“The course I teach, Culture in Young Children’s Literature, dovetails really well with this work that I’ve done with the Caldecott committee,” Paciga says.

Paciga joined the American Library Association as a volunteer for committee work. Eventually, she got invited to serve on the Caldecott committee for the 2022-2024 term and was part of the jury who chose Vashti Harrison, the first Black woman author/illustrator to win a Caldecott for her children’s book, "BIG."

“This book stood out to me originally,” Paciga says. “It’s a book about a young Black girl who is large-sized and her peers and teacher ridicule her for being too big.”

“The theme of the book, the bigness and the self-acceptance, reveals itself as the story moves along, and you can see the little girl is taking up more and more space on the pages as the conflict is rising,” Paciga explains.

As an advocate for children’s literacy, Paciga says she is happy to see people here in the U.S. and around the world create spaces for children to experience books and get excited about reading. This is evident in events such as World Book Day, which celebrates books as conveyors of culture and creates excitement around the book industry.

“I think the interesting thing about World Book Day is that in whatever country you are in, there are so many examples of ways that we advocate for literacy,” Paciga says. “There are children’s play exhibits popping up across the country that are connected to the culture of children’s literature.”

Here in the U.S., there is a new immersive museum dedicated to children’s literature called The Rabbit hOle. The museum employs over 20 full-time artists and fabricators to bring children’s books to life in interactive exhibits. And in Japan, you can go to a Hungry Caterpillar Cafe, and snack on the hungry caterpillar’s favorite fruits just like in the book.

More foundational examples of national organizations advocating for children’s literacy include, Week of the Young Child, Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Day, and Read Across America. Paciga says it's obvious being in the field that there is a vital importance of using books to develop literacy.

“In order to be a citizen in a democratic society, you must be literate. That is the core principle of any democratic society,” Paciga says. “And we get children to be literate by reading with and to them.”

Some of Associate Professor Katie Paciga's Favorite YA and Children's Books

In honor of World Book Day, Paciga shared some of her favorite children’s books of all time.

Editor’s Note:  Paciga said that narrowing down her favorite books of all time does signify the historical canon, which is largely constructed by ideals that don't fully reflect our culture today. "BIG" by Vashti Harrison is a good example of how far we've come with telling diverse stories in which children can learn about themselves and others in a broader context.

Classic Children's Books

  1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  2. Empty Pot by Demi
  3. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Modern YA and Children's Books

  1. All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
  2. Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
  3. The Indestructible Tom Crean by Jennifer Thermes
  4. There Was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds