[I should note that by "Caldecott hopefuls" I mean picture books I happen to like a lot, not necessarily picture books that are likely to be recognized by that committee using these criteria (although one can hope). Really, I'm almost always surprised by the Caldecott (well, maybe not last year, when The Lion and the Mouse won). But for what they're worth, here are my quick takes on some 2010 favorites, starting with Big Red Lollipop.
In Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Viking), Rubina is invited to a birthday party and her mom, unfamiliar with the whole concept of birthday parties, insists that her little sister Sana attend the party, too. Sana is a brat at the party and then eats the lollipop from Rubina's goody bag ("I don't get any invitations for a really long time," says Rubina). When Sana gets a birthday party invitiation, should littlest sister Maryam get to go?
I should probably admit that I'm the bratty little sister in my family (hi, Maria!), so I speak from experience when I say that both Khan's text and Blackall's illustrations get the sibling and cultural dynamics just right. It's the expressive faces and easily readable body language of the sisters (and their mother) that tell the real story here. A spare, creamy background sets off the composition of the illustrations as well as the colors and patterns of the family's clothing.
Blackall did the cover art for last year's Newbery winner, When You Reach Me (written by Rebecca Stead; Wendy Lamb Books, 2009). The first page of Big Red Lollipop (shown below) recalls that image, but it's the bird's-eye views--particularly the one of Rubina chasing Sana around the first floor of the house--that are really striking. A graceful and gorgeous book.