Caldecott Collection Donors Visit Campus

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A little known part of Simms Library is our collection of Caldecott Medal-winning books. The award is given to one children’s book each year by the American Library Association to acknowledge the book’s artwork. The collection was generously donated to Albuquerque Academy in 2016 by Joseph D’Alessio. D’Alessio came to Albuquerque Academy to speak about the collection a few times before the pandemic. However, this year was the first year that he returned since the pandemic ended. He spent Friday, May 5th giving a talk on the collection, eating lunch with some students and administrators, and teaching classes about the books. The Academy’s collection of books is especially valuable because it contains many first editions, signed copies, and author’s notes.
D’Alessio has loved books his entire life. However, there has always been a special spot in his heart for children’s literature. “I never grew tired of children’s books,” D’Alessio says fondly. He appreciates how children’s literature teaches life lessons and shows how society should be – kind, caring, and inclusive – in simple terms. Growing up in New York, D’Alessio fell in love with reading at the public library. One of his first favorite books was called Little Toot, which he still owns today. During his teen years, he began collecting first editions of books because of his appreciation for impactful stories. Back then, he collected books that had received the Newbery Medal, which is another annual award given by the American Library Association to a children’s book of great literary merit. Furthering his passion for great literature, D’Alessio began collecting books awarded the Caldecott Medal, especially first and signed editions, after he and his wife, Anita, opened a group of bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. These bookstores had a special area for children where D’Alessio would read to kids each Wednesday. His love of children’s books, and his hope to inspire the next generation of readers, led to him collecting even more Caldecott books.
By the time he sold the bookstores, D’Alessio had been collecting books for about 10 years. “I had about 30 of them,” he said. However, the books were stolen when he moved. “I started all over again,” he remembered. Since he no longer had his connections at bookstores across the country, it became harder to collect first editions. With that said, D’Alessio had a few brokers, who often became good friends that he worked with to rebuild his collection. Over forty years, D’Alessio and his friends scoured estate sales and ultimately gained an entire collection of first edition Caldecott books. Today, some of those books are worth almost $25,000.
After finishing the collection, D’Alessio wanted to find an institution that could display it and teach viewers about the books. He narrowed his list down to a couple of places, including Albuquerque Academy. Since everyone else wanted to archive the collection, he gave it to the school because of its commitment to make the collection an interactive display and to allow D’Alessio to come back and talk about it.
The collection has become a valuable part of Simms Library. These books are some of the first to foster a love of reading among children. Caldecott awarded books like Where the Wild Things Are and The Polar Express have become popular across generations. Other Caldecott winners, like The Snowy Day, feature the first main character of color in children’s literature. At the Academy each year, teachers use the collection for different projects, and children from Manzano Day School come to see the collection and read one of the stories. Overall, Albuquerque Academy is immensely lucky to have this collection because, as D’Alessio said, “You should never be too old to read a children’s book.”