I usually like to note that by Caldecott Hopefuls, I mean picture books I like a lot, not necessarily ones I think will win the award. Happily, in the case of The Money We'll Save by Brock Cole (FSG), these coincide, and the result is a picture book that already feels like a classic. This is partly because the plot is somewhat familiar: Pa brings home a turkey poult to fatten for Christmas dinner, but when the time comes the family can't bring themselves to take it to the butcher (although they don't exactly want to keep it, either). It's not exactly Margot Zemach's It Could Always Be Worse, but it has a lot in common with that book, which won a 1978 Caldecott Honor. Starting with the title, of course, and the storytelling (Heavy Medal is considering it for their Mock Newbery); but especially the expressive, energetic illustrations.
Cole sets his story in a nineteenth-century New York tenement, crowded by definition and made more so by the turkey, whom the family names Alfred. His (Cole's, not Alfred's) watercolor illustrations range from what the Horn Book refers to as "cheerfully disheveled" to completely chaotic. Even in the final image, seen below, the table is littered with crockery and silverware. Not to mention the laundry. But no matter how many people are in the picture (and there are often five or six of them, not counting Alfred), you can always tell who is looking at whom in a Cole illustration, and exactly what everyone is saying, or even thinking. Especially Pa.
[After satisfyingly disposing of Alfred and scrubbing the flat clean, the family celebrates Christmas: "...each child had a present, if only a little one, and the oatmeal was delicious." I love the way this illustration shows us not only what each child got (that's Bridget with the book), but just how much they liked it.]