by Sam Juliano

One can almost picture the author of Bad Bye, Good Bye, the renowned Deborah Underwood, sitting down at a writer and illustrator’s brainstorming session with artist Jonathan Bean trying to get visual transcription from the sparest expression of prose imaginable.  Yet the cards are stacked when you have Underwood setting the rules, as she is rightly known in the trade as just about the most effective minimalist – one who says everything with just a few words.  With barely over fifty-five words, the author has projected a depth of emotion more palpable than many Newbery level books that run hundreds of pages.  Word economy in any form is the most difficult of obstacles to overcome, as it requires a concise and narrowing approach that for all intents and purposes in this book must define a psychological state of mind, and the parade of images that describe a significant life event.  The depth of emotion to be found in Bad Bye, Good Bye is so extraordinarily realized, that even some mock Newbery groups have counted it among the best of the year.  Fifty-seven words that color a lifetime event -one of upheaval, relocation and adaptation achieve a kind of literary perfection -a rarity by any standards, and allow her artist colleague to flesh out these acute applications and bring in a personal measure of interpretation. Continue Reading »


by Sam Juliano

When I first came upon Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins’ Mama Built a Little Nest it was through a library copy secured by cooperative county loan.  The librarian at the main site, where I serve as a board trustee, handed me the book with a startling declaration.  Three of the clerks, including herself, were so smitten with the picture book’s sublime cover, that they in turn read through it, admiring the rapturous art and lovely prose, becoming completely won over in the process.  All three placed orders with Amazon for their own copies,  One subsequently gifted it to her ten-year old grandson.  To be sure the cover is a gem, one of the most eye-popping of the year, and yet another sumptuous collage from the renowned Caldecott Honor winning illustrator Steve Jenkins.  A nearly completed green nest is set on a white base, with a yellow-breasted weaverbird seen upside-down gathering nesting materials that include twigs, branches and blades of grass.  The title is displayed white on green and green on white.  This particular illustration is re-visited later on, where it is revealed that these birds “pull grasses and fiber over, under, around, and through, using only their beak and feet. Continue Reading »


by Sam Juliano

It does seem rather hard to believe, but Christmas is just ten days away, and some of us who thought everything would sort itself out are now scurrying to complete preparations.  The weather in the northeast had been reasonably cooperative with cold but freezing temperatures and rain replacing snow as the favored precipitation.  But most of us are just biding our time for Father Winter to make his inevitable mean-spirited arrival.  Either way our spirits are better for the holiday season and all the cultural  events we normally look forward too as the year winds down.  Ten-best lists are flying around, and my own will post as usual sometime during the first eight to ten days in January.  There are still some important films to take in before the year ends including Inherent Vice (nearly seen yesterday),  Selma, Winter Sleep, A Most Violent Year and Into the Woods especially.  As per normal routine, Jaimie Grijalba, Maurizio Roca and perhaps Duane Porter and Sachin Gandhi will be posting their Best Of lists here as well.

James Clark has posted some brilliant stuff in the past weeks, and has several terrific films lined up for discussion in the coming weeks.  I want to again thank those who have been active in the Caldecott Medal Contender discussions, with a special shout-out to Laurie Buchanan for her extraordinary sponsorship.  She is some peerless motivator. Continue Reading »


by Sam Juliano

Depending on what day of the week you ask me, I will have a firm answer to the question of what might be the year’s premiere picture book achievement.  As it is I have a few supreme favorites, but no discussion of the cream of the crop could successfully move forward without a twenty-one gun salute to Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, with illustrations by newbie Evan Turk.  Of course the assured obeisance is deliberately posed irony, since war, ammunition and bombast are a contradiction to this book of peace, tolerance and inner spirituality.  Eve Bunting and David Diaz’ Caldecott Medal winning Smoky Night advocated peace and friendship after an arc of violence and criminal activities, and Grandfather Gandhi is thematically launched after a domestic act of bullying.   Grandfather Gandhi, a work ten years in the making, is that rarest of birds, a Caldecott contender that could also be a Newbery front runner.  In any other words, a book that boasts prose that is just as beautiful as the illustrations that service it.  It is clear enough that Ms. Hegedus, a former Metropolitan area educator, who now resides in the Lone Star State, wrote the lion’s share of the prose under the guidance and personal revelations of Mr. Gandhi.  The latter is the fifth grandson of one of the most most iconic persons to live in the 20th Century – Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) –  who was the guiding force for Indian independence from British control.  The book, like the teachings of its celebrated proponent asks its readers to live the world as light, and move from the darkness of anger and vengeful reciprocation to illumination and camaraderie. Continue Reading »


© 2014 by James Clark

      Bear with me for a moment, in embarking upon Ruben Ostlund’s mountain of domestic and individual anguish, Force Majeure (2014), by way of Marguerite Duras’ novella, The Lover (1984). The latter’s opening salvo, wherein the Speaker gets under our skin fast by way of an account of her own physiognomy, can blaze a trail to the revelatory factor of the flawlessly youthful visages (almost computer-generated) of Tomas and Ebba, the film’s protagonists.

“Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen… My ageing was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book…”

Already in 1959, as screenwriter of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and far past her eighteenth birthday, Duras was intent upon those singular and difficult currents implicit in The Lover: “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.” Writer and director Ostlund’s fascination with such kinetic ravages impels him to get things underway with Tomas, Ebba and their likewise photogenic children, Vera and Harry, fresh from Sweden to a sterling ski resort in the French Alps, being rightly prized by an itinerant photographer lurking at the base of the ski lifts. (The photos being gratis, we have to infer that the cameraman has a project in mind which they well fit into. Could it have something to do with their too-good-to-be-true, but now universal, looks? He keeps calling little Harry a “champion.” Or, “Are you a champion? [“champion coming to sound like “chumpion”]. They follow this flattering interruption with slight betrayal of already having more handsome mementos than they need. (Later Tomas will, while enjoying an après-ski beer on the sun-deck, be approached by a young woman who tells him her girlfriend thinks he’s the best-looking man in the bar. She then promptly returns to make the correction that it was another man she was referring to. With so many spa-braced perfect 10’s on the scene, such a mistake would be nearly inevitable.) “I want a beauty smile together!” Later that day Ebba shows the photos to a deep-seated skeptic about domestic cloying. (She declares she’s “on a break” from her two daughters; and her husband. Yet she plays along with Ebba’s zeal for Harry’s perfect features. “Oh, his eyes… He’s very beautiful!”)

Continue Reading »

sequoia 3

by Sam Juliano

If we are to consider what author Tony Johnston asserts in an afterward to her new picture book Sequoia, the towering giants nearing the end of their existence today were rooted in the earth’s soil at a time that pre-dates ancient Rome by several hundred years, ran concurrent with Saul’s rule over the Hebrew tribes and the time when the Celtic migrations were launching.  In North America, Indians were setting up camp, diverging into their own cultures.  This incredible species would have seen one hundred generations come and go, and would have survived damaging storms, fires, earthquakes and climate changes.  Their bark is known to be as much as three feet in thickness, the base at its widest twenty-seven feet and some other startling figures directly from Johnston: “With a distance around the base of 102.6 feet and a volume of 52, 500 cubic feet, the grand old man, General Sherman sequoia, is one of the largest living things on earth”, and without question the one with the longest longevity. Continue Reading »



by Sam Juliano

Boyhood was awarded Best Picture and Best Director from coast-to-coast critical fraternities in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and New York Online this past week.  Richard Linklater’s remarkably successful experiment of filming over a period of years as the characters age was initially recipient to the most spectacular set of reviews of the year, but the biggest plaudits lie ahead.  It is expected to win a bevy of critics’ awards still upcoming and will cap it all off with Golden Globe and Oscar wins in the Best Picture categories.  As the film is one of my own favorite two films of the year, I applaud the groups for their excellent taste.  I am looking forward to the inevitable re-release so I can see this on the big screen again.  I will be casting my own vote in the coming weeks for the annual Muriels, and Linklater’s masterpiece will figure prominently on my ballot.  The numbers the film earned at Meta Critic are the highest in the history of the site.  Using the favorable, mixed and negative categorization, the numbers are at 49-0-0, with an absolutely unbelievable 40 of those 49 assigning it a grade of ‘100.’

Ironically, the two films that I did manage to see this past week were done by way of some unexpected “screeners” I came into through the help of a friend.  Both featured critics’ award winning performances.  Timothy Spall won Best Actor from the New York Film Critics Circle for his superlative turn in Mr. Turner, while Julianne Moore was named Best Actress from the National Board of Review for her moving performance in Still Alice.   Continue Reading »


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