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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

by Sam Juliano

The vital importance of water in everyday life is given center stage in a sublime new picture book authored by Olive Senior and illustrated by Brooklynite Laura James.  Senior, born and raised on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, moved to Europe and then to Canada after the capital city of Kingston was ravaged by a hurricane in the late 80’s.  Senior is renowned for her poetry and adult novels and short stories, but was supremely flattered when publishers chose Anna Carries Water and the 2012 Birthday Suit as worthy of the picture book treatment.  Senior credits Laura James and Eugenie Fernandez -the illustrator of the earlier book- for transforming her material into such exquisite works, but the veteran writer is certainly to be credited for half the acclaim for her wholly exhilarating ideas.

Anna Carries Water focuses on the young girl of the title, who wants to follow in the footsteps of her older siblings in sharing the task of carrying water on her head from a well at a spring located across “Mr. Johnson’s” field.  Ms. Senior’s narrative stresses the central role of water for cooking and drinking, washing faces, dishes and dirty feet.  Senior states that the family members did not carry water for bathing or washing clothes as those activities were performed in the river.   This particular variation on the coming-of-age theme is the acquired aptitude for learning how to balance a container of water on one’s head, which translates to a sure sign of responsibility and the skills associated with adulthood.  Early in the fable Anna carries around a coffee can while her five older siblings used large metal cans, plastic buckets and an empty cheese tin to gather the water.  Unwilling to concede defeat she must endure the trials of tribulations associated with such a simple yet profound act that will ultimately define her transformation from child to young adult.  In one such attempt she tears off a piece of a dasheen leaf, and floats it on the top of the can of water she puts on her head, but it falls off, necessitating that she carry it in front of her. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The indefatigable “Mr. Hulot”, who appeared in four of Jacques Tati’s films is one of the cinema’s most venerable creations.  First published in France under the title Hello Monsieur Hulot David Merveile’s sublime and utterly delightful picture book Hello Mr. Hulot is a labor of love by a lifelong fan of the iconic character, Jacques Tati’s tragic-comic alter ego.  A pace gone awry, technological advancements and the inevitably complex transportation system make life difficult for  the gauche and blundering Hulot, whose most distinctive attributes center around his dress.  His short trousers and wrinkled coat, striped socks and trademark pipe, hat and umbrella have established a singular identification.  While never matching the universal love and recognition afforded Chaplin’s tramp or Keaton’s stone face, he has persevered in the shadow of the cold and inhuman modern society he mocked with a unrepentant quixotic glee, as one of the greatest comic creations in the history of the cinema.

Hulot was featured successively in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953),  Mon Oncle (1959), Play Time (1967) and Traffic (1971).  Author Melville claims he caught Hulot fever in 2004 after hiding a drawing of the iconic character in one of his illustrations, and then getting many responses from fans.  Merville adds: “Translating Tati’s films into the genre of the picture book seemed very logical to me: I could actually silhouette the behavior and gestures of Monsieur Hulot.  It’s ideal for a paper copy.  The great film posters from Pierre Etaix demonstrated this.  Also, Tati’s access to film, his love for details, his keen powers of observation, his interest in things, his feelings about architecture, his economical use of dialogue, and his visual jokes have all encouraged me to develop Monsieur Hulot on paper.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There’s no getting around it.  Caroline Kennedy’s recently-released collection Poems to Learn by Heart breathes life into a literary genre has has lost some relevance in an age of i-phones and college curriculums that have cut back on classes examining poetry.  Caroline Kennedy traces her own affection for poetry back to her own reading sessions with her grandmother Rose Kennedy, who purportedly quizzed them on American history and some of the story poems that captures specific events.  One, Longfellow’s beloved “Paul Revere’s Ride” was a favorite of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who recited the marathon poem at public events.  The tradition of reading poems as a family though, goes back to Jacqueline Bouvier, who met with her grandfather at least once a week to examine and recite the classics.  The love for poetry was also evident at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration when he looked to Robert Frost for inspiration.  Caroline herself of course published the volume A Family of Poems, a 2005 best-seller, one in which she collaborated with ace illustrator Jon J. Muth.

She and Muth again teamed up for this new volume of poetry, and the work represents some of the finest work the illustrator has ever done in a career that already has amassed some picture book classics.  Muth’s magnificent Zen Shorts won a Caldecott Honor in 2006, and the talented illustrator moved on to some other distinguished picture books such Blowin’ in the Wind, a pictorial rendition of the Bob Dylan treasure, and the moving City Dog Country Frog, a collaboration with Mo Willems.  Muth’s work brings fresh new visualizations to some venerated poems that date back hundreds of years.  Poems by Tennyson, Shakespeare, Beckett, Chaucer, Shelley, Melville, Lincoln, Browning, Crane, Dickinson, Melville and many others are given some lovely new clothes that vividly broaden and accentuate the various interpretations, and offer the art lover some glorious watercolor paintings in this vast 200 page book that is aimed more for the higher middle school and Jr. High School students.  Indeed, this collection could not be appreciated by the youngest, even if the illustrations would still captivate the gifted students in the lower age group. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

For the final post in my long-running Caldecott Medal contender series I will provide the covers of five final books that must surely be considered in the running.  At least two of these five (the magnificent The Mighty Lalouche and Water in the Park) are among my favorite children’s books of the year, so the failure to write about them really has nothing at all to do their exceeding beauty and quality, but far more to do with the fact that I have run out of time.  As it is I was forced to go into overdrive over the last few days to cram in all the worthy titles, but the downside of that frantic activity was to leave all the readers, over-saturated because of the multiple posts and multiple titles on some of those posts.  I really should have begun the series earlier, but perhaps some of the readership to this point have seen what they need to see.  Ha!  I want to thank all those who took a look at the posts and especially those who took the time to leave comments.  Laurie Buchanan of Crystal Lake, Illinois has been a miracle for the series, though this very dear friend has been an inspiration to all of us in more ways than one.  Her appearance at all the posts were motivational and fabulously constructive, and the corresponding tags on Facebook showed yet again the extent that this amazing lady will go to when she believes in something.  I am frankly overwhelmed by what she has accomplished here. A great big thank you as well to my very good friend and colleague Frank Gallo, the great writer and good friend John Grant (Paul Barnett), my site friend the consummate gentleman and scholar Jim Clark, the incomparable Pierre de Plume,  the wonderful “find along the way” librarian Celeste Fenster, my long time friend and book lover Tim McCoy, the stupendous Peter M., my fabulous friend from the U.K. the wonderful Judy Geater, and of course that Australian soul-mate Tony d’Ambra who has done nothing but offer encouragement, physical assistance and incalculable support, and all others who added to the conversations.  It was a special thrill to hear from a number of the authors and illustrators who either commented on these pages or on Facebook and comment threads at the Horn Book.  I thank you Carin Berger (Stardines), Aaron Becker (Journey), Jennifer Berne (On A Beam of Light), Bob Staake (Bluebird)  Bob Shea Unicorn) and Yuyi Morales (Nino Wrestles the World) for bringing a huge smile to my face with your appreciative acknowledgements. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Two of 2013’s most popular picture books in the stores and the libraries are also two of the most brilliantly-conceived and artistically accomplished of the year.  They are united on this Sunday morning post because of their subversive underpinnings, though the second of the pair, Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s irreverent Battle Bunny is the subversive champ in a year that also features the magnificent Mr. Tiger Goes Wild in that department.  These are books of uncommon artistic unity – The Snickett/Klassen collaboration The Dark showcases some of the finest art to be seen in any picture book this year, while Battle Bunny desecrates the art of book making, capturing all the fun seen through the eyes of a child looking to do some mischief.  Both books are extraordinary and deserve close scrutiny of the American Library Association’s Caldecott committee on Monday. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This afternoon’s post considers two biographies of women who are not likely to be immediately recognized either by name or deed.  Yet both books are exceedingly beautiful in execution and aesthetic appeal, and for more than one reason are firmly within the radar of what it takes to win Caldecott recognition. Katherine Olivia Sessions died in 1940 at 83, the exact same age when beloved children’s book author and illustrator Barbara passed on.  But Sessions and Cooney are linked by more than age, and all book lovers who first laid eyes on H. Joseph Hopkins (writer) and Jill McElmurry’s (illustrator) sublime work The Tree Lady were no doubt envisioning Cooney’s celebrated classic Miss Rumphius, which features the life story of fictional Miss Alice Rumphius, a woman who sought a way to make the world more beautiful and found it in planting lupines.  In style, theme and overall temperament, The Tree Lady sustains the spirit of Miss Rumphius, and brings a real-life horticulturist to the ‘love of nature’ fraternity.  Sessions to be sure did not plant Lupines as her fictional compatriot, but populated the San Diego landscape with trees.  Indeed as Hopkins explains in the author’s not at the end: “In 1892 Kate made a deal with city leaders to use land in City Park for a plant nursery.  In exchange she promised to plant one hundred trees in the park every year and give the city three hundred more trees for planting in other places.  People loved Kate’s trees, and by the early 1900’s one in four trees growing in San Diego came from her nursery.” Kate was primarily known for her work in City Park, renamed Balboa Park, and to this day it’s a prime attraction for those who relish the opportunity to take in the wide variety of trees, vines and flowers.   (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

“….this is one of the rare books where I cannot for the life of me figure out how anything in the title could be better.  it’s about a friggin unicorn who eats glitter and rainbows and I think it’s jim dandy.  Best dang thing I’ve encountered in a long time..”  

-Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal

After a three-month in-class inundation of Caldecott-friendly picture books in three first grade classes held at the Number Three School Annex in Fairview, New Jersey, a comprehensive polling was held on Thursday, January 23rd.  Nearly fifty books were displayed on a long table, so that the young voters could see the covers that would remind them of the original contact made with these books during the original reading sessions.  The kids were then given half sheets of yellow paper to write down the names of the three books they liked best in order of preference.  When the votes were tabulated Bob Shea’s wildly popular Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great finished a very close second to Mo Willems’ That is Not A Good Idea.  I will be discussing the Willems book in a second three-in-one post on Sunday.  While there were few readings of picture books this year that matched the one of Shea’s for sheer delirious fun and laughter, (I read the book once myself to the kids and then had Shea himself read it on a popular audio that came along with the library loan.  I have since purchased my own copy of Unicorn) I was still unsure if the classes would remember a book I first read to them in early September.  Certainly it is a testament to Unicorn’s staying power and wide appeal that it finished ahead of many Caldecott contenders that were read over the following three months.  What’s more the book was the most difficult for me to obtain in the Bergen County library cooperative network.  I waited weeks, as every last copy was out on loan.  I finally secured it, and was so impressed that I purchased my own copy. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Friday afternoon’s post will focus on the most recent works of three picture book veterans who are rightly considered among the greatest artists of all-time.  Each have won endless accolades and adoration for their work, and in fact have been multiple winners of Caldecott recognition dating back to 1969.  Though the plan in this series originally was to examine one book for each post, I have decided to combine three books to allow for wider overall coverage.   I will be doing that one time tomorrow during the afternoon post.  In any case all three books certainly rate as among the best of 2013, each has a fervent fan base, and every one extends the legendary output of their venerated masters with yet another work of art.  The fact that they are being considered together is not meant to slight any of them, but rather to extend the celebration of a remarkable year in picture books and illustration. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Every once in a while a picture book appears that leaves you awe-struck and joyous at the future prospects of the medium.  Such an example is Lizi Boyd’s wordless picture book Inside Outside, an organic, die-cut work painted in gauche on light brown kraft paper.  The last time die-cut picture books made an impact in the children’s book community was well over a decade ago when Simms Taback won a Caldecott Medal in 2000 for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, after winning a Caldecott Honor two years prior for There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.  Both books are colorful and generally appealing and demonstrated that a gimmick could be effectively incorporated in the telling of the story, while adorning it with illustrative depth.  The die-cuts in Inside Outside are far more integral to the story than just to serve as aesthetic adornment, in fact with the changing of the seasons they are the most vital pictorial component in extraordinarily beautiful picture book that is certain to win over new converts to the form, even though who steadfastly cling to the delusion that picture books are much too juvenile to appreciate. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The great irony in the early-age pink lemonade picture book Flora and the Flamingo is that boys seem to like it just as much as the girls.  This is one of the year’s most innovative works, one where the generous construction of interactive flaps enhances the movement in a book that explores grace and agility in a dynamic, decidedly cinematic setting.  This wholly unique wordless book is the creation of Molly Idle, a former Dreamworks animator, and proper negotiation of the flaps is comparable to a run through a series of animation cells.

Flora and the Flamingo records the chance meeting of a pudgy little girl in a bathing suit and a sensual and agile flamingo, that immediately develops into a relationship formed on imitation and dance.  And a good deal of flattery that isn’t immediately acknowledged.   Like all budding picture book relationships (one may recall Chris Raschka’s Yo Yes!) there is initial suspicion, but soon enough their is some chemistry and rapport, and a shared dance that showcases mutual balletic grace, culled largely from studied application. (more…)

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