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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

by Sam Juliano

Picture book lovers who hanker for something unique in their biographies will find a treasure trove of lyrical prose and magnificent splintered beige illustrations that bring just the right touch of humanist underpinning in On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, with pictures by Vladimir Radunsky.  While Radunsky’s noted  flair for irreverence is largely held at bay by Berne’s rightful desire to give young reader’s a beginner’s course on the book’s venerated subject, there is a disarming tone in these marvelous illustrations by this master stylist that will leave art lovers in a sure state of ecstasy.   But in what is surely a splendid wedding of words and images it is Berne who sets the celebratory tone at the start: “Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by a river, a baby boy was born.  His parents named him Albert” with a striking emphasis on red oversized typography that stands apart from the equally engaging black lettering. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

We inherited two amazon parrots four years ago.  Through suggestions posed by the kids we named the older one “Roy” and the much younger one, “Blue.”  Though we still haven’t ascertained if they are male or female we can safely figure they are probably both the same sex, since they are housed in the same cage.  What have we learned about this species of bird during this time?  Well, after the novelty of  bringing them in through the door, and situating their cage in the basement they have been largely ignored by our five kids who have for a very long time operated on animal overload, what with two labs, one pug and five cats living in various locations under our roof.  “Roy” says “hello” repeatedly in intervals, while Blue makes screeching sounds, and hasn’t yet developed the ability to ape human syllables.  They are loud, often annoying, and when you get close to the cage the far more vicious Roy flies at you hoping to get a piece of your flesh.  They are high maintenance as far as cleaning around the cage regularly, and they have exasperated many a guest in our basement who like taking in their movies in a quiet environment.  Yet, they could still be fun interacting with, and “Blue” is a particularly beautiful specimen of the species. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Adorned in colorful marquee style on the star-bordered end papers of Yuri Morales’ spectacularly-popular Nino Wrestles the World are placards of some truly fearsome and nightmarish foes, who derive from Mexican folklore:

“La Momia De Guanajuato” was dug up from his tomb at Santa Paula cemetery; he has been chasing people since 1865.  He hides out at the Guanajuato City Museum.  His birth name is Dr. Remigio Leroy.  His Lucha style: He likes to bite.

“La Llorona” is a famous Mexican ghost.  Her terrifying cry echoes through the night sending shivering children under the covers.  Her battle cry is !Ayyyyyy, mis hijos!  Her Lucha style is taking children away to make them her own.

“Cabeza Olmeca” is sculpted from basult rock, hardheaded since the rise of the Olmec civilization in 1400 BCE.  His temperament is one of mystery and his Lucha style is ‘head first.’

El Extraterrestre is a space explorer, first reported hovering over the earth in his flying saucer in 1947.  His secret desire is to see the world and his Lucha style is abduction.

El Chamuco (the Devil) is powerful and rebellious, and he likes to tempt people into doing bad deeds.  He has a ‘fiery’ temperament and his Lucha style is placing obstacles and causing downfalls. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The very first film I ever saw in my very first cinema class remains vivid to me to the present day.  The class was “Introduction to Cinema,”  the teacher was Professor Anthony Esposito and the institution was Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.  The film, unbeknownst to me at the time is a classic of the cinema, and a film I have revisited countless times since that first viewing some 40 years ago.  Albert Lamorisee’s beloved The Red Balloon has continued to reach new generations through DVD and film festivals, and if anything its reputation has risen.  Mind you the film was venerated back in the year of its release, and it subsequently won an Academy Award for its story and screenplay by the director, but it’s timeless appeal and universality has made it a popular film for film classes and thematic analysis.  Apparently the film has also left a  lasting impression on picture book artists.

The first time I negotiated the extraordinary, wordless images in Bob Staake’s arresting picture book Bluebird I immediately envisioned The Red Balloon transferred to a new medium.  A young boy is befriended by a bluebird, who follows him to and from school, helps him to make friends, all the while forming a deep emotional and spiritual bond.  In Lamorisee’s film, the film’s title specter steadfastly clung to the young French boy at school, on the bus and even at his city apartment and church.  While Staake has taken the central idea of the book, and narratively follows the euphoria and heartbreak, he does transpose the settings to a vibrant and wonderfully congested midtown Manhattan with it’s markets, circus cars, cafes, fish markets, street vendors and the backdrop of the Empire State Building and high rises.  When disaster does strike in a Central Park setting, one recalls the the pursuit of young boys in narrow Paris alleys and the final destruction of the boy’s guardian angel on a hill. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Horace Pippin (1888-1946) was an African-American painter, who, faced with discrimination and segregation, taught himself the skills that brought him great renown and critical acclaim.  Pippin served in World War I, sustaining a serious injury that cost him the use of his right arm.  After the war he worked to rehabilitate it and began to draw.  He didn’t actually complete his first oil painting until he was 40 years old, but from that point on he proceeded to make his mark as an artist, stating simply “I paint it…exactly the way I see it.  After he was awarded the French Cross of War and the American Purple Heart he spent three years on his first painting, The End of the War: Starting Home, which provided therapy for his body and soul.

His life is the subject of a resplendent picture book by the duo that collaborated on the Caldecott Honor book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams: Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet.  As distinguished as that biography is, they have topped it with A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, a book of vibrant color blocks, with various motifs from Pippin’s actual compositions.   The book is a veritable feast for the eyes – done in watercolor, gouache and mixed media – one that entices you to caress by hand some of Ms. Sweet’s painting accouterments and multi-panel tapestries.  As the book’s title would imply, the color red is crucial in the visual scheme.  It is used for emphasis and rich ornamentation, yet as the story progresses it’s also thematically relevant. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Inventive word play and poetry with an edge are gloriously on display in one of the past year’s most ravishing and imaginative picture books, Stardines Swim Across the Sky and other poems.  With an irresistible title like that, and with wit and humor to spare, it’s no wonder that the perpetrator of this sixteen subject celebration of rhymed irreverence is the work of the nation’s first children’s poet laureate, Jack Prelutsky.  The illustrator of this wholly original collection is the award-winning designer Carin Berger, who previously collaborated with Prelutsky on the poetry volume Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant.  The press information on Stardines reveals that the illustrator assembled the dioramas, shadow boxes and cut paper collages in the book from ephemera – catalogs, old books, receipts, letter and ticket stubs –  as well as cigar boxes.  In any event the employment of mixed media could not have been more appealingly applied nor more notable for its diversity.

The exotic and whimsical temperament of the book, which on one hand hearkens back to Lewis Carroll’s famed nonsense verse “Jabberwocky” also translates as a kind of a subversive version of Arnold Lobel’s beloved Caldecott Medal winning Fables.  The focus are the subjects that title and define each verse – hybrids that are part real animal and part inanimate objects are zany, utterly delightful and creative figments of the imagination, such as tattlesnakes, fountain lions, bluffaloes and slobsters among others that examined with a decidedly satiric eye.  As Prelutsky asserts about “Plandas”: (more…)

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The Ten Best Films of 2012

by Sam Juliano

Including the Tribeca Film Festival, where Lucille and I watched 38 films in 10 days, and several revival venues at the Film Forum and elsewhere, we watched just under 300 films in theaters for 2013.  This represented a modest increase over the previous year, though there was a comparable decrease in the number of operas, plays and musical events that were negotiated in 2012.  Still we were sufficiently busy on all fronts, and experienced the most extensive year of travel in our lives.  How good a year in film was 2013?  All things considered, I’d say it was definitely above average and pretty much on par with the previous year.  If I had to impart some specific observations, I’d conclude that 2013 was weaker than most years in the overall quality and incidence of foreign-language cinema.  Moreover, multiplex fare was especially trite, and there was a marked dearth of memorable animated features.  On the other hand the Tribeca Film Festival was the strongest on record, with more features than ever before getting theatrical release just weeks or months later.  My rules for inclusion are consistent with the manner I have presented year-end lists dating back for decades: if the film opened theatrically on USA screens during the year in consideration it is eligible.  I have added to this qualification pool the Tribeca Film festival in its entirety, especially since most of the best films shown there have been gaining US release just a short time afterward.  The only film on either of my two lists (the main and honorable mention) to make it without an official opening is the Tribeca documentary Kiss the Water.  This exceptional work ran four times during the festival and the publicity for the film includes a most flattering quote from yours truly and WitD:

http://kiss-the-water.tumblr.com/page/3

In keeping with long held tradition my ten-best list includes a tenth-place two-way tie.  Hence there are eleven films for the ten spots.  Methinks that’s a modest alteration, especially when one considers the difficulty in finalizing a short list from such a plethora of choices.  While in the past my honorable mention list has more than tripled the total in my “Top Ten” this year I have limited it to twenty-six (26) choices, which basically are the films that challenged for the premium list.  Sure I had generally positive feelings for other films like Renoir, Saving Mr. Banks, Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club among others but I felt they fell behind the titles that were invariably more memorable for me during this calender year.  I have dispensed with the inclusions of best performances, directors and the various crafts, as I felt such discussions would be more appropriate for the usual Oscar report (s) of later this month.  I never had any use for “worst of” lists as I found them snooty in spirit and counter-productive, but have included what I see as a much more polite of expressing disparity: “A Dozen Films Others Like But I Never Did.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Proudly displayed on a corner wall panel of their expansive ranch-style family room in a mansion-sized home situation on a scenic cul-de-sac in Butler, New Jersey are a cache of pictures chronicling the building of their home by family members and a few friends.  I am speaking here about my wife’s sister and her husband, who accomplished  what must seem to many as an inconceivable task, one that to this day has left many awestruck.  Built in 1986 when grandfathers from both sides of the family were still alive and active, the spacious home now stands as a testament to teamwork and resilience and a model for the three college-going young men who were treated to an entirely new definition of the word homespun.  Like anything else in life, nothing is appreciated and cherished more than what was created by one’s own hands or the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Trains have rivaled dinosaurs and bears as a subject of adoration among the youngest children spanning back decades and continuing all the way up to the present day.  The Rev. W. Audrey’s beloved Thomas the Tank Engine continues its popularity among the pre-schoolers, while The Little Engine Who Could is a bonafide classic in the choo choo literature.  Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal winner and holiday masterpiece offers up a train like no other, one shrouded in mystery that scales the outer reaches of the imagination.  Donald Crews’ Caldecott honor winning Freight Train remains a popular counting and color identification picture book.  More recently Jason Carter Eaton and John Rocco’s How to Train a Train, Elisha Cooper’s Train and Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld’s Stream Train, Dream Train have wowed their target audience and book critics.  Moreover, in the popular culture trains have served as the setting for some of our popular novels (i.e  Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and films such as Buster Keaton’s The General and more contemporary movies like Runaway Train and The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3.  With such a fascination with this unique mode of transportation it is no wonder that baby boomer boys and even some girls considered Lionel trains as the most desirable yuletide gifts. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wordless picture books are all the rage with the American Library Association over the past decade, with three such works claiming the top prize and others making their presence known in classrooms and libraries across the country.  Pre-eminent artist David Wiesner won the last of his record-tying three Caldecotts for his moving tale of photographs and memory in an enchanting seascape,  Flotsam - his absolute masterpiece to date – and the renowned veteran author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney finally took the top prize after five Caldecott Honors for his irresistible take on The Lion and the Mouse.  The most recent win for an all-picture book occurred just two years ago when the wildly popular artist Chris Raschka landed in the winner’s circle for his minimally impressionistic A Ball For Daisy.  For the record, Raschka, whose work is “child’s eye” focused is the most wildly overrated illustrator out there, though he is obviously much adored by the American Library Association.  The first of his two medals went to The Hello Goodbye Window, a book that has continued to divide readers and art enthusiasts, but either way his win was a major injustice to Jon J. Muth, whose magnificent and original Zen Shorts was not only the finest picture book of that year, but one of the most accomplished in a long time.  An even bigger travesty was perpetrated in 2012 when the committee relegated Lane Smith’s spectacularly beautiful Grandpa Green (one of the greatest picture books of all-time) to Caldecott Honor status to again coddle up to Raschka for a book (A Ball for Daisy) that has frankly left my own younger primary students mostly bored.  In any event some credit is due for both Barbara Lehman and Molly Bang, for their wonderful wordless picture books, The Red Book and The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, respectively, for planting the seeds for Wiesner and others to ply their craft.  Lehman’s 2005 work in fact was a thematic forerunner to Flotsam, pre-dating it by two years.  I’ve always found it odd that no book critic has yet established this parallel.  Lastly, 2013 saw the release of another highly distinguished wordless picture book – Bob Staake’s deeply-affecting Bluebird, which makes no attempt, however, to conceal the fact that it cannibalized (not in a bad sense, though) the entire story and spirit of Albert Lamorisee’s beloved French short film The Red Balloon.  (I am planning to focus in on this book in a later post.) (more…)

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