by Sam Juliano
The homey burrow and the star-gazing rabbit seen on the cover of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s edifying The Knowing Book fleetingly evoke three literary classics – Robert Lawson’s Newbery winning Rabbit Hill, the epic-themed Watership Down by Richard Adams and the Uncle Remus story Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris. But first impressions -like the arc of the theme in Dotlich’s book- often scatter into disparate directions, and The Knowing Book is as much about rabbits as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is about donkeys. The solo protagonist of The Knowing Book is more like Chuck Jones’ greatest creation on steroids, though he is one in an endless line of humanized animals who are called on in children’s books to replicate the setbacks and breakthroughs, the mysteries and discoveries, the charges and the retreats of everyday life. Bunnies vie with bears as the the most encored of wildlife denizens in children’s books, and recently we had one in subversive mode in Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s Battle Bunny, and another getting spooked in the Caldecott Honor winning Creepy Carrots. Yet the rabbit has always moved with a kind of reckless abandon, seemingly unfettered by even the daily obstacles associated with survival, benign in spirit, temperament and movement and agile enough to change course at the bat of an eyelash.
Dotlich’s hare -closer to the magnanimous spirit of the one in Eric Rohmann’s Caldecott Medal winning My Friend Rabbit – is one that quickly strives to connect with the outside world, immediately establishing the sky above as a matter of eternal permanence, and a starting point for all meditative ruminations and the directions one will ultimately embark upon. Robert Frost urged that we go on a completely different journey, charting our own course, re-inventing ourselves and establishing ourselves as true originals. In the spirit of Frost, Dotlich implores adventurers to grasp the concept of permanence while taking full advantage of the freedom that will define the manner that change the parameters and raise the bar.
The book’s illustrator Matthew Cordell is a veteran of several collaborations and works he has completed solo. His spirited anarchic drawings last year for Philip C. Stead’s Special Delivery ranked among 2015’s most distinguished and this year he is back for a book with a completely different tone and philosophical slant. His sketch board watercolor art for The Knowing Book evinces a metaphysical aura, and in keeping with Dotlich’s New Age histrionics his style throughout is abstract and undisciplined, yet he reaches the essence of the book’s themes by sending a subtle message to his readers that square can be beautiful too. Cordell is one of those artists whose work speaks to children by emulating their own prospective art at a lower grade school age, yet for adults his canvasses are dazzling and suffused with diversity and style – quite a treat for art lovers. Continue Reading »