Archive for December 18th, 2013

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the first in what will be an ongoing series on the picture books that are projected to be in contention for the American Library Association’s annual Caldecott Medal for illustration, awarded annually since 1937.  The Caldecott Medal and the runners-up “honor” books are given alongside the Newbery and Newbery “honor” books as the centerpiece of a late January meeting each year by the association.  The Caldecotts are given for illustration, while the Newberys are given for prose.  Hence the “picture” books are awarded with the Caldecotts while the books with mostly words are considered for the Newberys.  It is my intent to discuss the front runners for the Caldecott Medal, at the rate of two or three posts per week up until the actual day of announcement, a date I will post as soon as I am informed of.  I am hoping to provide opinion and analysis for the 9 or 10 books I see as the frontrunners.  I own each and every book I will be discussing as part of a massive personal collection of Caldecott and Newbery books amassed over decades.

Every morning, I play a game with my father.

He goes knock knock on my door

and I pretend to be asleep

till he gets right next to the bed.

And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.”

     Perhaps the most emotionally powerful picture book of the year, Daniel Beaty’s Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream For Me was the outgrowth of a pulverizing monologue by the author that painfully chronicles a childhood lived under the ravages of incarceration.  Indeed in the author’s note at the conclusion of the 40 page work Beatty reveals:  When I was a small child, my father was my principal caregiver.  While my mother was at the office working, my father would change my diapers, feed me, and let me ride on his shoulders to the grocery store.  He also woke me up each morning with our private ‘Knock Knock’ game.  When I was three he was incarcerated.  This experience was traumatic for me. and I was not allowed to visit my father again in prison for may years.  Beaty acknowledged the void in his life, and the need later on to come to terms with this extended separation, and to offer support to all fatherless children to overcome adversity and still make something beautiful of their lives.  Beaty found just the right illustrator, the fellow African-American Brian Collier, to visualize the childhood emptiness and the imaginary dialogue he continued to engage in with a father he was losing identification with.  Collier’s stunning watercolor collages represent some of the best work he has ever done, and that includes the magnificent illustrations he crafted for his three extraordinary Caldecott Honor books:  Martin’s Big Words (perhaps the best picture book we have to this point on Martin Luther King, Jr.), Rosa (on civil tights figure Rosa Parks) and Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave (whose significance is clear enough in the title.)  Certainly Collier well-deserved his three silver Honor citations, and actually should have won the gold medal for Martin’s Big Words in 2002, over The Three Pigs, which for all intents and purposes was the most unimpressive of David Weisner’s three Caldecott Medal winners.  There is an underlying sadness in the new book that manifests itself in the fleeting images of a calendar documenting the continuing days of loneliness, a father’s hat lying on a table, unworn clothing draped over the end of a table and impoverished environs, made more unbearable by incomparable emotional loss.   (more…)

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