Archive for January 3rd, 2014

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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