by Sam Juliano
At the outset of the author’s note in the back of Flutter & Hum (Aleteo y Zumbido) by Julie Paschkis is the startling revelation that the artist is neither Spanish nor a poet. She began to learn the language in preparation for a book she was doing on Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. From that point this self avowed painter and lover of words became smitten with the beauty of the language and has striven to release dual language books of which the exquisite Flutter & Hum is the most recent. This is a book on animal poems. The last time a collection of any kind won the Caldecott Medal was in 1980 when Arnold Lobel’s beloved Fables was honored. Like Lobel’s book, Flutter & Hum is beautifully integrated and designed, and it gives the opportunity for schools with a sizable Hispanic population to compare and contrast the languages. The set up is simple enough. The book features fourteen double page spreads, all of which present a poem about an animal. On the left panel is the English version, on the right the Spanish. Otherwise the featured animal is showcased across both pages bringing the proper illustrative unity. The first creature in this poetical homage is the snake (la serpiente) which only knows one letter (sssssss), and slithers through the grass sinuously. The pages are dazzlingly littered with ‘s’ word streamers that define both a snake’s characteristics and how people frame them. Pashkis describes the turtle as a creature who hides in her shell, but hopes for something wonderful to happen; a heron is shown as one-legged and a crow who hopes, stops and stares at the only sun shining on a rainy day – a bright yellow umbrella.
Pashkis’ poetry is often delightfully exaggerated as in the case where she expresses the elastic reach of a cat napping on a map where the cat’s body stretches from the Arequipa to Zanzibar with her belly bumping Topolobambo. In Spanish the verse is enchanting:
La gata gorda/se duerme en un mapa. Cuando se levanta se estira/ desde Arequipa hasta Zanzibar/y su barriga choca contra Topolobampo.
The poem for the cow (la vaca) paints a canvas of colors and routine, visualized by silhouettes on an expansive grazing field. There is bouncy cheer and wagging tails as El Perro (dog) wiggles, wiggles, squirms and leaps. The bright colors, word circles and illustrative adornments paint an effervescent tapestry of gaiety and movement. Paschkis is not one to take the kool aid when she asks her readers They say you are what you eat. So…why isn’t the fly a strawberry? But she meets the age-old adage half way when she shows the fly over the Spanish translation in strawberry garb, in contrast to the one over the English which is the normal incarnation. The real “treat” of this spread is a giant “rojo” strawberry (la mosca) covered with the seed rivets and the corresponding assortment of English and Spanish words that define both the essence of the fruit and the experience of consuming it. Among those are fresh, ripe, juicy, tart and plump.
Few students nor their adult readers will deny that the next spread depicting El Loro (parrot) is Flutter & Hum’s most magnificent illustration of all. Not of course that it is a surprise considering the sublime rainbow feathers of the amazon parrot are part of this pictorial equation, but the illustrator’s delicate negotiation of gouache on pastel pink based Arches paper sets the stage for a floral jamboree, orchestrated with the gorgeous paralleling of the book’s dual language approach. There can be little question this is one of the most most beautiful tapestries in any 2015 picture book. Aye, ya, yo!
Though El Loro is practically an impossible act to follow Pashkis’ work on her deer (El Venado) spread makes for a majestic encore. There is a slight deviation with her pattern on this spread to acknowledge the two views of a deer most of us have maintained. One the straight ahead deer in the headlights pose and the other of the deer scampering off, much of the time to escape the hunter. in fact, the poet-illustrator alludes to this in her tellingly minimalist stanza: The deer is shy when he says hi./One glance. See him fly. Good-bye. Then a measure of buoyancy defines the imposing white whale, who, consistent with the spirit and temper of Flutter & Hum, dances in a dazzles of bubbles in the great ocean. Again Paschkis opts to show movement with La Ballena crashing upwards in an aquamarine dance.
An exquisite nocturnal spread serves as the backdrop for the painting of the Owl (El Buho) whose poetical framing is wonderfully rendered in Spanish:
La luna es un ferol en las ramas. Brilla./ Silba una sombra por las hierbas. Un susurro./ De la oscuridad ulala un buho. Un eco. El tren de la noche esta saliendo.
The atmospheric picture Pashkis has evoked here caused me to recite to myself:
Note: This is the twentieth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date. The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be. The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.