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Archive for January 5th, 2016

if you plant a seed

by Sam Juliano

The last time a picture book ventured into the territory of planting seeds of selfishness, the book’s author and illustrator Janet Stevens employed the theme as part of a story about chronic laziness warranting the worst kind of greedy deception.  The book, Tops and Bottoms won a Caldecott Honor in 1996, and showcased plants and vegetables with abandon, which is also a pictorial ingredient in Kadir Nelson’s sumptuous If You Plant a Seed, a fable set in glorious oils about sharing to earn benefits, a concept never even broached in the Stevens book.  Nelson visualizes the dire results of hording, before our major protagonists, a rabbit and a mouse opt for a far more congenial and rewarding strategy.  The artist is a unique talent in children’s literature in that he is a major artist on several other fronts, and his picture book oil illustrations are relatively rare in a field dominated by watercolor, gauche, collage and mixed media.  Indeed, noted children’s literature scholar Kathleen T. Horning once quipped on a Horn Book comment thread in lamentation of an unrewarded book by the artist that “he will just have to content himself with painting the Sistine Chapel.”  To be sure, Nelson’s work defies the most extravagant superlatives, and I have frankly run out of such phrases myself.  He has won two Caldecott Honors (for Moses and Henry’s Freedom Box), but his output includes many other beautiful works of distinction.  He has done the art for New Yorker covers and classic novels, as well as for galleries and exhibitions. (more…)

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