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Archive for January 10th, 2016

skunk 1

by Sam Juliano

The droll humor on display throughout The Skunk is the creation of one of children’s literature’s wittiest luminaries, who for the first time has pooled his inimitable talent with celebrated cartoonist Patrick McDonnell.  The result is one of the best picture books of 2015.  The review of this most curious Theater of the Absurd fever dream is the final act in the 2015 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  Every imaginable artistic component comes together flawlessly in this irresistible confection that has many of us crossing our fingers for a re-teaming of this inventive duo.  McDonnell, who presently is writing a screenplay for an animated film with a major studio, previously won a Caldecott Honor for Me…Jane, and Barnett, ever-prolific, authored two books with illustrator Jon Klassen that also won Caldecott Honors, Extra Yarn and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.  Barnett’s Battle Bunny, an irreverent homage to Golden Books, left the box like few picture books have, and this year’s teaming with Christian Robinson on Leo: A Ghost Story was a big winner.

The Skunk, surrealist in essence and execution is far more convincing as a dream than as a slice-of-life friendship story, though the budding friendship, never acknowledged as such by either of the conspirators is the emotional hook that will resonate most compellingly with readers.  In this sense it seems McDonnell’s decision to scale back on the details and place emphasis on the bare essentials bring this bizarre relationship more emotional heft.  From the very fact that the mammal chosen for this story of human and animal bonding is just about the most detested creature out there alone underscores the improbability of such a development, again pointing towards horizontal nocturnal imaginings.  The title page is the one place in the book where we get to see a drawing of real skunk, and it ain’t a pretty sight, nor was it meant to be.  As those who live in areas where these stenchmeisters can attest to the odoriferous residue from a skunk spraying have maintained astonishing staying power, with seemingly no logistical panacea other than prompt relocation. (more…)

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drowned-city-by-don-brown

by Sam Juliano

The very first page of Don Brown’s Drowned City practically leads young readers to believe that they are about to experience a horror novel.  What is basically just a “swirl of wind” gains energy as it moves across the Atlantic.  Baby boomers remember such a scenario in the 1958 film The Blob, which is another story about something that becomes a huge mass, gaining energy and enveloping everything in its path.  But the thing of it is that Drowned City is a horror novel.  It chronicles in uncompromising terms one of the worst calamities in American history.  The wind that began benignly, gained enough monstrous force to wreck damage on a city that included the flooding of 80% of its land area, inflict 100 billion in property damages, but most tragically snuff out the lives of over 1,400 people.  Hurricane Katrina as it was dubbed by meteorologists was a catastrophe that brought a state to its knees, a nation in shock, and a government into an unacceptable period of non-action that till today even has brought into focus the question if relief efforts failed the city of New Orleans for the unconscionable event of August 29, 2005.

As the people of New Jersey found out in October of 2012, the devastation from a hurricane can change lives permanently.  Hurricane Sandy was the second worst storm behind Katrina in destructive force and monetary damage.  It can also prove to an area severely in need of help how long it will take to acquire it.  By the time Katrina closed in on New Orleans it was downgraded from a category 5 hurricane to a category 3, (the same strength as Sandy) but with 155 mph winds there was sure to be some serious devastation in a low lying city that requires levees and pumps to keep it dry even during drought seasons. (more…)

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