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Archive for October 22nd, 2016

fearless

by Sam Juliano

The 2014 picture book Draw! by Raul Colon is one of my all-time favorites.  The sumptuous safari expedition book landed on the New York Times Top Ten list and won praise from virtually every children’s book site.  The wordless title’s wide popularity with teachers and their students and the ravishing beauty of its art  emboldened the pre-Caldecott prognosticators to forecast it would soon be wearing a shiny gold or silver sticker after the early February announcement by the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards.  Alas, in a very competitive year the committee bypassed the book, leaving many in disbelief.  To be sure there were several others that were MIA when the record-breaking lineup of seven books were announced, but Draw! was in poll position on so many lists, that it wasn’t easy to reconcile the omission.  At the end of the day awards are contingent on a number of factors – timing, competition, consensus and of course taste.  The committee actually did a fine job that year, but the absence of Draw! was truly unfortunate.  I am tempted to frame Draw! as Colon’s picture book piece de resistance, as it is possesses a purity of theme, an emotional core and the matter of a singular vision exclusive to books crafted by one person.  But in a prolific career marked by remarkable uniformity in style and polychromatic splendor  Colon is all about consistency whether he is working solo or for a writer seeking the services of an illustrator.  Some years he has even treated the book community to multiple books as illustrator, leaving fans to assume the unenviable task of choosing.  In 2016, Colon crafted sumptuous art for Jonah Winter’s Hillary, a biography of the Democratic nominee for President that commenced from her student years.  He also brought pictorial elegance to Fearless Flyers: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine written by Heather Lang, which is the subject of this Caldecott Medal Contender review.  Both of Colon’s books this year are about women who achieved fame in contrasting venues, and both are exquisite, but Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine in particular is especially Caldecott worthy.

Ruth Law was undaunted by failure and the danger that came with it.  Even with the most careful preparation and mechanical expertise disaster could strike down a flyer in the early days of aviation if the weather did not cooperate.  The early planes were flimsily constructed with bamboo, wire and cloth – meaning the most talented aviator could easily enough be undermined by matters out of their control.   A modern day parallel is the famed French born tightrope walker Phillipe Petit, who defied the feasibility of turbulent wind currents when crossing between the two World Trade Center towers in the early 70’s.  All the talent in the world couldn’t insure success if meteorological conditions grew hostile.  Yet Petit like Law persevered as a result of dedication, resilience and a fair degree of luck.  Ms. Lang’s soulful and exciting prose pares down an epic flight to the most heart-stopping episodes, which keeping acute focus on the renowned aviator’s state of mind.  Some of Law’s most integral feelings are presented by way of enlarged cursive script. (more…)

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