Archive for December 4th, 2016


by Sam Juliano

When I first set eyes on Dan Richards’s and Jeff Newman’s Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly? I immediately decided that there was no way it could ever be part of my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series.  It appeared to be slight, discombobulated and artistically slapdash, not to mention vaguely derivative.  I arrived at this summary conclusion a few months ago when I had secured a few dozen 2016 picture books that were under the radar of various on line review sites.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that there were flashier books in the mix, or that some of the others featured stories of more social urgency, or maybe even that others were more polished.  I can’t say for sure, but I subsequently underwent a one-eighty after I read the book to a half dozen first grade classes.  This experience allowed for two vital discoveries – one, the kids in each class adored the book, and two I was able to revisit the comic book style illustrations and irresistible lead characters.  It is often said that the very best art, music and literature is the kind that doesn’t make the very best first impression.  We know this is true of some of Puccini’s operas, Melville’s Moby Dick, and of more recent vintage Simon & Garfunkle’s “The Sound of Silence,” all of which were originally met with indifference or scorn.  Many now classic films, like Max Ophuls’ Lola Montes were misunderstood initially and took years before they were regarded as masterpieces.  But in the world of children’s books this propensity is common, as some books by their very subject and style don’t invite deafening proclamation, rather their virtues grow at a stately pace after encore sessions and additional discoveries.  Yet, it seems the most reliable audience for kids’ books are the kids themselves.  The adults will have plenty of time to catch up.


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