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Archive for January 25th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

Robinson by Peter Sis is the ultimate fix for those stoked to say that blue is their favorite color.  Classroom teachers preparing to introduce it can supplement the presentation by displaying the the opening end papers of Isabelle Simler’s French import The Blue Hour, another sublime, recently released picture book.  Thirty-two blue colored ovals, each exhibiting a different shade of blue are labeled with the corresponding color.  Even  the instructor will be hard pressed to immediately recognize some of the eclectic variations, such as “porcelain,” “cerulean,” “Maya” and “periwinkle.”  But the human eye can differentiate between shades and the bonanza of blue on the cover and in the text of Robinson can be spotted in Simler’s identifiable ovals.  “Turquoise blue” is an especially ravishing palette and it is showcased in all its eye-filling splendor on the cover, perhaps the most resplendent in the artist’s picture book career.  The Czechoslovak-born Sis is a children’s book author and artist, but his work on a number of fronts is known worldwide where some count him as one of their absolute favorites.  He has already won three Caldecott Honors for The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain; Tibet: Through the Red Box and Starry Messenger, and virtually each of his other picture book releases have been posed for similar annointment in pre-Caldecott discussion forums and at prediction sites.  He is a master in minutiae, where others like Caldecott Medal and Honor winner Peter Spier and Japanese artist Armo have excelled, and his seamless integration of maps, graphs,  intricate patterns, myriad colors and diverse modes have hit sitting alone when picture book complexity is under consideration.  Each of Sis’ new works is an adventure and his latest book by the very nature of its subject is epic.  Yet, an argument can certainly made that Robinson is his simplest work with more straight forward and unencumbered art.  It also may well be his most sublime work of them all.

Sis in that inimitable artist who makes each and every one of his illustrations speak to the reader, every one multi-faceted and spurring the gamut of emotions and crossing the line from reality to the fantastical realm.  His work, especially Robinson exhibits some fascinating artistic kinship to some of the most distinguished cinematic Czech luminaries, directors like Karel Zeman, Jaromil Jires and the animation giant Jan Swankmajer.  Every tapestry in itself tells a story and requires studied examination for the fullest appreciation.  A compelling example of this propensity is showcased immediately in Robinson’s opening duel page canvas, where nine various sized vignettes establish the young protagonist as an adventure lover, and a pirate at heart whose engagement toward that pursuit is diverse and imaginative.  Whether it is setting up a pirate tent in the courtyard, dressing as pirates in the tub (a little King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub anyone?), watching a movie about pirates or climbing scaffolds to build a stone pirate, these are intrepid kids who never do things halfheartedly.  When the school announces a costume party the ensuing intentions are of the no-brainer variety, until young Peter is convinced by his mom to dress up as Robinson Crusoe, the hero of the boy’s favorite adventure story.  Peter can’t dispute his affection for the Daniel Dafoe classic novel of the same name, and readily agrees to her proposition.  Sis’s mastery of design and thematic enhancement is showcased in two pages chronicling this change of plans.  His mother is shown holding a copy of the Dafoe book, which is pictorially transcribed in  a brown tinted square border illustrating scenes from the book and cursive writing made to appear as segments from the text.  The mother’s crafting of the costume is similarly framed by a fabulous abstract and visceral circular arc documenting its construction.  The various stages in dressing is pure illustrative bliss, and the walk to school under the adoring eyes of mom is is framed by architectural expressionism. (more…)

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