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Archive for February 4th, 2018

by Sam Juliano

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

In Dan Santat’s gloriously revisionist After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, the king’s men successfully patched up the personified egg and erstwhile top-of-the-wall dweller after a terrible mishap caused by his incorrigible love of birds.  And contrary to what one learned at the youngest of age after being read the most famous of all nursery rhymes, one can overcome the worst calamity and with the right attitude and application turn the experience into a life defining triumph.  Santat won the 2015 Caldecott Medal in what was considered a surprise for his magnificent The Adventures of Beekle, yet this year most of the children’s book predictors are naming After the Fall as either the winner of another Caldecott Medal or one of the Honors.  This unusually gifted artist, whose sixth book this is, has been on both sides of the expectation equation, yet there appears to be general agreement that this funny, moving and exhilarating work showcases his most exquisite art and that the book in general is his greatest to date.  Still, the sustained momentum for the book has reached a level now, that if Santat doesn’t come away with something on February 12th after all the year-end best lists, predictions and strong grass root support from teachers, librarians and book lovers, mouths will be agape like they were when Marla Frazee’s favored The Farmer and the Clown was left off completely in the year, ironically when Beekle took the gold.  When one factors in the intense 2018 competition, After the Fall’s singled-out superlative regard is even more remarkable.

Santat is up to same game practiced previously by Jon Szieska and Lane Smith and the late James Marshall.  But whereas both the duo (who collaborated on the Caldecott Honor book The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales and the wildly popular The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf) and Marshall (one of children’s literature’s all-time greatest satirists) were irreverent to the bitter end (always a joy of course) Santat’s comparable wit segues into an austere character metamorphosis, where consternation is replaced by bravery, indecision by confidence, abstention to full immersion.  And the final transformation, bringing the widest smile is one of unbridled soulfulness. (more…)

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