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Archive for January 11th, 2020

by Sam Juliano

The annual  Caldecott Medal and the runner-up “honor books” have followed a traditional path since their inception in 1937 though there have been tell tale signs that the norm has been slowly expanding to embrace graphic novels, mixed-media application and novel-sized works like The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick) and Bill Peet: An Autobiography, two works that won the Caldecott Medal and Honor respectively, which left the box defying the conventional picture book format.  The committees have shown a marked love for wordless books and even startled the book community when a book with controversial themes, This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki not only broke through the graphic novel embargo but brought attention to subjects long held as taboo in the Caldecott realm.  Yet there is still one barrier to cross.  Though photographic elements have appeared in such books as Smoky Night (which won the Caldecott Medal in 1995) and Knuffle Bunny (which copped a 2005 Honor), and other winners like The Right Word, Radiant Child, Viva Frida and Trombone Shorty contain mixed-media art where photographs are utilized, there has yet to be wholesale recognition for photography as a legitimate form for children’s picture books.  Over the last several years some of the most extraordinary beautiful picture books have showcased this all-too-often underestimated form of artistic expression, one to some that is seemingly devoid of talent or held in low esteem when put alongside work crafted from the hand.

The distinguished author-artist April Pulley Sayre has fostered seasonal appreciation with the camera-made images that compliment her fleeting prose.  Full of Fall for example conveys the depth of that colorful time of year more resonantly than the vast majority of books that replicate that burnished time between summer and winter that is popular with those with a sensory hankering.  And then there is that dynamic duo, Helen Frost and Rick Lieder who continue to expand a transcendent series initiated in 2012 with Step Gently Out and continuing with Sweep Up the Sun, Among a Thousand Fireflies, Wake Up and this past year Hello, I’m Here! which may be arguably the most resplendent collaboration of all between this this most gloriously economical of wordsmiths and the man who has not only redefined the capabilities of the camera but has taken his readers into intimate outdoor places, perhaps even upstaging real-life visitation which is always compromised by the nearly impossible proposition of having the subjects sit in for a photo shoot.  A master of light composition, crystal clarity and “in my living room” images, the photographer’s trenchant close-ups have paved the way for Frost’s indelible poetry gently voiced with sustained anthropomorphism.  In the prior books the focus was species-oriented by in Hello, I’m Here! the sand-hill crane are affectionately given a book of their own.  As a result of this more scene-specific strategy Frost and Lieder make this inspired effort more personal, more pointed, more attuned to the various nuances underling the sustenance of life. (more…)

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