Archive for January 12th, 2020

by Sam Juliano

So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.   -“Mother to Son”, Langston Hughes (1922)

Lush, exquisite and painterly there is no picture book released in 2019 as beautiful as Going Down Home with Daddy, a celebration of family from the extraordinary Daniel Minter.  The artist’s modus operandi is acrylic wash which seems to be an inspired artistic choice for author Kelly Starling Lyon’s dreamy prose for this soulful and sensory impressionist fever dream.  If the sole criteria for winning the Caldecott Medal is pictorial resplendence then Minter should be showered in gold.  However as insiders well know the awards are given for interaction between the art and the words unless the subject is wordless in which case the yardstick is the manner the art replaces the prose.  Yet, this inspired collaboration pushes all the Caldecott buttons while serving as an indelible showcase for Minter’s frame-worthy art which talented students and adults may find too alluring not to revisit for the irresistible visual immersion.  Minter himself scored mightily not once but twice in 2019, with his allegorical and incandescent historical work The Women Who Caught the Babies exhibiting gorgeous paintings that have had many amazed at the inconceivably high level of art possible in today’s children’s literature.

Minter’s rich textures usher in Going Down Home with Daddy with a vivid burnished front cover depiction of four young African-Americans in a scene from the text proper heading over to a farmyard location carrying some creative samples.  Lyons’ reunion morning, when the family packed to leave for a road trip down south compellingly recalls the Caldecott Honor winning collaboration from Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gamell titled The Relatives Came, which is a festive account of northern state kin taking an annual trip south to immerse with a boisterous clan with similar taste in how to have a good time. At the end of that life-affirming tale the departing family head up with dreams about their next visit, which is achingly paralleled in the Lyons-Minter collaboration.  The artist’s bleeding blue wash represents an introduction to a beloved relative’s favorite color, a scheme sustained in the silhouette-laden car ride depiction which Lyons evocatively describes through the eyes of Lil Alan:  I watch as we drive from city streets to flowing highways under a sweep of sparkling stars.  Minter responds to this nocturnal prose depiction with the bleeding colors of dusk and the close-ups of two of the vehicle’s passengers, one haunted by a perceived failure to share something. (more…)

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