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Archive for January 24th, 2020

by Sam Juliano

At the time this essay is published the sixteen members of the American Library Association’s 2020 Caldecott committee will be shortly convening in the City of Brotherly Love behind closed doors to deliberate on their final choices for picture book excellence for titles released during the prior calendar year.  In one of most diverse twelve-month periods ever for picture books the task at hand will no doubt be challenging sorting out a stacked deck, but in fear of putting the jink on any prospective decisions there seem to be some prohibitive theories as to how the chips may fall even if this particular award over the past decade has been almost impossible to successfully call, mainly because art is subjective.  Yet this writer hereby concludes that one title released way back in the first quarter is poised to be anointed in the Caldecott winner’s circle with only the particular designation still outstanding:  will it be gold or silver?  Written by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by veteran artist LeUyen Pham the object inspiring supreme confidence is a sensory joy ride titled Bear Came Along.  A scene-specific celebration of nature in the wild that evokes among other mirthful experiences an amusement park excursion on the log flume Bear is exuberance incarnate, a no-holds-barred immersion that invariably has coaxed reviewers to head off to their dictionaries for words like “ebullient,” “effervescent,” “high-spirited,” “happy-go-lucky” and “irrepressible” among others.  This has hardly represented the maiden instance of wanton merriment on the pages of a picture book (Lane Smith’s A Perfect Day most recently brought to bear gleeful anarchy in a picture book equation) but in this miraculously orchestrated work a unique proposition is posed, that an object of nature is only aware of its role in the scheme of things because of interaction, which in Bear is negotiated via domino effect.  By the time the party is over young readers will be hastily getting back in line for an adventurous encore. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.     -Phyllis Wheately

Noted children’s literature historian Kathleen T. Horning once quipped at an online comment thread  that her great disappointment over the artist Kadir Nelson not winning the Caldecott Medal leads her to conclude that “he will just have to content himself with painting the Sistine Chapel.”  To be sure, Nelson’s work defies the most extravagant superlatives, and I have frankly run out of such phrases myself.  He actually has won two Caldecott Honors (for Moses and Henry’s Freedom Box), but his output includes many other beautiful works of distinction.  He has done the art for New Yorker covers and classic novels, as well as for galleries and exhibitions.  His astounding oil paintings are again being passionately discussed as a serious contender for the Caldecott Medal, which will be announced in Philadelphia on Monday, January 27th.  His resplendent jumbo tapestries in the service of concise and powerful prose from acclaimed author Kwayme Alexander in the electrifying picture book The Undefeated, an ode to black America that is alternately triumphant and mournful, minimalist and baroque, physical and spiritual.  In evoking the recently deceased Maya Angelou in a stirring afterward Alexander makes direct reference to his book’s title when he asserts “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.  It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are.  So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knock down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.”  Alexander’s largely metaphorical language is predicated on the prefix “not” by manner of starting each defining work with un.  There is inherent pride and defiance in employing such a device and it serves as the rhetorical springboard that is best served by recitation, though larger fonts will also hit home privately with resonating force. (more…)

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