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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

by Sam Juliano

Construction on Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan commenced in 1931, with the finishing touches applied in 1939. Workers unwittingly inaugurating a tradition in that first year when they decorated a 20 foot balsam fir with all kinds of items including cranberries, paper garlands, tin cans and foil gum wrappers.  Two years later a 50 foot tree was installed as a holiday beacon for workers and Big Apple tourists, and the tradition was officially launched.  Each year the center’s head gardener heads up an investigative mission to find a most ideal specimen of the object famously described Upon whose bosom snow has lain/Who intimately lives with rain.  Crews are annually dispatched during the fall to search for super size evergreens from states as far away as Vermont and Ohio, though the history reveals that New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have provided by far the most since the practice was instituted.  The largest tree ever showcased was a 100 footer from Killingworth, Connecticut, chosen for the 1999 yuletide season.  No tree higher would qualify because of city street width specifications around the complex.  Last year’s tree at 30,000 pounds and 56 feet wide was a record breaker in both departments.  The Mayor of New York City traditionally lights it at a ceremony now televised by NBC.

A newly released picture book by Matt Tavaras, Red & Lulu is a glorious celebration of one of America’s most cherished institutions, and by way of concept, design and beauty, not to mention an irresistible dramatic hook,  it appears destined for an indefinite tenure on the holiday shelves in bookstores.  Tavares is a veteran picture book maker who has produced some of the most distinguished biographies of baseball legends like Ted Williams, Pedro Martinez, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.  His output though has been diverse, and with Red & Lulu he has crafted his masterpiece, a book as aesthetically beautiful as it is dramatically touching.  It is not remotely a long shot to conclude that this striking and colorfully vivid work is surely one of the most beautiful from any country, and that Caldecott Medal discussion is assured.  Red & Lulu is also that rarest of books, one as artful as it is popular and as thematically soulful as it is artistically captivating. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can ever learn from books.”           -John Lubbock

In clinical terms the condition is referred to as “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” but what really defines the title character in Carmen Bogan’s exuberant Where’s Rodney? is a youth possessing an orientation for immersion in anything of an alfresco slant.  This is a boy by his very nature who could never achieve his potential in a rigidly cerebral environment.  The independence one associates with the open air promotes self-reliance and a naturalist philosophy that in turn will bolster rather than curtail scholastic advancement.  Legendary botanist and environmentalist John Muir spent years hiking through Western forests and writing impassioned pleas to important politicians, which in part resulted in the creation of the “national park.” William Dickson Boyce, an outdoorsman by nature, is often credited with helping to found the Boy Scouts of America after many years of camping and hiking through especially rugged terrain.  The celebrated  transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau in his defining work Walden detailed his experience in rejecting the city life in favor of a cabin on the edge of a pond.  As these seminal figures have documented, there can never be a replacement for actual experience, for all the study and volumes read.  Bogan reverses the learning process by having Where’s Rodney?’s spirited protagonist absorb the sensory elements first, and then to attach the meaning that is meant to be imparted in strictly didactic terms.  In this sense it would be exceedingly difficult to argue that Rodney or any other young person who redefines academic order doesn’t have a head up on those who can identify or access but not necessarily “feel.”

In conjunction with the Yosemite Conservancy, “Dream On Publishing”, an independent multicultural children’s book sponsor committed towards promoting literacy for children of color was established four years ago by none other than Bogan herself.  Planning a visit to a park within the reach of any school or family unit is the underlying aim of this unique and singular picture book, one of a continuing series that is intended to let all kids know that individually and collectively they count mightily in the larger scheme.  After the brown hued title page replication of a later tableau depicting Rodney at the height of his sensory raptness a situational drama juxtaposing the insufferable claustrophobia of the classroom and the free-spirited exhilaration only made possible without the man made barriers is played out.  Bogan’s illustrator is the acclaimed Floyd Cooper, an inspired choice for this project if there ever was one.  Cooper’s “subtractive” process, distinctive and idiosyncratic, involves color washing and peeling away of layers to achieve the striking grainy texture that emboldens the humanist elements in his books.  A crisp and soulful documentation of profoundly registered unbridled emotions carry along the stories he illustrates far more than any conventional notions of plot. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

     She is the second woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court as an Associate Justice.  At 84 she is the oldest member of the court and generally regarded as the leader of the liberal wing.  A strident feminist and strong advocate for women’s rights she fought discrimination through much of her life, and in her younger years was an actual victim.  As she approached eighty, this demure grandmother, weighing only ninety pounds, was looked on as a cultural icon for her audacious stands against a conservative male majority.   Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Equality by Jonah Winter, with illustrations by Stacy Innerset is a picture book biography of a seminal figure in the judicial ranks that chronicles her earliest years, the influence of her beloved mother, through her college years where she met the love of her life and broke through long standing barriers connected to race, gender and role.  With the combination of concise and riveting text and some of the most exquisite art in Innerst’s picture book career a biographical milestone has been achieved.  It all begins as Winter presents the book with a judicial bookend which is in tune with what Ginsburg eventually became.  She is seen as a little girl who hasn’t a clue of what her life would bring. Winter announces that the future Supreme Court Associate Justice endured a difficult life at a socially turbulent time, and these, alas are “the facts of the case.”

The early 1930’s saw a large influx of Jewish immigrants as a result of anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, and a prime place for relocation was none other than Brooklyn, New York.  Some set up business in the Borough while others commuted to the garment district in Manhattan daily.  Young Ruth’s earliest years were spent in a small apartment in a building with few furnishings, comparable to the fictional Kramdens of Bensonhurst.  Ruth’s father never finished high school, but was still enterprising enough to have owned a fur shop before declining business forced him to become an employee in the same profession.  Innerst’s drab maroon-gray decor and subdued tints signify near impoverishment, though a copy of The New York Times and a familial embrace and family portrait imply a tightly knit unit and a measure of literacy confirmed over the ensuing pages.  Ruth’s intellectual role model is unveiled as her enterprising Mom, a high school graduate, prone to multi-tasking, an arduous domestic servant, who, much like the bibliophile Elizabeth Brown in Sarah Stewart and David Small’s 1995 picture book The Library, succeeded in reading and mopping floors simultaneously.  Living at a time when women were highly discouraged from college enrollment, Ruth’s mother secured a job at fifteen years old to help pay for her own brother’s education before settling in to conform to her husband’s edict that “a woman’s place was in the home.”  Yet, this homebound directive gave Ruth’s mom the opportunity to instill in her ever receptive offspring a love of books, imparted daily while the cookie jar was utilized for future education funding. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!       -Richard B. and Robert A. Sherman,  Mary Poppins (1964)

Elaine Magliaro’s interpretation of the essential activities facing both living and inanimate objects is governed by a subjective point of view.  Though her intended readers can assume the role of each one of her subjects before and after she applies her delightful free verse to a diverse array of what we encounter on a typical day, it is best to submit to the sensory allure of a book fully committed towards erasing the pangs of ennui by way of a spirited tour chronicling the expected manner each chosen article plays in a scene-specific situation.  Magliaro sets a desired tone by instructing her gifted illustrator Catia Chien to enlarge and color code key words in her verse, which are not restricted to any single part of speech.  Appropriately enough the book launches with the responsibilities of dawn, which “shoos away night” and “wakes up the sleeping sun” while simultaneously inducing songbirds to do their thing and letting “dreams drift away.”  A young girl and dog are first seen in an impressionist spread documenting the arrival of  a new days as light filters through an open window in a living room dominated by delicate rendered purple hues.

Birds know well the consequence of missed opportunities and the likelihood of a second chance not availing itself anytime soon.  Magliaro implores our feathered friends to take full advantage of the unfaltering mantra, “Fist come, first served” by descending down to a lawn where feed has been offered up.  A delay will undoubtably result in other birds “seizing the day.”  When breakfast has been negotiated the poet advocates airborne tenacity:  Stretch out your wings on the brightening sky.  Morning’s upon us.  Get ready to fly!  Chien’s overhead capture is an impressionist gem, featuring the metaphorical image of a bird sporting the wing span and tail of an airplane in a now busy sky of many other airborne creatures evoking Richard Bach’s line from his famed 1970 novella:  and the word for breakfast flock flashed through the air, till a thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food.”  The artist makes lush use of saturated acrylic red and green projecting out from the flicked brown and tan cross strokes in a scene witness by the intrepid young girl and her inveterate canine. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

 Classics Illustrated first appeared in 1941.  Over the ensuing thirty years a total of 169 titles were published.  This comic book format brought great works of literature to elementary school age children by way of a rudimentary condescension of epic storylines, and a comic book format that made the experience enjoyable.  While some academic purists found the venture as appalling as the Cliff Notes, others of equal pedagogical distinction deemed the series an ideal method to coax reluctant readers to take on the genuine article after their interest was notably piqued by this pictorially attractive beginner course of sorts.  Of far more recent vintage is the “Babylit” collection that has so far eclipsed thirty titles, several of which have spotlighted seminal works by the Bard, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters.  Published by Gibbs Smith Inc., which poses the books as “a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature”, this remarkably passionate and prolific enterprise is a collaboration between author Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver, both of whom are resolved to sow the seeds of literary identification and appreciation for a pre-school set capable and willing to connect sensory dots.  These stage setting primers are designed to fuel proper triggers that will lead to the deeper levels of appreciation at the time they enter grade school and later taken on the deeper contexts that may have been inaugurated by the Babylit entries.  Adams has been on a sustained mission to promote literary awareness, and one of her previous works in her Edgar Allan Poe series, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart with illustrations by Ron Stucki was given a Caldecott Medal Contender review in the 2014 roundup.  Some of us holding English literature degrees can only wished we would have had such an inauguation to some of our most beloved works.

The exquisite tapestries gracing the board pages of her literature projects are by extraordinarily talented New York-based artist Alison Oliver whose remarkable profligate propensity is exceeded only by her breathtaking canvases inspired by Adams’s sagacious discernment of what type of pictorial strategy should be employed with each of the titles.  In 2017 the pair have pooled their gifts for several books.  One on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is billed as a “dancing primer” and the swirling colors are strikingly attuned the dancing and costumes that would of course attract the initial and continued attention of the very young.  Another sublime book, released in the first quarter of the year is a “sound primer” on Aladdin and His Lamp.  For their partnership on Anne of Green Gables, by “Little Miss” (Lucy Ward) Montgomery the concentration is on the breathtaking beauty of Prince Edward Island, a Canadian island province off the coast of Nova Scotia that has long been celebrated as the pastoral setting of the Anne of Green Gables books by Canada’s most beloved writer.  The plucky and cerebral red-haired, freckled Anne Shirley -Canada’s answer to Huckleberry Finn- is seen only once in the book on a front cover frolic in the fields, but since the book is pointedly a “Places Primer” there isn’t a need to employ her likeness again. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.         -William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Though the commercialization of Thanksgiving can never compare to the yuletide celebration of a month later, the late November depletion of the nation’s turkey population has come to be an occasion too often taken for granted.  To be sure much good comes out of the annual rendezvous with beloved family members and a dinner more often than not that’s fit for a king.  What is too often lost for children is the meaning of the day, the reason why school calendars always include two successive days off late in the month that usher in the ensuing weekend.  The big irony of course is that the title of the holiday says all we need to know about the significance of a festive occasion also crassly referred to as Turkey Day, yet even that ubiquitous labeling fails to cut through the pleasures many have come to anticipate with hedonist fervor.  No one is as routinely attuned to the Thanksgiving rituals as children, who are understandably showered with parental affection and all the cheer those special times of the year can engender.  Some family dinner gatherings are prefaced with prayers, or non denominational expressions of appreciation, but it all makes for a kind of blanket statement and a sweeping generality for kids who are accustomed to receiving, but less likely to identify the sources of their gratitude nor the origin of their sustenance and shelter.

Picture book artist Toni Yuly aims to set the record straight in Thank You Bees, a lower level work that could equally be categorized as an invocation or a scene-specific applause for the planet’s natural elements.  While this soulful homage to Earth’s invaluable resources was not designed to honor a holiday, its spirit and auspices make it an attractive addition to books about one of America’s most beloved single days.  Aside from the titular kinship the pervasive theme of Yuly’s book is one of unmitigated gratefulness, and the realization that without even a single one of her fundamental, indispensable acknowledgements, life as we know it could not exist.  While Yuly’s environmental homage is devoid of any replete secular reference, comparable to a work like the 1945 Caldecott Medal winner Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field and Elizabeth Orton Jones, there is nonetheless a spiritual vantage point of a child coming to terms with life’s essentials, via land, water and air.  There is certainly a plethora of fiction that addresses the appreciation process, but Yuly’s inspired primer is as close as a direct ecological plea to youngsters at the most impressionable of ages.  The author-artist doesn’t directly request a measure of conservation, but the implications are clear, and a positive consequence of first knowing what we were blessed with on the planet. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Hope is the thing with feathers; That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words; And never stops at all.
                                        -Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

In last year’s Caldecott Honor winning Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, an old granny tires of chaos and deafening noise in her overpopulated house and escapes through a secret door, only to find out that life in another region offers up the same obstacles as those experienced in her domestic environs.  The people residing in the fictional village of La Paz in Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin’s The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, like Brosgol’s overheated guardian, need some rest and relaxation.  The problem with this proposition in Deedy’s book is that innocuous intent can often result in dire consequences.  For all its deadpan humor and amusing underpinnings this allegorical story is a thinly veiled cautionary tale about foolhardy concession and the abuse of power.  Put in more basic terms its conforms to the tenets of a timeless adage, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”  The book’s original title was The Noisy Little Rooster, but the alteration is so much better attuned to the work’s unmistakable theme.

The pictorial response to Deedy’s Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning till night is a quilted countryside at the forefront of a cluster of thatched buildings, a few of which are chapels.  Woven into the many plots, distinguishable by color are musical notes, depicting a blissful hamlet, unencumbered  by curtailment of any sort.  This lyrically acoustic Shangri-La is a veritable cornucopia of sound, all converging in and around a town square.  Albeit,  some is of the bombastic variety – a man shouting into a bullhorn, a car with loud speakers passing through, church bells peeling and a boy marching to his own drum beat, other reverberations are suffused with more soulful cadences, such as a man playing an accordion, bus passengers strutting their choral prowess, birds singing in a tree, a married couple singing and playing guitar on a park bench and even a man singing in a shower with open window.  A tea kettle contributes a signature toot to the cacophony, but more natural sounds like water gushing from a fountain or a goat neighing complicate this antithesis to the pastoral lifestyle.  Yelchin’s mixed media eye candy applications were created by oil pastel, colored pencil, gouache and acrylic and the polychromatic double page canvas are vigorously applied in kid friendly mode.  Alas, like the denizens in Ron Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs too much of a supposedly good thing on an everyday basis will render this propensity stagnant.  The residents of La Paz tired of the constant sensory chaos and finally decided to serve up their Mayor with his walking papers.  Yelchin humorously visualizes this with an index finger extended, ordering the town’s chagrined highest ranking official to quit the premises, after a family of four and even their canine can no longer endure the deafening rumpus. (more…)

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