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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

stanley 1

by Sam Juliano

If he were alive today, H. G. Wells would be the world’s biggest fan of Jon Agee’s It’s Only Stanley.  But heck, Jules Verne would be a member of the picture book’s fan club too.  It isn’t too far off the mark either that romantics would be touting its virtues as well.  Right down to the Victorian mansion, where some perverse nocturnal activities are played out, this is a book with nineteenth-century sensibilities despite the modern era familial trappings.  The Wimbleton family are obviously intimidated by their ever-resourceful beagle, a handy man extraordinaire whose scientific and mechanical tinkerings are perfectly attuned to his comprehensive brand of home maintenance.  The family’s patriarch never becomes unhinged at Stanley’s increasingly alarming activities, setting them aside matter-of-factly with the repeated titular utterance.  The Wimbletons are not deep thinkers, though aside from Dad they all would very much appreciate a good night’s sleep, even if it gives clearance to a defining event in space travel.  No they aren’t quite in a league with James Marshall’s The Stupids but they won’t be earning any points for attentiveness.

Agee’s pleasing non-conformity with the story’s launching is a single drawing before the title page where Stanley hears a “Howoooooo” from the sky while sleeping on the porch.  He deciphers the actual location of the wail on the title page, and on the next panel we see Mom and Pa Wimbleton in bed reacting to Wilma’s swearing that she heard a spooky sound.  Walter and the family feline spot Stanley howling back to the moon. outside the house, and Dad reports back to the family that there is nothing to get unhinged about.  But before long there is another even louder disturbance and Agee frames it like he does throughout in fabulous rhyme scheme: (more…)

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if you plant a seed

by Sam Juliano

The last time a picture book ventured into the territory of planting seeds of selfishness, the book’s author and illustrator Janet Stevens employed the theme as part of a story about chronic laziness warranting the worst kind of greedy deception.  The book, Tops and Bottoms won a Caldecott Honor in 1996, and showcased plants and vegetables with abandon, which is also a pictorial ingredient in Kadir Nelson’s sumptuous If You Plant a Seed, a fable set in glorious oils about sharing to earn benefits, a concept never even broached in the Stevens book.  Nelson visualizes the dire results of hording, before our major protagonists, a rabbit and a mouse opt for a far more congenial and rewarding strategy.  The artist is a unique talent in children’s literature in that he is a major artist on several other fronts, and his picture book oil illustrations are relatively rare in a field dominated by watercolor, gauche, collage and mixed media.  Indeed, noted children’s literature scholar Kathleen T. Horning once quipped on a Horn Book comment thread in lamentation of an unrewarded book by the artist 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 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. (more…)

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Boats-for-Papa

by Sam Juliano

Boats for Papa is one of the year’s most wrenching picture books, and is one of the year’s most pictorially beautiful.  The fact that it was written and illustrated by a first timer is pretty astounding, but in the annals of children’s literature this is cause for celebration.  Two years ago Aaron Becker broke into the ranks with the magnificent Caldecott Medal winning Journey, and just this year we were treated to The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, the maiden effort by Julia Sarcone-Roach, but this field is normally dominated by artists well beyond their initial engagement.  Jessixa Bagley’s book is about love, loss and the inspiration to create, and during the telling of this marvelously spare story these themes intermingle to reach a common understanding that ultimately achieves a state of grace.  Prior reviewers have argued whether the book will resonate more with adults or children, but having shown the book to a number of fellow teachers and friends, and having read it to five first grade classes I can vouch for its effectiveness with both groups.  The kids are regularly taken by the young beaver’s resourcefulness, while adults will find it difficult not to tear up at the book’s denouement, when the truth is unveiled accidentally.

Spare storytelling is wed to soft pastel-like watercolor tapestries, a perfect artistic choice for a story set near the sea.  The beaver Buckley lives in a small wooden house off the beach (one of two first-class picture books that share the same setting, with the other In a Village by the Sea set in the Far East and featuring humans) with his mother. What they have by way of furnishings is scant, but Buckley pointedly notes they have each other, announcing immediately this is a drama about relationships.  After  mother and child walk towards their house on the sand we see the cut in panel showing the wooden floor and walls with a simple furnace/stove a window with held curtains, wall pictures, table and sink.  Buckley spends his time looking for things at the beach, and what is noticeable in the first double page spread are broken tree branches in abundance.  The term “busy as a beaver” couldn’t be more apt, as Buckley works with hands meticulously, constructing boats out of all the driftwood he can handle. (more…)

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GrowingUpPedro640

by Sam Juliano

They beat me.  They’re that good right now.  They’re that hot.  I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my Daddy.           -Pedro Martinez

As a fervent lifetime Yankees fan who plied my craft as a premium cheerleader from the late 60’s till the time Pedro Martinez finished his career with the hated Bosox circa 2003, (I am still a good enough fan today) I remember the ace pitcher for two reasons especially.  Mind you there is plenty to remember this newly minted Hall of Famer by: 3 time winner of the coveted Cy Young award, a World Series ring from 2003, where he won the third game, and the highest winning percentage of any 200 game winner in the modern era, post 1898.  Alas, as is the case with most who seem to remember the dysfunctional moments best, it was Pedro’s actions during the third game of the American League championship series against the Yankees that have stayed with me.  During a dugout clearing melee involving both teams, elderly Yankees skipper Don Zimmer charged Pedro, but found himself thrown to the ground with very little effort.  Naturally, the newspapers had a ball over the incident for weeks afterwards.  Then years later in 2009 when Martinez had signed as a Philadelphia Phillies hurler, he found himself again facing the Yankees in the 2009 World Series.  Seasoned Bronx rooters hadn’t forgotten Pedro’s famed patriarchal homage, and they mercilessly chided him from the stands with derisive chants of “Who’s Your Daddy?”  Gotham newspapers such as the Post and the Daily News joined in the fun splashing those words as banner headlines of the sports section, and Martinez himself found himself again in the reporters’ spotlight.  Yet there is really so much more to the Pedro Martinez story, and in a gorgeously illustrated picture book, Growing Up Pedro, master craftsman Matt Tavaras, who also penned the stirring prose, goes back to the star pitcher’s humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, chronicling along the way the special relationship Pedro shared with his older brother Ramon, a star pitcher in his own right.  As many fans of the national pastime are well aware, the country, part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola shared with Haiti, has produced many great players over the years, including the likes of Juan Marichal, Many Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Robinson Cano, Pedro Guerrero and “Big Papi” David Ortiz.

(more…)

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Finding winnie 1

by Sam Juliano

Similar statues stand in Winnipeg, Canada and in London, England, depicting a World War I soldier named Harry Colebourn holding hands with a bear cub.  Though a seemingly innocuous memorial of wartime camaraderie between a man and animal, these physical homages are iconic in scope and significance, representing as they do the real-life inspiration for one of children literature’s most beloved characters.  Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall’s Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear is a kind of story-within-a-story-within-a-story, but for Winnie the Pooh fans it is a historical godsend, with none other than a descendant of Colebourn penning the story of how a Canadian serviceman found a bear and of the narrative circumstances that led to its taking up residence in the London Zoo, where it became the real-life model for a fictional character extraordinaire. Mattick tells the story as someone who is a kindred spirit with this material, using the original story of Harry as a device to amuse and enrich the life of her own son, while tying together the various humanist strands that have made the Winnie-the-Pooh story so endlessly captivating.  Malick’s storytelling skills are considerable, and she uses dialogue effectively to bridge together the past and present.  One can’t help but be stirred by this kind of Fern and Wilbur relationship, though much like E. B. White’s masterpiece there is an eventual realization that a final home is dictated by what’s best for the new tenant.  For those who are familiar with the story there are some marvelous details to relish, for those in the dark, this is really quite the treat. (more…)

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TRAPPED-1024x1024

by Sam Juliano

The team that dazzled picture book aficionados with last year’s Edward Hopper Paints His World, and a series of other non-fiction titles over the years have again collaborated on a splendid work based on an actual event.  Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s engaging documentation results in a breathtaking rescue story that yields the same kind of crowd-pleasing denouement that made Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse so unforgettable.  Burleigh’s narrative follows the food-seeking journey of the largest mammal on the earth from the icy waters of the arctic to coastal California, where the hump back whale is after a massive volume of krill.  Burleigh’s exclamatory descriptive language (i.e. “She spanks the cold blue with her powerful tail, Bang!; Down in the depths, her call echoes.”) is perfectly wed with Minor’s magnificent aquamarine gouache paintings.

The event, as described in a “Behind the Story” afterward occurred on December 11, 2005, when fisherman detected a hump back whale struggling to free itself from rope entanglement near the coast of San Francisco.  Quick notification was sent on to whale specialists and rescue divers, who then performed aquatic miracles in averting a tragedy, but for the endangered mammal and the would-be human saviors it was a tenuous and harrowing episode that from the start posed an enormous risk.  The crisis is laid out in compelling terms by Burleigh:

The whale feels the tickle of thin threads/She plunges on./She tosses.  She spirals sideways as spidery lines tighten around her./The struggle begins./The web of ropes cuts into her skin.  She flails, starts to sink, fights for sir. (more…)

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afraid

by Sam Juliano

Fear is a common occurrence during the developmental years of children.  In a positive sense they allow for an understanding of the causes of chronic consternation that will usually lead to dissipation.  Kids in the most impressionable stages are frightened of the dark, monsters, animals, insects, germs, thunderstorms, loud noises, illness, vertigo and others concerns, but they are almost never sustained for a substantial period of time.  To be sure many adults maintain an unending fear of heights, claustrophobia and even  arachnophobia, and they have been the subjects of novels, films and television shows.  Jimmy Stewart’s police detective “Scotty” Ferguson in Hitchcock’s Vertigo carried a lifelong affliction of the condition, and Night Gallery’s “A Fear of Spiders” featured a middle aged man who was terrified of the insects.  There can be little doubt that the nurturing of these fears at the youngest ages by attentive parents can curb some of the growing symptoms, usually by showing that the object of fear shouldn’t be isolated, but rather integrated with their environment or in the case of phobias with a broader perception of how how this intimate fear is lessened when perceived in a broader canvas. The young girl in Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s I Used to Be Afraid got over the vast majority of her own shuddery inhibitions by departing the sphere of intimacy that invariably pitted her one-on-one with the object of her dread. (more…)

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