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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

waterfall

by Sam Juliano

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.   -Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

Environmental philosopher and activist John Muir dedicated much of his life toward the preservation of the western forests, and today is referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.”  From both a political and recreational sphere of interest this master of many pursuits has also been dubbed “one of the patron saints of twentieth century American environmental activity.”  Such a rich and diverse life would no doubt yield some specific events that in and of themselves would yield the basis for promising books.  John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg and Jamie Hogan is the outgrowth of a very close brush Muir had with death during his acute immersion with nature during the time he spent at Yosemite Valley.  Certainly this is not the kind of defining life event that is brought up when the author and naturalist’s name is broached as it would be in the life of Civil War politician Charles Sumner, who was nearly caned to death in the congressional chambers by a furious southerner, but ironically enough the Sumner incident was condemned by famed transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson who visited with Muir at Yosemite, and was deeply impressed with his oneness with nature that he tried to convinced him to travel east.  Muir declined but twenty years later, he met Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall employs the same kind of two prorogued narrative presentation as last year’s Winter Bees.   Muir’s activity is chronicled in free-spirited prose, while on at the bottom of each right side panel  the historical and biographical context enriches one’s understanding of Muir and his daily wilderness investigations.  Muir was ravished by Yosemite’s expansive soulful sublimity, and the only surefire way to become immersed in the nature experience, to take it in by experiencing it and living in a simple solitary cabin with equipped with observational capacities.  The central object of his fascination and appreciation was a springtime waterfall, where as described by Danneberg it “cascaded, crashed and careened over the side of the mountain.”  In the hang-nest room at the sawmill  he maintained journals, sketches and books, and saw the heavens and Yosemite Falls through window roofs. (more…)

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skunk 1

by Sam Juliano

The droll humor on display throughout The Skunk is the creation of one of children’s literature’s wittiest luminaries, who for the first time has pooled his inimitable talent with celebrated cartoonist Patrick McDonnell.  The result is one of the best picture books of 2015.  The review of this most curious Theater of the Absurd fever dream is the final act in the 2015 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  Every imaginable artistic component comes together flawlessly in this irresistible confection that has many of us crossing our fingers for a re-teaming of this inventive duo.  McDonnell, who presently is writing a screenplay for an animated film with a major studio, previously won a Caldecott Honor for Me…Jane, and Barnett, ever-prolific, authored two books with illustrator Jon Klassen that also won Caldecott Honors, Extra Yarn and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.  Barnett’s Battle Bunny, an irreverent homage to Golden Books, left the box like few picture books have, and this year’s teaming with Christian Robinson on Leo: A Ghost Story was a big winner.

The Skunk, surrealist in essence and execution is far more convincing as a dream than as a slice-of-life friendship story, though the budding friendship, never acknowledged as such by either of the conspirators is the emotional hook that will resonate most compellingly with readers.  In this sense it seems McDonnell’s decision to scale back on the details and place emphasis on the bare essentials bring this bizarre relationship more emotional heft.  From the very fact that the mammal chosen for this story of human and animal bonding is just about the most detested creature out there alone underscores the improbability of such a development, again pointing towards horizontal nocturnal imaginings.  The title page is the one place in the book where we get to see a drawing of real skunk, and it ain’t a pretty sight, nor was it meant to be.  As those who live in areas where these stenchmeisters can attest to the odoriferous residue from a skunk spraying have maintained astonishing staying power, with seemingly no logistical panacea other than prompt relocation. (more…)

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drowned-city-by-don-brown

by Sam Juliano

The very first page of Don Brown’s Drowned City practically leads young readers to believe that they are about to experience a horror novel.  What is basically just a “swirl of wind” gains energy as it moves across the Atlantic.  Baby boomers remember such a scenario in the 1958 film The Blob, which is another story about something that becomes a huge mass, gaining energy and enveloping everything in its path.  But the thing of it is that Drowned City is a horror novel.  It chronicles in uncompromising terms one of the worst calamities in American history.  The wind that began benignly, gained enough monstrous force to wreck damage on a city that included the flooding of 80% of its land area, inflict 100 billion in property damages, but most tragically snuff out the lives of over 1,400 people.  Hurricane Katrina as it was dubbed by meteorologists was a catastrophe that brought a state to its knees, a nation in shock, and a government into an unacceptable period of non-action that till today even has brought into focus the question if relief efforts failed the city of New Orleans for the unconscionable event of August 29, 2005.

As the people of New Jersey found out in October of 2012, the devastation from a hurricane can change lives permanently.  Hurricane Sandy was the second worst storm behind Katrina in destructive force and monetary damage.  It can also prove to an area severely in need of help how long it will take to acquire it.  By the time Katrina closed in on New Orleans it was downgraded from a category 5 hurricane to a category 3, (the same strength as Sandy) but with 155 mph winds there was sure to be some serious devastation in a low lying city that requires levees and pumps to keep it dry even during drought seasons. (more…)

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Whisper_hres-813x1024

by Sam Juliano

One would be hard pressed, stroke for stroke, image for image, idea for idea to find a more imaginative or phantasmagorical picture book in 2015 than Pamela Zagarenski’s surrealist The Whisper, the first book this celebrated two-time Caldecott Honor winning artist has also written herself.  The Whisper, which made me think of Lewis Carroll is a book within a book, and an indescribably beautiful visualization of a time-worn creative writing assignment, where students are asked to write a story based on a series of pictures.  But alas no students have yet been given the kind of ravishing art Zagarenski has been known for throughout her career, nor perhaps have been temped with such imaginative provocations, nor with such challenging, intricate tapestries.  Zagarenski’s sensibilities  are Felliniesque though her mixed media application, elaborate design and kaleidoscopic imagery.  The Whisper is about the power of storytelling and the limitless imagination, but it is also a fever dream, with connecting images, designs and colors, that carries over the artist’s previous preoccupation with crowns, teacups wheels, tigers and the heavens.    There is wonder, enchantment, and magic in a story where the words fly out of the book while the girl carries it home from school, but a fox catches them with a net in the central conceit.    This is the Seven Voyages of Sinbad meets Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, though Zagarenski’s dreamy ideas are far more benign if suggestive. (more…)

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Emmanuel's Dream cover

by Sam Juliano

Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles were born blind yet went on to become justly celebrated  writers and singers. (Charles was actually seven when he lost his eyesight).  Wilma Rudolph, born premature and sickly, developed polio almost immediately, necessitating leg braces, yet won three gold medals at the Olympics.  Perhaps the most famous “disabled” person was Helen Keller, who was born deaf and dumb, yet mastered braille to become a major author, lecturer and political activist.  Their triumphs were made possible by a dogged refusal to surrender to their limitations, and subsequently to achieve the level of success not attained by some of their peers who never had disabilities.  Yet they all benefited by societies that encouraged getting beyond their limitations, societies that offered money and support groups.  Hence it is unconscionable to perceive that in some places in the world it is seen as a curse on a family who give birth to a compromised child.  In Ghana in West Africa a boy named Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in largely perfect order, save for one of his legs, which was limp.  The crushed father left the family never to return, but the mother was driven by her faith and named her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

(more…)

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Last Stop 1
by Sam Juliano

Ma quando vien lo sgelo
il primo sole è mio
il primo bacio dell’aprile è mio!     

-Giacomo Puccini, La Boheme

It has long been asserted that those who appreciate sublimity the most have experienced the worst kind of squalor and impoverishment.  It has also been posed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what is one person’s nightmare is another’s eternal joy.  In Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street, each one of these adages is applicable to the story of a young boy and his grandmother who have close to nothing, but come to find appreciation, indeed inspiration from everyday urban life.  The picture book is also a subtle repudiation of capitalist excess, and a call for a life of sensory immersion.  De la Pena implies there is light at the end of the tunnel, and happiness is almost never contingent upon geography.

Much of the drama in Last Stop on Market Street plays out in a bus that maintains a route that travels up and down the street of the title.  The title page pictures the two main characters, while the double page dedication spread street of cars, bicycle riders, dog walkers and people walking.  Between the house is a church with stain glass windows, that takes center stage in the next spread, where rain has begun.  CJ likes the freedom of leaving the church, though he now has to deal with the wet stuff.  The first of his many questions to his Nana throughout the book was in regard to why they needed to stand in the rain, albeit under an umbrella, waiting for a bus.  The Nana makes a funny quip about trees needing water, but that is her normal mindset – she is a mountain of good will and positive energy, and always looks at the bright side of even the most dire equations.  When the boy sees his friend climb into a spiffy blue car he asks her why they can’t own a car.  While the answer is painfully obvious Nana spins it as a clear case of better opportunity, pointing to the fire-breathing dragon on a side poster of the bus, and the trickster Mr. Dennis, who drives it.  After they board the bus, CJ hands over a coin to Mr. Dennis, while Nana voices her deep laugh.  They sit in the front near a marvelous cast of characters, including a man tuning a guitar, and a woman in curlers with a jar of butterflies.  They all exchanged greetings, even CJ at his Nan’s behest. (more…)

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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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