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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

freedom-1

by Sam Juliano

The scourge of slavery as revealed in an existing document discovered by nonagenarian author-illustrator Ashley Bryan poses that African-Americans working on the Fairchilds estate in the 1820’s and beyond were property of the white slave-holders who even claimed immediate ownership of newly born children of slave parents.  Bryan’s wrenching look at eleven slaves owned by Cado and Mary Fairchilds on a South Carolina plantation, Freedom Over Me, gives voice to those who share a dream of freedom.  Each invariably relates in the first-person narratives told on two full pages alongside a detailed profile drawing and another tapestry showing them with others in a canvas illustrating their dreams coming true, common stories of their abduction and loss of individual rights and of how their special talents were exploited, both in terms of the revenue they generated going to the estate owner and some of them being farmed out if they were too good at what they did.  Bryan has taken human “statistics” and fleshed them out, giving them identities, personalities, a stream of aching inner thoughts, and in some instances a secret resolve to achieve literacy, long banned by the slave-owners because it would intensity their desire to win independence.  In short Bryan gives his slaves a humanity that eluded their real-life counterparts.  All of the slaves in this group were abducted from their African villages, sometimes leaving behind parents or family members who were killed in the raid, and this inner anger drives all to keep the candle burning for freedom, as they render scene-specific aspirations for the time they are release, though sadly that time will never come in their own lives.

After browning parchments of slave auctions and legal documents that bind slaves to the orders within are replicated in collage on the end paper and free space opposite the title page Bryan commits one page with a short summary of Mary Fairchilds, the wife of the slave owner who has passed away.  She speaks of her husband as if he treated the slaves with kindness and respect, apprenticing them to learn carpentry, sewing, pottering, basketry and ironwork, and even loaned then out to neighboring estates as if that was some kind of boost to their self esteem, when in reality it had the opposite effect.  She boasts that the slave earnings came back to her estate, thereby increasing its value.  She announces she will return to England where “I may live without fear, surrounded by my own good British people.”  A For Sale poster featuring all eleven participants of Bryan’s drama lists the age of each and the amount they are sold for in yet another example of dehumanization this most heinous of all human institutions fostered. (more…)

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princess-1

by Sam Juliano

Duncan Tonatiuh’s emotionally enthralling The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes is quite simply one of the most staggeringly beautiful picture books of the year, and to date this acclaimed author-artist’s masterpiece.  Yet, because the competition for Caldecott acknowledgement is so crowded in a year with multiple treasures this exquisite work seems to be lurking rather than making a serious intrusion on the various on-line prediction round-ups as the date of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Award announcements is now as of this writing only one week away.  No discussion of the year’s most notable pictorial achievements, however,  can possibly exclude this magisterial Mexican folktale with a tragic denouement.  The story arc persuasively recalls narrative elements from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, and the heroic subtext bears similarities to stories dating back to ancient Egypt and the Bible.  But Tonatiuh’s melancholic transcription is pointedly based on an Aztec legend of the two volcanoes -Iztaccihautl and Popocatepetl which are located about forty miles southeast of Mexico City, previously the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.  In an afterward Tonatiuh relates that the beauty of these mountains left its mark on both the Aztecs and those who lived nearby over the succeeding generations.  It “inspired a number of storytellers, poets, painters and photographers” says Tonatiuh, who adds “others have created pieces of art to honor the magnificent mountains.”  The author notes at the outset that the latter of the two remains an active volcano to the present date, and a 2013 mild eruption has been recorded. (more…)

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voyage

by Sam Juliano

The 2006 Caldecott Medal committee awarded one of their four honor citations to Hot-Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman.  The events in that whimsically illustrated picture book, one where fact and fiction meet, predate by two years the historic international balloon flight across the English Channel in A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785, a 2016 picture book by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall.  As per their pointed titles both books admit to a degree of fabrication, and the newer book even makes mention of the sheep that was aboard the earlier flight.  The other significant similarity between the books is the quality of the art.  Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall’s tidy watercolor pastels are a perfect fit for the period decor, especially the eighteenth-century clothing and uniforms.  Blackall again treats readers to vivid colorful tapestries in tandem with another superlative authorship by Matthew Olshan, who previously collaborated with her on the wildly popular The Mighty Lalouche, another period piece, set in France in the early 1900’s.  The narrative highlights an amusing ongoing row between the financial backer of the planned venture, an Englishman named Dr. John Jeffries and his pilot, a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, both of whom feel they should be calling the shots.  In the end, like the contentious canines in the 1953 Caldecott Medal winning Finders Keepers by Will and Nichols, they must pool pool their resources and ingenuity to stave off disaster, a resolve that forges a friendship. (more…)

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before-1

by Sam Juliano

The Horn Book’s Martha V. Parravano stated in her “Calling Caldecott” review of Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes, “I’m not sure there’s another 2016 picture book that delineates mood so beautifully.”  Though I’d pose that Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead’s intoxicating The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles pushes mighty close in that department, I do in the end have to concur with Parravano.  This is not the first time Sidman and Krommes have explored nature’s wonderments -their Swirl by Swirl altered long held perceptions in the miraculous wedding of lilting lyricism and ravishing watercolor scratchcard illustrations.  The two artists are at it again in Before Morning, a Frostian confection that whisks the reader off into the realm of invocations, where King Midas-like wishes are granted bringing a soothing serenity to a place always operating in the fast lane.  Before Morning operates under the auspices that if you quietly beseech the powers-that-be, a metaphysical response will alter a naturally ordained chain of events, and bring this intended sequence to a screeching halt.  Sidman, in the most perfectly placed and evoked sixty-six words one can possibly imagine in the pages of a picture book has conjured up some spiritual forces -represented on Earth by stone angels in the park- and there is no chance to parlay wishes a la The Monkey’s Paw, the change here is one of permanence, an improbable meteorological aberration willed by positive application that will comfortably blend in with a documentation of prior weather-related events. (more…)

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duiztak

by Sam Juliano

It happened again.  In the four years I have written the Caldecott Medal Contender series there is always at least one title that doesn’t grab me initially, but when it does kick in the appreciation is cathartic.  Mind you the first connection with the book yielded multiple aesthetic dividends, and the concept was and remains rather ingenious, but there was something about the liberal use of white space that bothered me.  Perhaps I expected a brisker narrative pace or the mastery of that subtle picture book component regularly exhibited by Jon Klassen.  Or perhaps I may have been too impatient that day to sort out the insect language that was ushered in on the cover in grand style by way of one of the largest of voice bubbles.  But Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis in scheme alone requires far more than a cursory exploration.  Anything less than that is likely to result in a fragile opinion imminently doomed to reversal as soon as some extended scrutiny is offered up.  The final conclusion after a more intensive exploration of the forty-eight page work is no longer one wrought with reservations, but a firm conviction this is one of the treasures of 2016.  No wonder then, that various on-line prediction sites have been regularly touting the book as major contender, a position that actually first surfaced a few months before the book actually released.  Such was the advanced hoopla after some of the art was seen, but the respect for Ellis, who created the fabulous Home the previous year.  For me it is deja vu all over again.  Raul Colon’s Draw! was one of my two or three favorite books of 2014, yet for several months after it released I couldn’t seem to get behind it emotionally.  All that changed in a big way. (more…)

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uncorker

by Sam Juliano

The following is a transcript of a student-teacher interview conducted at the beginning of December in an undergraduate class in children’s literature taught by Dr. Katherine Smith at Jersey City State University.  The interview was the final stage of an assignment each class member was required to complete.  The specifications required that each student sponsor a picture book that they will propose for the Caldecott Medal, due to be announced in late January of 2017.  The student, Kaitlyn Mercado chose The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas with illustrations by Erin E. Stead.  (transcript begins)

Professor Smith:  Hello Kaitlyn!  (Kaitlyn responds in kind)  Please hold up and identify your choice.

Kaitlyn Mercado:  Professor, my book is The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, published by Dial, written by Michele Cuevas, with the illustrations by Erin E. Stead.

Professor Smith:  Thank you Kaitlyn.  Can you talk a little about why you chose this title?

Kaitlyn Mercado:  Professor, I am a big fan of the Steads, Phillip C. and his wife Erin E.  I was thrilled when their first book together, A Sick Day for Amos McGee was awarded the Caldecott Medal six years ago.  The woodblock and pencil work in that book was so precise and exquisite.  Amos is an irresistible character in his ill fitting clothes, but his friendship with the animals under his watch is so genuine.  The book has elements of Goodnight Moon and a much older 1965 Caldecott Medal winner called May I Bring A Friend?  Philip is both an author and illustrator, but Erin only illustrates.  Eric sometimes does the art for other authors.  I really love And Then It’s Spring, which she illustrated for Julie Fogliano.  Her art is so sumptuous.  This past year was huge for the couple.  In addition to this book for Erin, Philip was the sole creator of two other great ones, Ideas Are All Around and Samson in the Snow.  I pretty much fell in love with The Uncorker… as soon as I saw the dust jacket cover. (more…)

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library-1

by Sam Juliano

One page turn from the conclusion of Anne Rockwell’s  Library Day a beaming fair-haired boy with a red shirt named Don D’Angelo (Italian-Irish perhaps?) is shown holding a newly-processed library card to the Byram Public Library.  For those baby boomers growing up in the 60’s a library card was the key to the world.  In households where books were not a priority item in the family budget, the library was the place to secure copies of the latest picture books, biographies and young adult novels.  The issuance of a card to enable borrowing was one of the earliest opportunities for young people to demonstrate responsibility.  While some had a penchant for losing books and incurring late fines (two cents a day) most students took full advantage of the privileges a card with bring them.  All it took was a rubber date stamp on the back end papers and the removal of a white card -similarly stamped- for the library to keep track of who held what.  Usually you were allowed two weeks with the option to renew  Books and magazines were the basic loan items, and that longtime archive of library holdings, the card catalog with its narrow roll out drawers led you to them.  The library to be sure was a meeting place for students looking to hang and find ways to avoid doing their work, but those were served up with eviction notices by vigilant personnel.  Possession of a card was just the impetus a child needed to take up reading in a hands on manner. Though the public libraries have experienced a meteoric overhaul in the years since there was a line spanning months to get hold of a copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are or for older kids Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith, the love for reading hard copy thrives, and age old practices continue to hold sway to the present.  A young boy’s unbridled excitement at securing the power to take advantage all that a public library offers within his age specifications lies at the heart of a picture book that celebrates a unique institution that remains one of the proudest cornerstones of any community. (more…)

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