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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

bad apple cover

by Sam Juliano

After some wicked witch-possessed trees regale Dorothy and her new friend in The Wizard of Oz for picking apples off them, the Scarecrow initiates a sobering conversation:

Scarecrow: Come along Dorothy.  You don’t want any of those apples.

Tree: Are you hinting that my apples aren’t what they ought to be?

Scarecrow:  Oh no.  Its just that she doesn’t like little green worms.

Alas, that unflattering perception isn’t shared by an ironically named mackintosh apple who first rolled onto the stage in 2012 in a book titled Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship.  His stay was so welcomed by all varieties of America’s favorite fruit and masses of the fisherman’s favorite bait -not to mention adoring young school children- that its creator, Edward Hemingway -the youngest grandson of you-know-who- opted for an encore.

Technically, Bad Apple’s Perfect Day is considered a sequel, but in effect, like the Caldecott Medal winning Madeline’s Rescue it involves new adventures with some of the same players.  Like its predecessor it is lively, vibrant, funny and imbued with a great deal of positive energy.  The bold and imaginative oil on canvas art offers up some sublime set pieces, with a ravishing use of red, green and yellow, and brings in a plethora of compositional diversity.  Friendship in film, literature and theater has often yield some of the most seemingly incompatible unions, but it would hard to imagine any more dysfunctional that that of an apple and a worm, since intrusion by one into the other has always signifying irreversible spoiling. While apple-loving children, who have been indoctrinated by their parents to the tune of “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” may have always had warm feelings for the red and green fruit, they are not normally receptive to worm infiltration.  In any case, this fruit, so integral to the story arcs of William Tell and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is an American institution, and is a natural fit to receive life giving properties.  Hemingway has done just that in his two irresistible picture books. (more…)

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Tiny cover

by Sam Juliano

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…

It is human nature for one to wish what they are not.  Kids always think in terms of big.  Many want to be taller, some want to be much stronger, others want to be anything other than what they are.  The most famous wisher of all started his life as a wooden puppet, and his hankering was to become a real boy.  The funny thing about wishing though is that if it were possible to actually happen it would eventually leave this advocate for change none the happier for forfeiting the very special and unique qualities before the transformation.  The life cycle is always the same.  Kids want to become adults, and are all to willing to bypass the formidable years to achieve equality with parents, relatives or some others they idolize.  Young ones try to emulate the behavior and mannerisms of adults, and fantasize of being different, usually in the most extreme manifestation.  Invariably, when they do get older they regret that their childhood wasn’t longer nor better appreciated.  It is a lesson they learn too late, but as kids would never understand this concept.  Wishing is usually harmless, but the consequences of avarice has been well noted in the literature.  A royal flounder repays a kind fisherman for letting him off the hook, but repeatedly granting his wife a series of wishes.  Prodded by her greed, he wishes (and gets) a cottage, castle, servants, and queen of the realm, but when his wife asks to be God, they are returned to their poor shanty.  In W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw a bid for a lot of money leads to unspeakable tragedy and a macabre conclusion. (more…)

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hug cover

by Sam Juliano

There is a serious strain of juvenile obsessive-compulsive disorder being played out in Scott Campbell’s irresistibly effervescent The Hug Machine, but it is not one likely to fan the flames of dysfunction, especially the kind that could adversely affect the recipients.  No, this kind of behavior has its heart in the right place, and the consequences are benign.  The theme is human intimacy, that even extends to inanimate objects, one that extols the virtues of wearing your heart on your sleeve, and publicly displaying what many keep to themselves.   The first time I actually saw The Hug Machine was back in early October.  A bunch of copies were stacked in the main window display at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, the ultimate showcase of children’s literature and picture books.  The creative exhibit included some set pieces from the book, in what is really a natural for this kind of promotion.  This kind of extreme behavior makes for a visually alluring presentation.  Wanting to purchase two other books that day -I did- I figured I would wait until the following week to return for The Hug Machine.  Bad move.  By then they were sold out.  A desperate stop a few blocks away to the Strand saved the day, and initiated my special attraction to this fabulous pink lemonade picture book.  Campbell, who collaborated with Kelly DiPucchio on Zombie in Love and its sequel, was the sole creator of this one-note Valentine’s Day picture book that never once diverts from its central purpose. (more…)

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baby tree cover

by Sam Juliano

The past year in picture books has yielded some of the most daring and  mature themes yet explored in this generally restrictive terrain.  The first openly transgender picture book I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings takes a pointed look at the confusion of a boy who possesses the mind-set of a girl, and the lovely Canadian work Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant explores the courage it takes to be creative and different, in this case a boy wearing a dress.  Then there is a book titled Outlaw Pete by Bruce Springsteen and Frank Caruso, that is so godawful in concept and theme, that its creators are now trying to say its target audience are adults.  Right.  A book about an infant who robs banks in his diapers.  In any case, the boldest book of any in 2014 was written and illustrated by one of children’s literature’s most renowned artists, Sophie Blackall.  A strong contender in last year’s Caldecott race for the sublime illustrations she crafted for The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olsham,  the artist’s Chinese ink and pastel watercolors bring a sumptuous life to a theme that must be delicately broached to win the seal of approval from the teachers and parents who would oversee this book’s reception at home and in the classroom.  Blackall’s virtuoso use of colors in finely bordered vignettes are a perfect fit for the aesthetically pleasing arches paper used for this book.  The austerity of The Baby Tree’s subject is negotiated with visual disarmament that accentuates the boundless joy of familial addition, rather than a more muted conscription of how to deal with the birds and the bees.  No author or illustrator to date has brought such effervescence to this sobering subject, nor has so effectively sidestepped the implications of the reproductive process. (more…)

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as an oak cover

by Sam Juliano

“I am as constant as the northern star”       -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

There is a deep elegiac undercurrent running through G. Brian Karas’ As An Oak Tree Grows, a quietly affecting story of a towering canopy that lives for better than two-hundred years.  In the tradition of Virginia Lee Burton’s beloved Caldecott Medal winning The Little House, there is a human aspect to the seemingly symbolic specter that bears witness to the many changes that are wrought on what begins as a clearing in the woods, progressing to a small town and then to a populated hamlet near a river.  Much like Burton’s book, everything and anything changes around the centerpiece, while technological advancements and population increases alter the landscape, with nothing but the tree achieving any measure of permanence.  What never changes is the appreciation for the giant oak by generations who find different ways to make this indomitable presence an integral part of their lives.

It all begins when the young son of early New World settlers plants an acorn in the ground in early spring.  Later in the year and oak tree sprouts and begin the annual ritual of shedding leaves in the fall and growing new ones in the spring.  By 1800 the boy has grown up and moved on, leaving farmers to develop the land, though the oak tree was left alone to expand.  Though branches break during winter it lives on, as the area around it continues to broaden from 1825-1850.  A few decades later the area suffers from a mini-drought that forces the oak tree’s roots to expand, searching for life-sustaining water, as the symptoms include wilted leaves.   (more…)

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blizzard cover

by Sam Juliano

As I sit down to pen my review of John Rocco’s wildly popular picture book Blizzard, a swirling snowstorm is setting in on the northeastern New Jersey outside of Manhattan, where my family and I reside.  While the projected numbers may not quite equal the 1978 super storm Rocco chronicles, this is a major event that will have people digging out for days, not to mention all the severe travel restrictions that lie ahead.  Nightmare scenarios that include late-arriving plows, the inability to drive to a store for food and supplies, and the effects of cabin fever are part of the blizzard experience.  Always a fun time for the kids, who see the arrival of snowflakes as a passport to scholastic absence, it is that relatively rare time to ride sleds, throw snowballs and build snowmen and igloos with reckless abandon.  It is a time when nature plays the role of the great equalizer, neutralizing parental authority, as a result of the communal task at hand.  The arrival of a blizzard brings on a divergent but amenable mix: excitement, consternation, uncertainty and claustrophobia, though the perceptions of kids widely differ from that of the more responsible adults.  One thing is certain: whatever plans one had in place are all left on the back burner when a blizzard strikes.  The priorities are down to one. (more…)

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frida cover

by Sam Juliano

The Mexican/American Yuyi Morales made a strong bid for last year’s Caldecott Medal with the wildly-popular Nino Wrestles the World, finally settling for the American Library Association’s Pura Belpre Award for Latino illustrators.  Her follow-up, Viva Frida,  is something diametrically opposite in theme, presentation and style, though sharp eyed fans can at least connect some visual dots.  Frida Kahlo, was the wife of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.  She was stricken with polio at age six, a serious disease that kept her right leg crippled for the remainder of her life.  At age eighteen she was further mutilated as the result of a serious bus accident, and was forced to absorb painful medical procedures for the rest of her shortened life.  (She passed at 47 in 1954).  A natural storyteller from a young age, her youth was riotously jovial until the time she was physically compromised.  Her tumultuous marriage with Rivera brought on a dysfunctional relationship, though one dotted with the deepest of passions.  Physically, they were a study in contrasts: Rivera, strapping and rotund, Frida fragile and demure.  Their story is the centerpiece in Julie Taymor’s 2002 Frida, an appropriately episodic film that starred Selma Hayek and Alfred Molina in the leads.  Kahlo was a bi-sexual who is known to have had affairs with Josephine Baker (the subject of Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson’s Josephine, another Caldecott Medal Contender) and Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary and theorist.  Rivera is also known to have engaged in extramarital affairs, including one with his wife’s sister Cristina.  Kahlo, whose work sometimes featured Christian and Jewish themes, was a master of the self-portrait who once said:  “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am on the subject I know best.  I was born a bitch.  I was born a painter.” (more…)

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