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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

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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music-in-georges-head

by Sam Juliano

Bernstein.  Barber.  Copland.  Glass.  Ives.  Schonberg.  Stravinsky.  Floyd.  Though there can never be a definitive ranking among the most noteworthy of American classical composers, these eight are perhaps the most accomplished, when you add opera to the equation.  But the country’s tradition is short-lived when measured up against the Europeans, whose musical titans have composed for hundreds of years.  For many America’s classical music is really the genre that flourished within its borders, and which more than any other defined a culture and produced a bevy of geniuses whose work continues to hold sway to the present, and no doubt well into the future. The form of course is jazz, which originated in New Orleans near the end of the nineteenth century, and when you add this unique form of musical expression and its cousins ragtime and blues to the composing career of a single person, the answer is not a difficult one to identify.  Born Jacob Gershwine in Brooklyn on July 11, 1937, the legendary George Gershwin lived a scant thirty-eight years after being felled by a malignant brain tumor, but he left behind a world struggling to categorize his achievements, which before and since have not been remotely replicated.  Like Chaplin, who was the cinema’s most versatile genius, Gershwin more than any other single American composer held the mantle of diversity, producing several masterpieces that are regularly cited as the most brilliant in the musical repertory.  Near the end of his life Gershwin composed Porgy and Bess, which is now counted as an operatic work, and as such contends with Floyd’s Susannah as the pinnacle in that genre by an American, and his orchestral work An American in Paris, written during a period he spent in France is regularly revived in all types of musical revues.  He later penned many songs, which are now jazz standards, and have been covered by innumerable artists.  Then there is a little composition called Rhapsody in Blue, which may well be the most renowned piece of music in any genre written in the land that I love.  The creation of this staggering work is the centerpiece of a fabulous biography The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade, with illustrations by Stacy Innerst. (more…)

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ideas-are-all

by Sam Juliano

Writer’s block.  There is nothing more deadly to the seasoned purveyor of prose or poetry than that which thwarts or derails the flow of ideas.  For some who profess to the chronic nature of this affliction, they see themselves pictured on a dartboard negotiated by a mischief loving angel in a playroom a short distance beyond the pearly gates.  When this winged seraph (they loved Poe’s identification) is successful in guiding a dart to its intended destination, the victim immediately is maligned with an acute case of mindlessness, the mental equivalent of what that poor girl in David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes went through after contracting a bizarre syndrome.  The irony of those with the wilder imaginations though is that while conjuring up all these conspiracy theories they are projecting just the kind of invention that they could be employing towards their current assignments.  Of course that is precisely the deceit of Phillip C. Stead’s spectacularly beautiful and creatively wrought Ideas Are All Around, a picture book memoir that that leaves writer’s block barely able to leave the front gate as a strangely conspicuous blue horse gallops away.  Mr. Stead, an author-artist with a limitless arsenal of ideas has enriched a simple premise into a resonating day long adventure, one that embraces memories, the needy, anti-war sentiments and philotherianism all under the limitless imagination ready to be unleashed by the keys of a typewriter.  The book’s gorgeous dust jacket features the central symbol of creativity, the impressionist blue horse.  The intrepid dog Wednesday is seen scurrying across over the title, colored from everyday hues from the outside world.  The inside cover presents the places, plant life, street signs and Smith Corona that are all part of the making of the book.  Wednesday is seen in five of the eighteen vertical photos.  A stunning yellow-orange sunflower is pictured in a full page drawing across from a photo of it, and a lamentation from the author that it was the only one to sprout from a packet of seeds they were planted. (more…)

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turk-cover

by Sam Juliano

Rick Blaine:   I came to Casablanca for the waters.

Captain Renault:  The waters?  What waters?  We’re in the desert.

Rick Blaine:  I was misinformed.

Captain Renault’s comeback has always provoked belly laughter, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Morocco and North Africa is cognizant that the Sahara desert is roughly as old as some of the ice ages, circa two and a half million years ago.  Over thousands of miles of scorching sand the most valuable substance was that which in some regions of this merciless expanse is something often scarcer than gold dust.  Ironically this essential commodity covers roughly seventy-one per cent of the Earth’s surface.  But the sun and the sweltering heat has always made the occasional oasis and fountains as the sole panacea for those daring to travel away from their comfort zone.  The Great Desert nearly claimed the life of Moses during Biblical times, and would have if not for some fortuitous human intervention.  The fear of the desert, or specifically getting caught too far from the home base without a water supply is comparable to one being dragged to a watery demise by an aggressive ocean undertow.  Of course the desert offers nothing more than dangerous travels through scorched, unforgiving terrain.  In David Lean’s epic 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, a cinematic masterpiece based on the life of T.H. Lawrence, Prince Feisal declared: “No Arab loves the desert.  We love water and green trees.  There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”

The approximate time period of Evan Turk’s The Storyteller is shortly after Islam swept through North Africa not long after the death of Mohammad in 632.  Of course the framing story that ultimately encircles this epic, audacious and emotionally enthralling work is the present time.  This final deceit enables Turk to properly bookend a story within a story so that readers can look back alongside the modern day storyteller who entertains a contemporary throng with a captivating, multitudinous tale while at the same time paying homage to a great tradition that once defined thirst as both a need for the world’s most essential life-giving element and the life-affirming storytelling practice that holds disaster at bay. It wouldn’t appear to be unreasonable to tag the events in The Storyteller to the Islamic Golden Age, which ran from the 8th to the 13th century.  Furthermore The Arabian Nights -a group of stories compiled over centuries by authors, translators and scholars, from which “Aladdin” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” attained notable popularity after their inclusion by Europeans hundreds of years later offered up the most excessive case of storytelling preponderance in the history of literature, the tale of the Sultana Scheherazade, who averted a death edict by a sultan who vowed to get even for an act of faithlessness by his one-time wife.  He them proceeded to marry a new virgin each day and then to behead them, until he had reached a total of one-thousand dispatched in that manner.  But Scheherazade, gifted with a storytelling talent, continued to hold her demise in check, by keeping the sultan captivated 1,001 nights with exciting new stories.  When she had run out of them the King still spared her, having long since fallen in love with her.  He  made her his Queen.  The great Russian classical composer Rimsky-Korsakov of course brought a breathtaking musical interpretation to this time-worn material in what was to become his most beloved composition. (more…)

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rock-cover

by Sam Juliano

You know the kind.  They parade around like the world revolves around them.  They issue orders, exhibit zero patience, poor manners and an air of superiority.  When they get what they want they are not appreciative, feeling they are entitled.  They might not be wearing a crown, but in their own mind they are royalty.  They take advantage of those with a penchant for masochism, and employ intimidation tactics against those ill-equipped to protest.  The cries of indignation from those on the receiving end of such condescending behavior are cursed by their victims, many of whom  assert What goes around comes around or Karma’s a bitch.  Throughout children’s literature there are lessons to be learned about smug behavior, The perpetrator always gets a comeuppance comparable to what was dished out.  In Bring Me A Rock! by Daniel Miyares a dictatorial grasshopper with a Napoleonic complex rules over his subjects in an insect hamlet with the proverbial iron fists, until the hand of fate reduces him to what he undoubtedly was before he decided to seize power in a bloodless coup.  Hopper of Disney’s  A Bug’s Life (voiced by Kevin Spacey) projects the same world view at the yellow crowned insect in Miyares’s book, though the procession of minuscule bugs carrying tiny rocks is more the domain of Dreamwork’s Antz.  Another 2016 picture book about an insect community, Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis is also squarely in Caldecott contention.  That it ends up that the tiniest bug in Bring Me A Rock! topples the king -think about the Biblical story of David and Goliath but without the fatal outcome- is a call for equality and the idea that every member of society has a place in the overall scheme.  Some critics have suggested a Marxist implication, but I think the author illustrator was far more concerned with teaching children the importance of sharing and not allowing one person to undervalue others. (more…)

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