Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘#Caldecott Medal Contender’ Category

by Sam Juliano

He’s off and flyin’ as he guns the car around the track
He’s jammin’ down the pedal like he’s never comin’ back
Adventure’s waitin’ just ahead.
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer, Go!        -Nobuyoshi Koshibe, Peter Fernandez, Speed Racer, 1967

Barbara McClintock has been in the Caldecott hunt a number of times over the years.  Her sublime collaboration with Jim Aylesworth, My Grandfather’s Coat, was one of the prime contenders for the 2015 medal, and both the resplendent Emma and Julia Love Ballet and her 2018 Nothing Stopped Sophie written by Cheryl Bardoe were spoken of regularly in the Caldecott forums.  Her distinguished career has brought her fame worldwide, with marked veneration in Japan, where her books have been regularly translated, and her Adele & Simon series and Mary and the Mouse books have held the stage in elementary classrooms for years.  A persuasive argument could well be tendered that her newest children’s lit treasure Vroom! is her sturdiest bid for the shiny gold sticker yet, what with McClintock fans more excited than they have ever been for the Connecticut-based author-illustrator.  The inspiration for her new work is two-fold.  The artist confides she spent much time in her childhood playing with a silver toy car like the one that Annie drives in the book, and in recent adulthood she seemingly firmed up resolve after acquisition of her spiffy new Audi.

Though Vroom’s showcase front cover is gangbusters in conveying the theme, McClintock immediately signals the book’s mise en scene with florescent green end papers which inform young readers that not only will there be no stopping or delaying but not even a cautionary color segue in a narrative committed to unmitigated acceleration.  After a title page envisions a car racing full speed ahead, the book’s protagonist Annie happily sets a helmet over her long red-brown hair.  The author makes it clear that the power of the imagination is at work and much like one of kid lit’s most iconic characters, Max in Maurice Sendak’s Caldecott Medal winning Where the Wild Things Are, this young girl is wearing pajamas, a obvious clue for young readers anyway that we are about to enter fantasy land for whatever natural continuance one would expect from a racing car obsessive.  After two other minimalist vignettes the automotive-attuned child puts on her gloves and hops into her racing car and takes off plane-style through the window of a second-story bedroom in her suburban home.  Though a family pet witnesses the air-borne take-off the inhabitants in the home are none too wiser of course the singular hobby-prone youngster has acted on her wishes. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

I would not be just a muffin’,
My head all full of stuffin’,
My heart all full of pain           -E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The inveterate bird-scarer known as the scarecrow has been a boon to farmers around the world dating back over 2,500 years to ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.  In feudal Japan they were front line protection for the rice fields, affording security for both newly-planted seeds and the maturing crop.  Inevitably over the years the scarecrow has been the prime protagonist in horror films, where its frightful visage has induced writers to re-imagine this rural symbol as a purveyor of supernatural terror.  Yes children today and those from past generations have a far more benign perception, one based exclusively on the beloved character played by Ray Bolger in the 1939 American film classic The Wizard of Oz.  Based on the first in a children’s series by L. Frank Baum the scarecrow is a good-hearted and intelligent character who wishes he had a brain in a plot where his quick-thinking is vital to the success of the trip to the city where the titular character rules over. In Baum’s book, the famed film version and practically all personifications the scarecrow is initially perceived as one of the loneliest of guardians.  Like Trent in the original Outer Limits’ most celebrated episode “Demon with a Glass Hand” where the robotic creation of mankind must stand watch over the earth’s population who are stored on a glass hand as electrical impulses, he is seemingly doomed to seclusion.  In the poetic new picture book masterwork The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry this all-weather mannequin constructed with straw and work clothes is virtually programmed with one purpose, unencumbered by dual-tasking and unchallenged by anyone or anything looking to complicate his sole mode of existence. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Just a little over three years ago an entry in the 2016 Caldecott Medal Contender series featured a resplendent picture book biography on Ana Lovelace titled Ada’s Ideas who was dubbed the world’s first computer programmer.  The work’s author-illustrator Fiona Robinson, a Brooklyn based author-artist, has this past year again explored a prominent female living in a male-dominated age who is widely credited for being the very first person to publish a book of photography.  Robinson’s wholly sublime release The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs bears a number of similarities to the earlier book contextually and in a thematic sense (Anna like Ada was basically reared by a single parent, both of whom ignored the ways of the time by encouraging her education) but Robinson has upped the ante, instilling a profound sensory air to the world’s most popular color.  To achieve the authenticity she sought, Robinson walked through actual English meadows where she took photographs for their initial stage in her amazing illustrative process.  While she developed into a master botanist her claim to fame is the cyanotype,  photographic printing process that produces prints in a distinctive dark greenish-blue. The word “cyan” comes from the Greek, meaning “dark blue substance.” The process was invented by Sir John Herschel, a brilliant astronomer and scientist, in 1842 but Anna expanded to become the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images in addition to, according to some, the first woman to create a photograph.  In the latter half of The Bluest of Blues and in some exceedingly useful end notes Robinson painstakingly defines the process, with stunning end paper shell and seaweed replications that bleed over onto the frontispiece. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

On Star Trek it is referred to as “the final frontier” but humankind has barely scratched the surface in regard to space exploration, and only rarely has an American set foot on our lunar neighbor, the closest celestial sphere to our planet.  Still, it is not at all remotely difficult to envision a time in the not so distant future when Gene Roddenberry’s fantastical vision is no longer inconceivable, even if we are still a very long way from the context of the classic cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century.  In a captivating wordless picture book titled Field Trip to the Moon by newcomer John Hare a class embarks on a routine venture that is no more startling in concept and execution than a trip to the Stature of Liberty or a science museum.  While destination and mode of transportation are incredulous the time spent on the moon suggest that the native inhabitants bear far more similarities to earthlings than our typical hostile stereotypes would pose.  At its most basic the wholly chimerical Field Trip to the Moon is a story of friendship in one of the last locations one would think it could surface.

The front dust jacket cover, one replicated on the inside hardcover, depicts a smaller-sized class leaving a space station to board a shuttle craft for their day trip to the moon.  One student, later identified as a girl lags behind seemingly mired in deep thought.  First time illustrator Hare negotiates acrylic paints to craft a rich outer space tapestry, with the yellow shuttle at the forefront of the black space, punctuated by the stars.  A “Slow- school zone” marker serves as an amusing retro to the time when such an expedition was unthinkable.  The cover is one of the most striking of any 2019 picture book.  After a dedication/copyright canvas denoting the shuttle approaching its lunar destination the class and its single chaperon gather in a  line to explore as the space craft anchors itself.  The teacher and the eleven students pass through a rocky hamlet, with the extra-inquisitive girl lagging somewhat behind to look at the surrounding more closely. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend
We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on    -The Sandpipers, 1969

Picture book wunderkind Oge Mora, a master of collage and familial immersion, won a Caldecott Honor last year for her maiden work Thank You Omu!, a stirring tribute to her beloved Grandmother.  Omu, a miracle of acrylic collage, china markers, pastels, patterned paper and old book clippings is a story of magnanimity, gratefulness and the adage that in the end one will be treated as they treat others.  To be sure the book is a study of sacrifice and how the most noble in our ranks will think of themselves only after they’ve thought of everyone around them.  Mora has followed her magnificent debut with another exploration of the family, again with an acute focus on a special relationship and again using the same style and materials that made the first book so resplendent.  Disavowing the common conviction of the week’s sixth day, Mora paints a picture of plans gone awry on the one day when mutual freedom should set the stage for blissful negotiation to complete appointments and unique entertainment.  In the end of course bad luck does nothing to impact the only things that really matters:  synergy and love.

End papers sporting varying shades of violet showcase a monthly calendar featured X’d off dates, with only Saturday the 30th left to be completed.  Big bright stars connote planned activities for for the titular weekend day, and the planned content is auspicious as is the wish list printed by a youngster.  A busy double page title spread launches Saturday’s story arc, with a young girl rising from bed as her mother greets a new day with coffee.  Plenty of collage cut outs signify familial bliss, one where positive energy greatly outweighs economic limitations.  This basic premise is accentuated by the revelation that Ava’s hard-working mom even works on Sunday in a six-day schedule.  Only Saturday, the reprieve so many baby boomers relied on for early morning television, trips to the local library, outdoor basketball and baseball games and for some the certainty they’d sleep way past their normal wake-up time.  In a quartet of paper cut vignettes, Mora depicts a diverse itinerary, involving story-time at the library, a trip to the beauty salon, outdoor quality time at the local park, and as a special finale for this particular penultimate day of the week. Mora the illustrator frames the happy anticipation in bumblebee yellow which allows the collages to jump off the page in three-dimensional sublimity.  Mora the author encapsulates the cheery expectations with a circular frenzy of Mom and and daughter in preparatory mode. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Russian Ark, a 2002 historical drama film directed by Alexander Sokurov presents at the outset an unnamed narrator who drifts through the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.  He explains that he is a ghost drifting through the rooms, where he encounters various real and fictional people from periods in the city’s 300-year history.  A similar dramatic device was employed by Thornton Wilder in his classic work of Americana, Our Town, where a first-person narrative is sustained by an on stage narrator.  In Robert Burleigh’s biographical picture book Hi, I’m Norman: The Story of American Illustrator Norman Rockwell  the author negotiates a comparable expedient  by having the iconic artist escort the reader on a tour of his art studio, which segues into a breezy autobiographical account concluding with the artist -still alive and well- informing the reader he must step back to attend to his latest creation.

Americana and picture book master Wendell Minor are synonymous.  The veteran illustrator has imparted his ravishing tapestries in works written by astronauts, historians and environmentalists.  His focus is exclusive to nature, the world around us and iconic figures from our past who have impacted our culture.  He has collaborated with Burleigh several times, perhaps most memorably on Edward Hopper Paints His World (2014), their prior exploration of a seminal artist and purveyor of realism through oils and watercolor of modern American life.  The critical success of a book on a subject they mutually revered no doubt led the pair to move forward on another venerated figure, one equally as resonant in the national consciousness. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

He is in my carefully considered opinion the greatest versatile genius the cinema has ever produced, and on a list of my favorites may well rank as my top choice, (depending on what day of the week I am asked the question. Ingmar Bergman is the one who seems to alternate with him, but both Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson and even Carl Dreyer are with them at the pinnacle) No film artist has engaged me as thoroughly, no comic has made me laugh as much, no humanist has brought more tears, no technical genius -not even Keaton- has caused me to marvel just how much acrobatic brilliance can be generated by a single person. He was the consummate genius, writing and directing his films, serving as the main star, and to boot, writing his own music, some of which includes some of the finest compositions of the century. Michael Jackson’s favorite ‘song’ of all time is “Smile” from Modern Times, and the overwhelming poignancy of the music he wrote for the final flower girl scene in City Lights (his greatest film across the board) is the perfect embodiment of theme expressed in music. His physical agility, his astute understanding of the human condition, and his uncanny sense of timing all are part of this Shakespeare of film, the single man who set the standard that has not subsequently been equaled.  If by now the name of Charles Spencer Chaplin has not been figured, well then the reader is from another planet.

Chaplin is the subject of some of the best biographies, and the documentary Unknown Chaplin is one of the greatest appraisals of a single director ever produced. No American film artist has been afforded the stature and adoration he has enjoyed abroad, and none match the sheer passion his visage has engendered. City Lights is probably my personal favorite film of all-time, and the single one that would accompany me to a desert island if I were limited to just a single choice.  Chaplin wrote his own autobiography and has been toasted worldwide by kings and presidents, some of the greatest literary figures, and his life has been the subject of more sustained interest for both the layman and the scholar, the upper and the lower classes and a wide range of admirers ranging from young kids to the elderly.  His influence was enormous, his personality infectious, and his success complete on every level.  He was lauded for his business sense and known for his frugality, and his canon continues today to exert an enormous influence on new filmmakers and those who value the film as an art form.  His personal life was a fishbowl even after the move to Switzerland; his marriage to Oona O’Neill -the daughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill- despite their 36 year age difference caused a near scandal and cost Oona any further relations with her father, and the subsequent communist witch hunts eventually forced Chaplin to move to Europe. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »