Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘#Caldecott Medal Contender’ Category

by Sam Juliano

Hope is the thing with feathers; That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words; And never stops at all.
                                        -Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

In last year’s Caldecott Honor winning Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, an old granny tires of chaos and deafening noise in her overpopulated house and escapes through a secret door, only to find out that life in another region offers up the same obstacles as those experienced in her domestic environs.  The people residing in the fictional village of La Paz in Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin’s The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, like Brosgol’s overheated guardian, need some rest and relaxation.  The problem with this proposition in Deedy’s book is that innocuous intent can often result in dire consequences.  For all its deadpan humor and amusing underpinnings this allegorical story is a thinly veiled cautionary tale about foolhardy concession and the abuse of power.  Put in more basic terms its conforms to the tenets of a timeless adage, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”  The book’s original title was The Noisy Little Rooster, but the alteration is so much better attuned to the work’s unmistakable theme.

The pictorial response to Deedy’s Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning till night is a quilted countryside at the forefront of a cluster of thatched buildings, a few of which are chapels.  Woven into the many plots, distinguishable by color are musical notes, depicting a blissful hamlet, unencumbered  by curtailment of any sort.  This lyrically acoustic Shangri-La is a veritable cornucopia of sound, all converging in and around a town square.  Albeit,  some is of the bombastic variety – a man shouting into a bullhorn, a car with loud speakers passing through, church bells peeling and a boy marching to his own drum beat, other reverberations are suffused with more soulful cadences, such as a man playing an accordion, bus passengers strutting their choral prowess, birds singing in a tree, a married couple singing and playing guitar on a park bench and even a man singing in a shower with open window.  A tea kettle contributes a signature toot to the cacophony, but more natural sounds like water gushing from a fountain or a goat neighing complicate this antithesis to the pastoral lifestyle.  Yelchin’s mixed media eye candy applications were created by oil pastel, colored pencil, gouache and acrylic and the polychromatic double page canvas are vigorously applied in kid friendly mode.  Alas, like the denizens in Ron Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs too much of a supposedly good thing on an everyday basis will render this propensity stagnant.  The residents of La Paz tired of the constant sensory chaos and finally decided to serve up their Mayor with his walking papers.  Yelchin humorously visualizes this with an index finger extended, ordering the town’s chagrined highest ranking official to quit the premises, after a family of four and even their canine can no longer endure the deafening rumpus. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

The last time a plucky and intrepid young girl risked a ferocious winter blizzard on the pages of a children’s book was back in 1986 when Irene Bobbin, a dressmaker’s daughter filled in for her ailing mother to deliver a dress to a duchess, whose castle was on the other side of a mountain.  The courageous adventurer is the titular character of William Steig’s Brave Irene, though the circumstances surrounding this hypothermic trek have little in common otherwise.  Fate, chance and reciprocal kindness save the day and leave young readers relieved after a hair-raising confrontation with the elements on an especially forbidding turf.

In a seemingly innocuous pictorial prologue a girl is initially spotted petting her dog in a living room as her parents hold coffee mugs with little concern for any measure of impending danger.  Wearing a red parka she heads off to a one room schoolhouse as the dog’s barking becomes more pronounced, while off in the distance a pack of wolves howl and scout hilly terrain.  Cordell sets the stage for what turns out to be as markedly perilous a raw adventure story  as any Jack London has ever turned out.  Not since Jerry Pinkney’s 2010 Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse did an act of charity receive reciprocation in kind, and not since John Rocco’s 2014 Blizzard has snow as a crippling force of nature threatened the survival of those caught in the blanketing acceleration.  No doubt an adult reader might be thinking of the classic lines-  It lay drifted on the crosses and headstones, on the spears of the gate, on the thorns, but the target audience is left with the full gamut of emotions, ranging from consternation to exhaustion in a region controlled by ravenous wolves who are not by instinct able to show compassion for anyone stranded in their den.  After a stark and unostentatious title page of black letters over a background of snow falling, we see our fearless snow traveler bidding adieu her classmates, wall of whom as envisioned by Cordell are over the moon over with the white stuff, and adorned in varying colors.  Cordell’s highly stylized, unique scratch board illustrations were created for this book by pen and ink with watercolor, and the method is a perfect fit for a story where living creatures, tress and objects are partially obscured by an all-enveloping snowstorm  Yet the author-illustrator vividly paints his protagonists, sometimes full frontal to accentuate the urgency of the situation, and as ever is a master colorist controlling his canvas like a pictorial maestro, darkening primary hues to denote the fleeting daylight hours and creating by cotton ball saturation the most visceral and intense blizzard ever recorded in a picture book.  By his own admission  Cordell diverted with Wolf in the Snow from his standard simplified, shorthand drawing style. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania”           -William Shakespeare

A brooding sensibility and undercurrent of melancholia suffuses the pictorial design of Richard Jackson’s All Ears, All Eyes suggesting that this is the picture book Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier would have made if he aimed his creativity down this road.  Though art aficionados may evoke the painting Forest by the post-impressionist Paul Cezanne or an even closer kinship to Belgian artist Pol Ledant’s Magic Forest, both Jackson and the book’s illustrator Katherine Tillotson fully understand their lower grade audience for whatever iconographic intricacy the book holds for adults or older readers.  Advanced book lovers who partake of this magical, nocturnal foray may even expect to hear Lord what fools these mortals be! or Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream.  The earlier tapestries even give a hint that  we may behold someone such as Francis Lennox, the protagonist in a children’s novel by Francis Hodgson Burnett.  But Jackson and Tillotson’s focus is more scene specific.  From the luminous, golden dusk infiltrating the spaces between trees like an advancing forest fire to the onset of a kaleidoscopic slumber they chronicle the creatures who emerge only under a cloak of darkness.  Jackson’s sensory word triggers set the stage for the real assault on the senses engineered by Tillotson, whose multidimensional tapestries expand the metaphorical observations and supple use of onamopeia.  Young readers will derive the added thrill of trying to find nature’s creatures in some areas obscured by saturated color clashes.

Airborne leaves on the opening end papers provide answers on the double page frontispiece spread.  Sound and sight are posed interrogatively on the daytime title page,  followed by a hooting owl seemingly imbedded in a tree as daylight yields (Who-who) as two raccoons inhabit the yellow to orange changeover at eventide.  The ebbing illumination is ushered in by the omnipresent owl, depicted by Tillotson as a specter discernible by its eyes, a sharp contrast to what was fashioned by John Schoenherr in the Caldecott Medal winning Owl Moon.   Jackson’s query What scoots between roots? is answered in the prickliest of terms, before the unmistakable sound of a whirring bat, a sharp contradiction from a deer negotiated in ghostly silhouette.  Bright colored leaves falls as purple hues work harder yet to pre-empt the dimming illumination. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

On April 20, 2016 the United States Treasury Department announced the imminent replacement of Andrew Jackson’s face on $20 denominations after a groundswell of public opinion that included the vociferous sentiments expressed by adherents of a pointed “Women on 20’s Campaign.”  Though bureaucratic delays and the lengthy period of time it will take to enact such a monumental currency conversion will probably mean a decade before someone holds the new bills in their hands, for so many this is a glowing acknowledgement long overdue that at along last will shatter white male dominance of our society’s most prime example of daily exposure.  Jackson’s replacement is one of the most venerated figures in the nation’s history, one equally heroic to African-Americans and the fairer sex, one untainted by scandal nor personal vice, and venerated largely for her courage in escaping slavery and becoming a leading abolitionist who saved the lives of hundreds and contributed mightily to the Union cause during the Civil War.  In recent years the name of Harriet Tubman as an American of charity and unwavering devotion to a cause at the risk to her own life has elevated her in the regard of many as a figure comparable to Lincoln or King.  Awareness of Tubman as one of the nation’s seminal figures has been increasing over the past decades.  In 1978 she became the first African American to be honored as part of the Black Heritage Stamp Series, as well as the maiden African American woman to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp.  On the 100th anniversary of her death in 2013 officials broke ground on the 17-acre Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, which included a 15,000-foot visitor center, walking trails and an exhibit hall with interactive displays. The same day, the state designated a 125-mile driving tour, dubbed the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway that cuts through her home turf on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  A Harriet Tubman National Historical Park is set for construction in Auburn, New York where she lived out the post-Civil War years, dying at age 93.

Books about this larger than life figure have been plentiful, with several, including Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton and other biographical volumes by William Still, Fergus Bordewich and Jacqueline Tobin/Raymond G. Dobard attracting the strongest acclaim.  On the picture book scene there have been two exceptional works on Tubman.  In 2000, Alan Schroeder and the renowned Jerry Pinkney collaborated on Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman, and six years later two more children’s literature luminaries, Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson teamed up for the magnificent Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, a work that brought Nelson one of his three Caldecott Honors.  The celebrated wife and husband book making partners Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome are among the most prolific artists in the industry, when their work together is combined with James’s art for books written by famous writers like Jacqueline Woodson, Charlotte Zolotow, Eve Bunting and Angela Johnson.  Lesa and James who specialize in biographies, have gifted the book community with acclaimed titles such as Freedom School, Light in the Darkness, Quilt Alphabet and last year’s sublime Louis Armstrong picture book, Just A Lucky So and So.  Among other biographies the pair have collaborated on books about Sachel Paige, Helen Keller and Benny Goodman. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

The juxtaposition of barnyard indifference and an insatiable officiousness fuels the irresistible Pony in the City, a handsomely mounted, digitally negotiated picture book by Wendy Wahman.  Otis, a permanent resident of “The Pony Paddock,” an equestrian stable serving youthful riders in a rural retreat, evokes the inquisitive demeanor of Wilbur the Pig, but who takes a markedly more hands on approach to the quest for knowledge.  Otis is the restless spirit of a quartet of fillies that includes Mosey, Whinny and Derby.  He yearns to know where his riders live, if they do the same things he does, eat the same kind of food, and maintain themselves similarly.  The intrepid Otis, understanding that there is no match for on location scrutiny a la Climb every mountain/Search high and low/Follow every byway/Every path you know mode escapes his domain, moving from rural to urban, miniature to gargantuan, uncomplicated to labyrinthine.  For the youngest readers Pony in the City bridges the gap what exists and what may be by exploring the inherent possibilities in the relationship between children and the favorite animal of John Steinbeck’s Jody Tiflin.

Wahman is a major player in the regional Pacific Northwest picture book renaissance taking place over the past decade, one that includes fellow talents such as Jessixa Bagley, Elizabeth Stanton and Toni Yuly.  Wahman and her Evergreen State colleagues have produced a run of extraordinary works, while conducting regular readings and presentations in book stores and classrooms in the region.  Wahman has specialized in books about animals, with Don’t Lick the Dog, A Cat Like That and Rabbit Stew winning many admirers in the classrooms and among the educators and librarians presenting them.  Few author-illustrators are as adept as Wahman in imbuing her animal and human characters with such a carefree similitude and the sense that there is a natural kinship between living creatures that ultimately trumps the intellectual schism.   (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go         –Joe Darion, Man of LaMancha, 1964

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a pre-eminent novelist of world literature is also considered the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the most influential literary figures to have ever lived.  His crowning achievement, produced in two volumes, El Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is the most celebrated work in the entire Spanish literary canon, and comparable in stature with the greatest novels by Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Dickens and Tolstoy.  The book’s titular character has become a symbol of idealistic pursuit and spirited perseverence, the antithesis of surrendering to one’s fears, insecurities and physical constrictions.

Almost as if a direct response to the dearth of historical information relating to Cervantes’ earliest years, celebrated children’s book author-poet Margarita Engle has filled a void in the Don Quixote literature with a sparkling collection of free verse poems that capture the spirit and accelerating imagination of one whose imagination erased injustice and impoverishment, adversity and censorship, vice and intolerance.  Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote assembles fourteen sketches titled by way of feelings, emotions and events, that for young readers should prove a revelation through the cause and effect essence of the presentation.  There are surely a number of options to approach Cervantes, but Engle’s method by building story through language vignettes is precise, economical and cumulative.  Engle’s own personal passion in her subject is revealed in her afterward, where she attests to parental admiration for this heroic figure and an upbringing during social upheaval that included the civil rights struggle and feminist coming of age.  As a teenager the author traveled to the hills of La Mancha with her family to behold the windmills that fueled the most celebrated imagination in the annals of world literature and on a personal level the author’s a present day relevance of “determination, perseverance, and limitless hope” that in the end will triumph over societal adversity.  Fully attuned to how Cervantes conquered the stumbling blocks of his own upbringing Engle implores her readers to absorb his message and know that they too can aspire to and attain success through indomitable commitment.  This labor of love for the Cuban-American author represents one of her most extraordinary achievements in a career with a plethora of acclaimed works.  Though Miguel’s Brave Knight is being proffered here as a Caldecott contender, Engle’s anapestic encapsulation should be gaining the attention of the Newbery committee as well. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Little Lamb who made thee 
Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o’er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright;       -William Blake, 1776

The art of photography has yet to achieve recognition from the Caldecott committee, though qualification rules do embrace this most unique illustrative style.  For the fourth time acclaimed poet Helen Frost and celebrated photographer Rick Lieder have confirmed their inimitable picture book chemistry with Wake Up!, a work incorporating elements from the previous dalliances in what many know but few have seen caught in such sublime crystal clarity.  In a case of mutual inspiration this erstwhile cameraman extraordinaire brings full-bodied visualization to the probing language that in turn seems to receive a cue from the nature identity markers that serve to introduce species of tiny insects to large mammals.

With magnifying glass lucidity Lieber offers a close-up of the marble like translucent eggs that will in short order morph into gray garden slugs on the opening end papers, while simultaneously rendering a sense of wonder through a yellow-green spectrum.  The title page is a striking convergence of aquamarine and frosty white which allows a newly hatched Chinese praying mantis to needle through an English daisy.  Thematically Frost and Lieder are attuned to the natural affinity between living things and their habitats at the earliest spans of their tenure on the Earth.  Wake Up! is less scene-specific than the first three books in this series, but in the manner it urges on its readers one can conclude the message is cumulative.

Lieder’s mission is to invite readers to enter and as a result to know more about their interactions within their habitats, and the inherent possibilities in the realm of nature.  His renowned poet in residence, Frost is a master of language economy, one content to have all the human eyes focus on Lieder’s photographic miracles, yet to forge a lasting impact of language that lyrically sets the stage for some of the most glorious images the eye can behold.  This unusual wedding between rhythmical veracity and photographic authenticity allows those who engage with Wake Up! the chance to derive as much as Lieder did when he caught his treasures on film for posterity. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »