Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sam’s book reviews’ Category

real-1

by Sam Juliano

The cowboy is probably the most masculine symbol of Americana, and as a result is the most unfairly vilified in the culture.  There are numerous stereotypes that are mainly perpetuated by western films, John Wayne’s uncompromising persona and a host of characters like Henry Fonda’s ruthless, back-stabbing cold-blooded Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West that are veritable incarnations of evil.  In Anthony Mann’s masterpiece The Man from Laramie, which echoes Shakespeare’s King Lear, depicting a house torn asunder by murderous machinations, one of the most fallacious of all western myths -one that posed that guns were rampant when in fact gun laws back in the hey day of the push westward were more stringent than they are today- played out on an epic scale.  Just as spurious is the idea that cowboys constantly clashed with Indians and that bank-robbing outlaws in cowboy garb ruled the west.  Speaking of apparel, even the ten-gallon hat represents a case where sparse usage came to accepted as the norm, because of the distinctive intimidating aura and it took over as the most emblematic of the cowboy, much as the headdress for the Indians.  Finally, the cowboy didn’t originate in the United States, but were originally Mexican cattlemen, but the perception is no worse than one that has persisted even longer, that which contends that the earliest American settlers were “native Americans.”  With all these misconceptions it is no wonder that cowboys were for the longest time pigeon-holed as ill educated, ignorant, racist, bullying, homophobic and likely to act first and ask questions later.  More recently the accepted stereotypes have taken some hits, none as groundbreaking as in 2005 when Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a film about two young men – Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, who carried an an elicit affair –  based on a novella by Anne Proulx, helping to lasso old stereotypes and set back the prevailing image of the cowboy on the heels of his boots perhaps for good.  The final irony of course is the labeling of these two men living in Wyoming circa 1963 as cowboys, leading some to refer to it as “that gay cowboy movie.” (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

truck-1

by Sam Juliano

Until Jason Carter Eaton and his Caldecott Honor winning Illustrator John Rocco released their fabulous picture book manual offering up tips to children hankering to find their brand of pet trucks, ownership went no further than Tonka and match box.  Mind you this was a rewarding hobby, and some were dedicated and responsible enough to amass collections of over five-hundred and upwards.  Eighteen wheelers, transports, lorries, flatbeds, pick-ups, moving vans and even tanker trucks (though after Steven Spielberg’s terrifying Duel released in 1971 the demand for that model plummeted!) took their place on every young boy’s bedroom dresser or abreast of their Lionel table.  Keeping them in mint condition was as vital it was for the baseball card collector, though some incorrigible owners couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stage accidents.  But Eaton and Rocco have set the record straight with a proposal that should have all truck lovers chomping at the bit, much as train lovers found themselves facing a deal they couldn’t resist in the critically-acclaimed How to Train a Train.  In their bold, often daunting investigative study, narrated by an Asian boy who wore out his copies of Donald Crews’s Truck and two old Virginia Lee Burton classics about a steam shovel and a snow plow, the artists were so impressed by this fervent truck aficionado that they decided to let him serve as tour guide for all others who share his unbridled passion.  Some of the more practical aims of this all-encompassing guide involve answering some of the more popular questions that confront this most specialized pursuit.   Mike told the book’s creators that his love for trucks started when he watched an old French movie classic with his father called The Wages of Fear.  Eaton researched it and conveyed the capsule plot to Rocco:  when an oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountain dirt roads, loaded with nitroglycerin needed to extinguish the flames. (more…)

Read Full Post »

school-1

by Sam Juliano

A popular idiom goes something like this:  “I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to witness that great event you just experienced.”  A variation on that theme centers around  a newly constructed school  that is  ready to host students for the opening day of the academic year.  The only difference is that wall itself is privy to what is transpiring.   School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, may well induce adults preparing to read the book to their own classes to hum strains from the standard “See You in September” by the Happenings.  This is no ordinary opening of school book as the perspective is posed by the school itself.  We’ve seen those horror movies about haunted houses that are cognizant of every nook and cranny of the real estate as well as the actions of those who spend time under their roof.  We’ve seen real estate like the Overlook Hotel and a mansion in Amityville evince an all-knowing countenance and occupants soon enough understood that forces beyond their control were setting the chain of events.  The focus of Rex’s benign picture book of course has nothing to do with nefarious possession but one of academic appreciation and the workings of a school day from a refreshing new perspective.  Frederick Douglas Elementary School has been given a heart and a conscience, and the point of view has been turned upside down with a number of observations (more…)

Read Full Post »

1-tribe-cover

by Sam Juliano

     Kirkus raved “Smith soars in this earnest, meditative work about longing, the joy of interaction, and family.”  In a similarly glowing assessment Publishers Weekly offered “Every living being, Smith implies, needs a place to belong, and children, especially need other children.”  School Library Journal gushed, urging repeated visitation: “There is much to savor and explore in this cleverly crafted picture book, and readers will glean more with each perusal.”  The unbridled fervor continued for months since the book’s early year release, and numerous respondents on Good Reads were predicting it would win the Caldecott Medal.  Alas a controversy followed the initial hoopla that centered around the use of one word in the book’s title and how it was brought to bear on the book’s art.  Though the vast majority of the book’s admirers are by and large staying the coarse, the mild dissension in some quarters has slowed down the buzz for the book, allowing some of the year’s other picture book treasures to capture the lion’s share of the talking points.  Will the real Lane Smith please stand up?  Oh yes, the book’s title and creator.  There is a Tribe of Kids is a non-stop symphony of movement, a habitat trotting exploration of a cluster of nouns and how they apply to a young boy in the Tarzan mold, dressed in  leaves (though his comfortable fitting footwear doesn’t quite conform) who travels with abandon.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

hat-1

by Sam Juliano

Master picture book stylist Jon Klassen won the Caldecott Medal several years ago for the second book in his eventual “Hat Trilogy.”  He also won two Caldecott Honors for Extra Yarn and Sam and Dave Dig A Hole.   The first two books in the trilogy, I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat are not reliant on each other, as their stories if not their premise are independent.  The final work, this year’s We Found A Hat is story-wise and stylistically the best one yet, so you have to wonder if a sequel has a chance to follow-up on the same author’s previous win in an ongoing series.  Caldecott rules explicitly state that the committee is not to consider whether an artist won or not previously; the issue is the craftsmanship of the current book being scrutinized.  Though all the books veer off in different directions, they are of course thematically linked.  If there is a better artist out who more effortlessly uses space to superlative effect I’d sure like to know of that person.  Even the typography is incomparably elegant.  And Klassen’s economical use of language in this three-part work is cunning and laugh-inducing, not to mention it is one of the very best read aloud books of the year.  In the first two books the perpetrator of a theft get their comeuppance in an implied act of violent retribution.  The Caldecott winner features a small fish who acknowledges that what he did was wrong, but he justifies it by saying the hat is much too small for the whale he swiped it from.  Despite a promise from a snail that he will keep secret his hiding place in a in a maze of sea plants, he is betrayed, and the last image in the book shows the triumphant whale wear his hat after a raid on the greenery.  No such conclusion transpires in We Found A Hat, though like the other books one feels the ending is proper.  The scheming turtle after all never did pull the trigger on the intended heist unlike the aggressors in the first two books. (more…)

Read Full Post »

leavemealone

by Sam Juliano

If the decision on what book will win this year’s Caldecott Medal was left in the hands of 170 first-graders from Fairview, New Jersey the result would be a landslide triumph for Vera Brosgol’s comedic tale Leave Me Alone.  As captivating as a read aloud book one is likely to put to use in a lower grade classroom, the book is vivid, colorful and pictorially diverse, and the hook of the cranky old lady always fighting to get her own spaces will have most kid in stitches.  Heck the old lady herself can administer them herself with her needle and yarn as soon as she realizes that there is something very persuasive about home sweet home.  The three titular words spoken with exclamatory ardor never fail to attract an eruption of laughter and as a result you have riveted students throughout the reading as the book has the hook of anticipation. As to the pictorial design it is really exquisite and it reminds me of the past Caldecott Medal winner “Always Room For One More” by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Nonny Hogrogian, for the wall to wall humanity, but for illustrative style more like Margot Zemach’s Caldecott Honor winner “It Could Always Be Worse.” Leave Me Alone is bold, vivid and beautifully balanced, and the creativity accelerates as the story proceeds. In the end, it recalls Hey Al as our erstwhile human knitting machine realizes she’s far better off with her brood.   The cover is one of the best of the year.  Balls of yarn frame the angry grandmother holding her needle and thread, and a huge voice bubble with the book’s hilariously exclamatory title, and four of the characters -a boy, a martian, a goat and a bear- she spends time with during the narrative peak out of their own frames to eye her.  Fluorescent orange -always a great color to use for end papers when you want to set a cheery tone leads to a title page depicting this feisty woman heading out carrying a sack. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »