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Archive for the ‘Sam’s book reviews’ Category

 

by Sam Juliano

Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue is the second part of a critically-praised 1993 trilogy made in France which features acclaimed actress Juliette Bincoche as a woman self-driven into isolation after her husband and child are killed in a car accident.  Like the other films in the melancholic triptych, Blue makes frequent visual allusions to its title: numerous scenes are shot with blue filters and/or blue lighting, and many objects are blue. When Julie thinks about the musical score that she has tried to destroy, blue light overwhelms the screen.   Blue has been often been given poll-position designation as the world’s most popular color, a perceived fact largely because it is the color of the sky and the oceans.  Prime associations with this formally sedate and less conspicuous pigment are intimacy, deep thinking and privacy, though it is vigorously opined that the color is symbolic of loyalty and nostalgia.

Children’s book artists in recent years have lavished much of their pictorial attention to the color, and the result has yielded some sumptuous works.  Isabelle Simler’s French import The Blue Hour, features thirty-two blue colored ovals, each exhibiting a different shade of blue are labeled with the corresponding color.  Even  the instructor will be hard pressed to immediately recognize some of the eclectic variations, such as “porcelain,” “cerulean,” “Maya” and “periwinkle.”  Peter Sis’ Robinson, a dreamy take on the Daniel Dafoe classic is an interpretation of the color as a portal to adventure, while Mordecai Gerstein’s dominant employment of an aquamarine variation still made for a veritable feast for the eyes of blue denizens.  In 2018, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, who six ago gave the color green a vital new interpretation in her Caldecott Honor winning Green, in suffusing the work with renewal and re-birth, has applied the same formula on her new work, Blue, crafting seventeen double page canvasses that is unison provide young readers with the picture book equivalent of the images filmed by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak in the Kieslowski film.  Each ravishing tapestry resonates with thematic richness, bringing astonishing emotional heft to a simple story of a boy’s love for his dog during the formative years.  Seeger insists that the color is a vital force of nature in the life cycle, that it defines human interaction with a canine companion, can be hot or cold, is present at birth and at the end of life and exerts soulful energy during those priceless moments meant to ensconced in the sphere of memories.  A champion of acrylic paint on canvas board base, Seeger’s thick applications of converging shades of the color produced a stunning cover, again like on the cover of Green bleeding onto the white lettering denoting the title with almost storm-like intensity.  It’s gorgeous. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  The Caldecott Medal announcements will be broadcast via ALA streaming early Monday morning, February 12th.  The forty-first and final full essay, “Listen” by Leda Schubert and Raul Colon was published in mid-afternoon on Sunday, February 11th as a result of time winding down.  However, there are thirteen other books that are as deserving as the previously forty-one, and I feel that short capsules need to be provided in this final round-up post.  The thirteen (13) titles are The Boy and the Whale, The Ring Bearer, A Perfect Day, The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s the Hard Way, The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse, Her Right Foot, Grand Canyon, How It Feels to Be a Boat, Blue Sky White Stars and When’s My Birthday?, Tony, Big Machines and Silent Days Silent Dreams.  Adding thirteen to the forty-one full reviews published we ended up with fifty-four (54) books in our 2017 Caldecott Medal series.

The Boy and the Whale (Mordecai Gerstein)

A brown-skinned, shaggy haired son of a fisherman serves as the book’s narrator.  They live near the ocean and discover one morning that a whale has become entwined in their only fishing net.  The father’s anger extended to his use of words the boy had never heard.  When the father tells his son we must save it, the son thinks he means the whale, but the clarification that he means the fishing net leaves the boy in disbelief.  But left untended the boy heads out in the panga and resolves through astonishing bravery to free the whale with the help his his trusty knife in a sequence that recalls the mouse’s teeth work to free the lion in a Caldecott Medal winner by Jerry Pinkney.  the story is tension packed and includes some of the most spectacular illustrations in any picture book of 2017.  One is vertical and contains vignettes, another shows the whale leaping up from the ocean.  Gerstein, who won a Caldecott Medal for his emotionally wrenching The Man Who Walked Between the Towers employs a ravishing aquamarine color scheme with yellow borders.  The dedication and opening page spread with the the color splashes is stunning.  Though The Boy and the Whale is one of my three favorite books of the entire year, I am at a loss to explain how I missed giving it a full review.  But this capsule is enough to propel it among the best books of 2017 via the Caldecott Medal Contender series.

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by Sam Juliano

I think the opposite was true. I think he loved America so much that he was particularly offended and disappointed when it strayed, as it so often has, from the noble ideals upon which it was founded. I don’t think that feeling, or the protests it engendered, were anti-American. I think they were wholly, unabashedly American.

-Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, January 28, 2014

 Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing is a labor of love for author Leda Schubert.  In her impassioned afterward to the picture book biography of folk music icon and ardent social activist Pete Seeger, she reveals that this quintessential American once sang at her nursery school, that she was a regular at his concerts, taught herself to play the five-string banjo using his book How to Play the Five-String Banjo, and once told him directly how much he meant to her.  Schubert was subsequently reassured by Seeger’s wife Toshi that despite seeming indifference he couldn’t be more appreciative.  Seeger was a globe-trotting, astonishingly prolific artist, one whom Schubert notes “devoted much of his life and music to the fights for justice, peace, equality and a cleaner environment” and whom was once quoted as saying we humans “have a fifty-fifty percent chance of surviving another century, but that our participation can make all the difference.  Though Seeger lived beyond his ninety-fourth birthday he was irreplaceable.  His rich and focused life had impacted millions around the world, many of whom as the author confirms have never forgotten the words to those life-changing lyrics. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

U boats are sailing once more.         -The Producers

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai is an  avant garde masterwork.   If the American Library Association had a separate category for Most Distinguished Picture Book Cover, I’d imagine this would be one of the finalists. Of course, with Dazzle Ships it is a package deal from end papers, through the initial double page spread (sneaky, stripy camouflage ship) and the arresting multi patterned and colored art, it is quite the visually captivating experience, and quite unlike any First World War book yet published. Though I do personally adore 2017 non fiction picture book works by Katherine Roy, Molly Bang and Jason Chin, I have a hunch that if a non-fiction ends up on the winners circle this year it will probably be this one. Ngai’s art is original, unique, visionary, and frame-worthy. I do see the studied preparation to the source and a glowing future career for this gifted illustrator. The final Metropolis canvas (Times change; Technology changes) is really spectacular. I appreciate the sustained motifs and the mastery of scale and find this as a book that certainly rewards repeated visits. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets is a picture book, much as Paul B. Janeczko and Melissa Sweet’s Firefly July of a few years back also begged that categorization (seasonal theme rather than individual poets), where it was being touted as a strong contender for that year’s Caldecott Medal. I also feel that Out of Wonder is one of the most spectacularly beautiful picture books of this or any other year and that the extraordinarily gifted Ekua Holmes has eclipsed her superlative work for Voice of Freedom, a book of course that won her a well-deserved Caldecott Honor.  The subject matter of Voice called for somber tones, textures and colors, and a sustained earthiness that called attention to the difficult life of its noble protagonist. With this book, it seems clear that Holmes is equally adept at pictorially transcribing life’s more sublime themes, fully attuned to each of the magnificent poems she interprets. For utter color-swirling resplendence it is comparable to this year’s Muddy, but Holmes’ daunting task was to change course for every turn of the page, and what she has done here translates to a staggering achievement.

Out of Wonders celebrates the joy of the poetic form, featuring twenty seminal figures, from four different eras, gathering together in three parts, “Got Style?,” “In Your Shoes” and “Thank You.”  The poetry interpreters are Kwayme Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, who strive to capture the spirit, themes and feeling in some of the most venerated poets with the spectacular collage accompaniment by Holmes who beings astonishing diversity to this wide-reaching tribute.  From the 1200’s when the Persian Rumi (1207-1273) plied his craft through the 1600’s in Japan with Matsuo Basho up to the present day where the still living Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab and Billy Collins are active the three exponents of the renowned free spirits chosen work to bring lyrical kinship within the most soulful of forms. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The last time a picture book featuring a house as its central character connected intimately with the world around it was none other than Virginia Lee Burton’s Caldecott Medal winning The Little House back in 1940.  The indomitable country cottage witnessed technological advancements and population increases, transforming idyllic pastures to urban congestion.  Burton’s classic posed the modest structure as a symbol, an unchanging  seasonal sentry who watched the countryside transform until she was crowded out to the point where time and place became insignificant.  The focus in Deborah Freedman’s This House, Once is more elemental, for whatever the inborn kinship with the world around it.  For young readers the book teaches the origin of the materials used to build, for adults the metaphysical implications of how tangible materials were at one time part of nature’s scheme.  Indeed, one of children’s literature’s deepest thinkers, Freedman, once an architect, will have the most astute wanting to trace everything back to a starting point.  Tucked neatly but resolutely through the pages is an acute sense of loss, unavoidable in a world where turnover is inevitable in both tangible and symbolic ways. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

But leave me a little love, 
A voice to speak to me in the day end, 
A hand to touch me in the dark room 
Breaking the long loneliness. 
In the dusk of day-shapes 
Blurring the sunset, 
One little wandering, western star 
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow. 
Let me go to the window, 
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk 
And wait and know the coming 
Of a little love.             -Carl Sandberg

Certainly a child would never envision it for obvious reasons, but as an adult reader I was almost expecting to see in that remarkable eighteen window showcase at the book’s center, the wheel chair-bound James Stewart looking out through one of the windows with his camera or binoculars spying on the activities of other neighbors. Of course nothing as abominable as what went on in behind one window across the courtyard in Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece could ever transpire in the celebration of life known as Windows, but there is nonetheless a brooding sensibility in E.B. Goodale’s art that more than warrants a comparison.   In the acclaimed coming-of-age novel House on Mango Street by Sandra Sisneros focuses on a young Latina girl named Esperanza. Throughout the book, window imagery is used as a symbol of regret and entrapment. For example, we learn that Esperanza’s long-dead great-grandmother spent her life sitting sadly by her window, stuck in an unhappy marriage. Four women in Esperanza’s neighborhood are trapped in their apartments and they also sit by their windows, looking down onto the street. When Esperanza sees these women, she vows never to become one of them.

Of course Windows’ focus is far more benign and scene-specific.  The metaphor of the window as a device to establish a human connection with the community and shared activities and rituals by just taking a stroll down the street (the twilight canvas with its golden hues and illuminated portals to life and all we do to sustain ourselves, including our reverence for animal companions is a pictorial jewel) is ingenious. Goodale’s art makes superlative use of line sketches You might pass a cat! and autumnal colors One window might be tall, with the curtains drawn…) and perspective Another window could be dark… and then the darkened house everyone remembers from their youth, though this one displays a stone statue of the Virgin Mother (like the line drawings of garbage can and shopping carriage and full color of dog and red hood). (more…)

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