Krommes’ colored scratchboard illustrations invite the reader to slow down and quietly enter the world that she and poet Joyce Sidman have created, a world of spirals in nature. Each page is perfectly designed with special attention paid to the white space for text, and, since the font is quite large, perfect for the young reader. Buried in the illustrations are smaller words, labels for the various curled up and spiraled objects. Spirals are in turn snuggling, growing, strong, reaching out, clingy, clever, moving, and twisty. The poem spirals back on itself in the end, making it work nicely as a bedtime book.
I love scratchboard illustration. It’s hard to understand how it works, but Seven Impossible Things blog helped me better understand its challenges. I am just blown away by the photo of Krommes, hunched over a magnifying glass to see the details in her work.
Reading books with children is part of the work of a committee member and I was excited to see what my students (ages 7–8) would see in all those scratch marks. I was not disappointed. I was thrilled when a few of them said, “Oh, this is the same artist who did that House in the Night book!”
It took a few minutes to get past the detailed endpages, which are filled with all sorts of natural swirls and spirals. They would have stayed there forever, I promise! They were most taken with the galaxy and tornado. The swirled dedication page was pleasing to them, eliciting excited laughter. They loved the little labels of each animal and noticed when the poem ended where it began, which surprised me, considering how long they looked at each individual page. (G. said, “Snuggling and warm and safe were on the first page too! It’s like a circle.”) They loved how some of the text was white on black and some was black on white. Any hard-to-find animal or plant was a bonus. I was surprised at how much they noticed about the white and dark spaces, but that they did not seem to notice the color, one way or the other. They were just fascinated by the black and white play.
Here are some questions the children had about the illustrations:
Why is the red fox labeled? All the other labels are reserved for spiraling critters or phenomena.
Why are there little dashes in the white space to the left and right of the sheep, to the sides of the tornado and inside the rays of the sun? (“I can tell the rams are running at each other without those little dash-things.”)
Why is the tornado on the endpapers different from the tornado in the book?
Why are the animals on the last spread different from the ones on the first one when the words are almost the same?
When I was on the committee, KT Horning spoke to us in June. I still have my notes which ended with, “In illustration, everything is a choice.” On the Caldecott Committee, those choices end up being a big part of the committee’s discussion.
Can you answer the questions posed by young readers? What did you especially appreciate about this book, one that will surely be part of the rich discussion of this year’s committee?