In the interest of transparency: I love the art of Brian Karas, from his early reader books to poetry and everything in between. I have never met him, though I have been tempted to friend him on Facebook, which places me in the near-stalker camp. I still talk about last year’s Clever Jack Takes the Cake, sighing whenever I see it on the shelf of the library or a bookstore.
So, when I saw that Norton Juster and Brian Karas had joined forces in Neville, I grabbed a copy for my home library.
And how is Neville? Fabulous.
And here is why:
The title and copyright pages. Little nearly-abstract paintings show both the passage of time and start the story of Someone Moving to a New Place. (I am an Army brat, so my empathy fountain gushes overtime when a child in a book has to move.)
Use of white space. Opening spread: little guy, nearly in the middle, surrounded by white, lonely space. That truck, fading off the page, balances the little tract homes on the left, allowing the art to show emotion with little bathos. Everything is linear, everything except our hero’s round, oversized head, which we can only see from the back. We all know how he feels watching that truck drive away; we can feel the tears on those unseen cheeks. Karas’s work is labeled “mixed media,” but it looks like colored pencil to me. Throughout the book, Karas uses white space to surround everyone’s emotion, whether the boy is trudging down the block or hollering his feelings. Just marvel at how the white space changes with every page turn, as color is added, just one sign that this little boy’s life is going to be okay.
Karas uses frames to their full effect too. Sometimes he frames overly small paintings to show emotion. (Look at those little snapshots when his mother says, “Just give it a chance.”) And other times Neville’s story can only bleed off the page. Pink frames him when a little girl befriends him. Karas uses subtle color changes to mark the passing of one day, all the way to a darkened kiss goodnight.
It’s so nice to read a story where a child handles things on his own—a couple words and a hug from mom and he is on his own. The pictures show every little bit of it.
I know there are those of you who want Caldecott medals to grace a book of illustrations that might hang on the wall of a museum. I get that. But I think it’s okay for an honored book to hang on the peg of a child’s heart, being read over and over.
Talk amongst yourselves.