Green

seeger green 300x300 GreenCan a concept book win the Caldecott? I’m pretty sure none have yet. No alphabet books, counting books or color books. What about this one — a color book about just one color?

Putting it that way makes Green sound too simple. Trust Seeger to add layers of complexity and meaning, but with a light touch. In a rhyming text, just two words per spread introduce different shades of green: “forest green / sea green / lime green / pea green.” Cleverly placed die cuts hint at the next shade and each cut does double duty after the page is turned. Seeger knows just when to break the pattern, placing the text in a window for “jungle green” and “khaki green,” each word written with sneakily camouflaged brush strokes.

I would have been satisfied if she had left it there — seemingly simple, cleverly designed, appropriate for a wide range of ages. But near the end she adds yet another layer with “all green / never green / no green / forever green.” What’s going on here? Aren’t we doing shades of green? “Never green” shows a stop sign — “that’s RED!” you can hear the three-year-olds saying. But older kids who know about global warming and other ecological worries might see it differently. The “no green” spread innocently shows a winter scene, but next we see a kid tending to a small plant with no words of explanation. This break in the pattern again indicates there’s something more going on. Sure enough, the next spread (“forever green”) shows a man and child looking at a big tree just where the plant was on the previous spread.  And that’s all. The end. Ready for questions and discussion: Is the man at the end actually the boy all grown up?

I’m hoping everyone reading this post is familiar with Seeger’s painting style. If you’re not, the cover above gives an inkling of her thick paint applied with both brush and palette knife. The impasto is so luscious that I want to stroke the page to feel the paint’s texture.

I’m amazed Seeger hasn’t won a Caldecott yet, but the award does seem to go to books that are more obviously impressive in some way. While her style is painterly, she never shows off. She keeps her compositions clean and effortless-looking. But I think what I like most about Seeger’s concept books is that she trusts the audience’s intelligence, truly understanding that they are the last step in bringing a book to life.

In the comments about Extra Yarn, someone brought up a small mistake. There’s one in Green, too, and I wonder if this will stop the committee from going all the way. On the “glow green” spread, all but one of the the many little holes meant to show fireflies at night are perfectly placed over the brightest green bits on the following spread. Will this be a deal breaker for the committee? I hope not. It certainly wasn’t for all the journals who gave it a star.

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Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the designer and production manager for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

Comments

  1. GREEN is very high on my personal Caldecott list. It is such a beautiful book in its art, its concept, its design, its emotional shape.

  2. Oh, I hope it isn’t a deal breaker because that may be my favorite spread of all in this gorgeous book.

  3. In terms of history, the only thing I see close to a concept book in the winners is Ashanti to Zulu, but I haven’t read this. It seems like it might more use the alphabet as an organizing principle rather than being a concept book though. Lots of concept books scattered through the honors though including things like Gone Wild by McLimans, and 1 is One by Tudor (with lots more I haven’t listed). I think concept books face the same unconscious barriers as non-fiction, perhaps even more so because they’re aimed at some of the youngest readers. I want to stress that in no way do I think non-fiction or concept books are less worthy than narrative titles, but I think it takes more work to come to them on their own terms and leave our biases behind.

    With GREEN for example, it’s beautiful, the diecuts are cleverly selected and placed and I also want to reach out and touch all the textures in the paintings (my favorite spread is the fern green one – I love the pop of the yellow moths). However when I was thinking about how I would rate this on goodreads, I was trying to decide between 3 and 4 stars because it felt there just wasn’t much content there – my emotional and instinctive reaction to a book that wasn’t written for me. Going back and looking more carefully though it grows on me, although I do think the “wacky green” spread is a little weak – not because of the green zebra, but because I can’t tell what the diecuts on the grass it’s eating are supposed to be. This is such a quiet, restful sort of book.

  4. Eve Feldman says:

    I was pleased to see recognition for the luscious paintings as well as the subtlety that quietly hides the power of this deceptively ‘simple’ gem. As a fan of Seeger’s books and of fire flies, I think the firefly spread may be totally intentional. Fire flies flicker on and off, on and off. The absence of the glow on one can be another talking point in this book that begs to be read, reread and discussed. More than a concept book, GREEN is a thought provoking tour de force. GREEN and Caldecott belong in the same sentence.

    • Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

      About fire flies going on and off, I tried to convince myself that the brown die cut was just an “off” fire fly, but it has the same glow around it as all the others that are definitely “on.” But I also don’t think that needs to prevent it from getting an award. We shall see!

  5. I am not a children’s librarian – is “Black & White” by David Macauley considered a concept book? I believe it won a Caldecott.

    • Susan Dailey says:

      Chris,

      “Black & White” isn’t a concept book. It’s four interwoven stories that intersect and then diverge. It’s well worth a look–many looks in fact because it isn’t an easy book to understand without careful examination.

  6. It seems that many among us are quite interested in finding mistakes in the Caldecott contenders this year. Whether it be the incorrect positioning of knitting needles in “Extra Yarn”, the blowing scarf when nothing else is blowing in “And Then It’s Spring”, or a dimming firefly in “Green”, I feel that where art is concerned, artistic license is free to abound. For example, with a book as painterly as “Green”, variations of any kind only add to its charm. The genius of that book is that it crosses boundaries. It is a concept book, and it’s a poem about nature, appreciation, and sustainability. The fact that the artist was able to successfully connect each museum-quality painting astounds me. I still can’t figure out how she did it. Brilliant. There are so many wonderful books this year, but for me, “Green” is a standout. It is transformative. It works on so many levels- art, design, poetry, and most of all it works on a very emotional level, encouraging all of us to savor and care for our environment.

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